Luciano Spalletti believes Inter’s match against Napoli on Sunday evening is ‘fundamental for the outcome of our season’ and has warned his team they will need to be ‘virtually perfect’ in order to beat the Serie A league leaders.
Following the postponement of last weekend’s Derby della Madonnina the Nerazzurri are in urgent need of a third consecutive victory at San Siro to keep pace with Roma and Lazio in the race for Champions League qualification, and Spalletti made no bones on Saturday afternoon about the fact that they must ‘play to win’ despite the Partenopei’s sparkling away form so far this season.
Asked during his pre-match press conference at the Suning Training Centre if Sunday’s clash could represent a watershed moment in Inter’s season, Spalletti admitted that “people have already said this about previous games, but our way of thinking is that it is a fundamental match for the final outcome of our season.”
“We have already approached other matches with this mindset recently, but considering that we have not been able to win many of them this game takes on even more importance for us.”
Having taken just two wins from their last 11 games in Serie A Inter have slipped from the top of the table to 5th place since the start of December, and with Roma and Lazio both taking to the field before them in Matchday 28 Spalletti’s side risk being four points adrift of Italy’s final Champions League spot by the time they kick off on Sunday evening.
“Between now and the end of the season we will play seven of our remaining 12 matches away from home,” Spalletti told reporters, “so we are not in the position to calmly administer anything.”
“Even when our opponents put us under pressure for long periods of a match we must be capable of using the period that’s left to complete the picture we have sketched out in our head - to score goals and to win games.”
Inter earned a creditable 0-0 draw at the Stadio San Paolo in their first meeting with Napoli this season, but Spalletti warned his players that he would not be satisfied with a repeat of the performance and result they picked up in October.
“In the first game this season we did well when playing out from the back, taking some risks when necessary and others when it wasn’t so wise to do so - something we will have to avoid doing tomorrow - but we lacked the final pass and the confidence to go in for the kill when we had the chance to get in behind them.
“The ball isn’t circulating quite as well now as it was then but I expect us to be courageous and not take the safer option of taking the ball back towards our own half. Tomorrow we need a win due to the delicate nature of the league table; we need to play to win by making bold decisions [on the ball].”
Beating a Napoli outfit that has won 12 league games out of 13 on the road up to now is far easier said than done, though, and Spalletti wasn’t short of praise when asked about Maurizio Sarri and his players.
“Sarri’s brand of football could be an important resource for whoever is tasked with finding a new direction for the future of Italian football. Napoli have been playing together as a group for several years and they have received complements for their style of play from coaches all around Europe; we’ll need to be virtually perfect to get the better of them.”
Two players that Inter will be able to count upon as they attempt to pick up all three points are Borja Valero and Rafinha, both of whom have taken advantage of the two-week break since Inter’s last match against Benevento to improve their precarious physical condition.
“Borja has had a few problems lately but he is now training well again”, said Spalletti, “although we will need to work out how many minutes he has in his legs at the moment. Rafinha’s condition meanwhile is constantly improving; he is training better and better with each day that passes and is starting to show us all his rapidity, pace and technique. We’re happy with his progress.”
The Brazilian’s return to full fitness would be a huge boost for Inter in an area of the pitch where they have encountered particular difficulty this season, but Spalletti was unwilling to single out either his midfielders or Antonio Candreva for criticism when asked if he expected them to start scoring more goals than they have so far.
“I expect goals from all areas of the pitch, because everyone has the possibility to score nowadays. Modern football places great emphasis on the rotation of players, the flexibility of positions and quick transitions, so it’s a responsibility I expect everybody to take.
“I have no problem with Candreva [despite him not having scored so far this year]. If he runs a certain number of metres and makes a certain number of tackles per game then it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t score, because the net result is that someone else will. Candreva also had zero goals to his name when we were winning at the start of the season.”
At the start of his press conference Spalletti also gave a touching tribute to former Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, whose sudden passing at the age of 31 last weekend has sent shockwaves through Italian football.
“Events like this really leave their mark on you, because we are a much closer community in the world of football than it may seem like from the outside. I’ll never forget the looks on my players’ faces when they came into my office to inform me of the news.
“Astori was not just the captain of Fiorentina, he was the captain of football. He leaves an important legacy of loyalty in football that we can all follow.”