Mauro Icardi is ready to make his return from injury as Inter take on Benevento this weekend but he is unlikely to be risked from the start, according to head coach Luciano Spalletti.
Icardi has been included in the Nerazzurri’s 22-man squad ahead of Saturday’s clash at San Siro after missing their last three matches with a thigh strain, but despite the need to pick up maximum points at all costs after a run of 1 win in 10 league games Spalletti believes that discretion remains the better part of valour.
“The mood around the team at the moment doesn’t make much of a difference,” he told reporters at the Suning Training Centre. “What’s important is how Mauro feels personally. There are still several hours until the game and we want to use him, but playing him for 90 minutes or starting him and not knowing how long he’ll last is a risk it’s better not to run. Tomorrow we’ll analyse everything with the medical staff and then decide.”
Icardi’s fitness was just one of a number of issues Spalletti discussed during his pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon, on the eve of a game that Inter know they must win in order not to lose further ground in the race for Champions League qualification.
“We’re going through a devastating, terrible period at the moment,” said Spalletti, “but we’re not suffering from the kind of depression that kills your spirit and stops you from reacting. Things are harder than they were at the start of the season because now we have the wind blowing in our faces, whereas before it was pushing us along from behind, but the objective that we want to reach remains right in front of us. Everything is still in our own hands.”
Alongside Icardi on the substitutes’ bench on Saturday evening will be Rafinha and Miranda, with neither fit enough to be named in the starting XI against a Benevento side that are still searching for the club’s first ever points away from home in Serie A.
“This has been another week in which we’ve had to carefully manage Rafinha’s involvement in training,” Spalletti replied when asked about the former Barcelona midfielder’s progress. “He’s had a bit of muscular fatigue so we need to monitor him closely, although he did take full part in our shortened training session today.
“We want to use him as much as we can because he’s a player that can give us an important helping hand.”
“Miranda like Icardi is unlikely to start tomorrow, although I’ll monitor him and make a final decision tomorrow. What’s important is that those who haven’t been fully fit this week have wanted to stay close to the team.”
It is precisely this group ethic, along with the willingness of his players to prove their critics wrong, that represents Spalletti’s greatest source of optimism heading into the final third of the season, despite the hideous run of results Inter have put together since the 5-0 victory over Chievo at the start of December.
“The fact that we will all be together tomorrow sends out a strong message. Everyone who has doubts over their fitness has thrown themselves headlong into the group and said they want to be involved. We have three or four iffy situations but nobody has bailed out.”
“Given recent results it’s natural that the fans have lost enthusiasm and are starting to criticise us, but it’s down to us to win them back over by reacting. To disprove what people have been saying about us lately though we don’t just need a reaction, we also need to show more pride - we need to channel these criticisms into a burning desire to demonstrate who we really are. We need to convince them to change their minds.”
“Nobody is individually responsible for the period we’re going through, it’s collectively that we’ve stopped believing we’re good enough to beat anyone. It’s us who’ve determined our season so far, first in the good and then in the bad, and it’s us who have the solutions to resolve our problems now. We need to believe in our strengths and avoid the temptation to not fight for every situation right to the end.”
Spalletti is also counting upon Marcelo Brozovic being one of the aforementioned solutions, despite the turbulent fortnight that has followed the Croatian’s sarcastic applauding of San Siro during Inter’s last home game against Bologna.
“Marcelo has kept his head down over these last two weeks because he was sorry about what happened,” he said, “but he’s done what he had to do since. He’s been training very well and the case is now closed.”
Spalletti also offered his reaction to the public backing he received from club executives Alessandro Antonello and Walter Sabatini during the week, while offering a ringing endorsement of the work Steven Zhang has been doing for Inter his season.
“More than the comments about my work, I was pleased to hear what they had to say about the importance of stability and undertaking a project together. The important thing is to choose a direction and to maintain it, without being disturbed by the result of any given match.”
“Steven has the qualities of the perfect President, because he places enormous faith in you. He’s a fair and pleasant person who gives everybody the chance to express their qualities, despite his young age. Every person within this club has their own skills and their own position and he trusts all of us.”
While the enormous gulf in quality between Inter and Benevento would point towards there being only one possible outcome at San Siro this weekend, the differing levels of enthusiasm surrounding the two teams at the moment ensure that Roberto De Zerbi’s men have more than a straw to clutch at as they travel north to Milan.
“Beating Crotone last weekend not only keeps our survival hopes alive”, the Sanniti’s coach told reporters on Thursday, “it also increases our belief that we can do well between now and the end of the season.”
“The games we’ve played against Napoli and Roma recently have given us more confidence for Saturday’s match, although that doesn’t change the fact that we’ll be up against a team that’s superior to us and who is managed by one of the best coaches in Italy.”
“We’ll head to Milan with humility but with an unbelievable desire to get a result, because if we could do that it could be a turning point in our season.”