So here we are then: the second half of the 2017-18 season is officially upon us. Not only because 2017 has given way to 2018 since Inter’s last match, but because we’re now 19 games through the Serie A campaign and that means everyone has played everyone once (leaving aside the two games that will take place in a fortnight after being postponed).
After over four months of blood, sweat and tears it’s time to start all over again, and as far as Inter are concerned it would be a good idea to do so in more ways than one.
On Sunday 20 August the Nerazzurri got Luciano Spalletti’s tenure off to the perfect start with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Fiorentina at San Siro; a victory that laid the groundwork for an excellent girone d’andata in which they would take the majority of people by surprise, amassing more points and a finishing higher up the table than most would have expected back in the summer.
Fast forward to Friday 5 January and Inter find themselves in need of another statement performance against Stefano Pioli’s side, who in the meantime have improved leaps and bounds and represent a far tougher obstacle to overcome than they were on opening night.
Last Saturday’s goalless draw against Lazio enabled Spalletti and co. to stop the rot they had fallen into and keep the Biancoceleste at arms’ length in the race for Champions League qualification, but with no win in over a month and just 1 goal scored in the last 6 games (in all competitions) the risk is that it does little more than delay the crisis for a few days.
While a draw at the Stadio Artemio Franchi against an in-form team would be nothing to be ashamed of under normal circumstances, Inter desperately need to give their season a shot in the arm with a big performance and a big result, in order to nip this sticky patch in the bud as quickly as possible. It’s not a must-win game but it’s not miles off that either.
The superstitious among us will be comforted by two things ahead of this match. Firstly, Fiorentina are Mauro Icardi’s preferred victim when it comes to finding the back of the net in Serie A - with 9 goals scored in 11 games against the Viola they are the team against which he has scored the most between Sampdoria and Inter, with Juventus a close second.
Add that to the fact that he’s never gone more than two league games without scoring this season - which is what he’s on at the moment, after drawing a blank against Sassuolo and Lazio - and there’s reason to believe that this might be the night Maurito rediscovers his shooting boots.
Secondly, we have two exes - two prestigious exes - and we know what the perceived wisdom is when it comes to players facing their former clubs. Borja Valero and Matias Vecino made a combined total of 233 appearances for Fiorentina between 2012 and 2017, scoring 19 goals in the process, but on Friday they will represent the opposition at the Franchi for the very first time.
Let’s hope there’s reason for a muted celebration or two.
Inane omens aside though, there’s no denying that this is a tough game to win. It would have been a tough game to win even if we’d arrived at it in top form; even more so given that we’re winless and practically goalless since the start of December.
Fiorentina have only conceded 1 goal in their last 5 league outings and are growing in confidence and cohesion with each week that passes. Pioli has found a convincing balance in midfield after several weeks of experimentation and in Federico Chiesa he has a one-in-a-million talent that is capable of tearing any team apart on his day. Inter are the only ‘big’ team he hasn’t started against since breaking into the first team at the beginning of last season, but unfortunately that will end this weekend.
Let’s hope that the unscheduled rest day Spalletti gave the players on New Years Day has helped them to recharge their batteries - more from a mental point of view than a physical one - and will allow them to rediscover their pre-December sparkle.
If it doesn’t, and Inter don’t sign anyone in the two weeks that separate this game from our next match against Roma (which they almost certainly won’t)... we’re in for a bumpy fortnight.
Date & Time: Friday, January 5th, 2018; 8:45 PM CEST (2:45 PM on the U.S. East Coast)
Location: Stadio Artemio Franchi; Florence, Italy
TV/Streaming: In the US the game will be shown on both beIN Sports and Rai Italia (and on fuboTV and beIN Sports Connect online), while UK residents will find it on BT Sport 2 HD (available online via BT Sport Live). Click here to find out where you can watch the match everywhere else in the world.
Inter’s Matchday Squad
Goalkeepers: Handanovic, Padelli, Berni
Defenders: Joao Cancelo, Ranocchia, Santon, Dalbert, Skriniar, Nagatomo, Lombardoni
Midfielders: Gagliardini, Joao Mario, Vecino, Borja Valero, Brozovic
Forwards: Icardi, Karamoh, Eder, Perisic, Candreva
Unavailable: D’Ambrosio, Miranda, Pinamonti, Vanheusden
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