It is an unenviable position for Inter Milan and manager Luciano Spalletti.
As the Nerazzurri come into a critical phase of the 2018-19 season, some serious holes need to be filled and few options to fill them.
This week, Inter Milan are set to face Eintracht Frankfurt in the second leg of their Europa League round of 16 match. Inter left Germany with a 0-0 draw, positioning themselves to advance at the Giuseppe Meazza Thursday and be considered a serious contender for the trophy.
Following that will be the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday with AC Milan.
Due to a recent run of form, AC Milan jumped Inter in the Serie A standings. Despite both teams still in the top four, there is a question of pride that will be on the line this weekend. Milan is one point up on Inter, and the Nerazzurri are six points clear of Roma, Torino and Atalanta.
Let’s start with Thursday’s Europa League contest:
Due to suspension, Lautaro Martinez and Kwadwo Asamoah are both out. Let’s not forget that Joao Mario, Dalbert and Roberto Gagliardini are also out as they are not on the UEFA list to play.
To make matters worse, Joao Miranda is out with a fractured nose, Radja Nainggolan has a calf muscle strain and Marcelo Brozovic has what has been characterized as a muscular issue. Now, any or all three of those players could be available by Thursday, but Inter is forced to prepare as if they aren’t.
Of course, any or all three could be unavailable for Sunday’s Derby as well.
Against Frankfurt in the first leg, Spalletti was forced to suit just 19 players and yet the Nerazzurri still managed a 0-0 draw.
But, you can bet that Frankfurt will be tweaking their dangerous offense in an attempt to steal a match at the San Siro — see PSV Eindhoven. This includes bringing in Luka Jovic to bolster Sebastien Haller to press Inter from all angles.
With Milan, what Gennaro Gattuso has done this season has been, let’s be honest, pretty astonishing. Bringing in Krzysztof Piatek from Genoa was a genius move that has paid dividends for the Red and Black.
He has 19 goals on the season for both teams, including what has the game-winner against Chievo last weekend – putting him one back of Fabio Quagliarella for the capocannonieri.
That leaves the third piece of the puzzle that could be viewed as a solution for the previous two: Mauro Icardi.
His wife/agent Wanda Nara went on television Sunday to proclaim that the Argentine striker wants to stay with the Nerazzurri for the foreseeable future.
L’ultima di Wanda Nara: “Mauro vuole restare all’Inter e io lavoro per fare la pace” https://t.co/f7Vzy3B9vl— informazione finanza (@infoiteconomia) March 11, 2019
“Mauro wants to stay at Inter; I’m working to make him feel good and make peace with the club. We also chose a lawyer who’s an Inter fan, Mauro wants to continue his career at Inter. We hope everything will be resolved as soon as possible,” she said.
This presents an interesting situation for Spalletti.
With Martinez out for Frankfurt, if Icardi says he is good to go for Thursday, does Spalletti go all-in and put Icardi in the lineup after missing the last three weeks?
What about the Derby?
It also creates an opportunity for Icardi to reverse the negative image he has with some Interisti who suggest he has used his recent sit-out as a ploy for contract negotiations or a boost in the summer transfer market.
If he is true to his word – or, in this case, his wife’s word – he could come in and change Inter’s fortunes with a pair of wins this week.
That’s certainly not to suggest that one player makes the team, but in light of what the team will be missing, or potentially missing, this week, Icardi has a chance to help put the personal differences aside from the previous three weeks, make good on his commitment to the team. He can also help lift Inter to the next round of the Europa League and jump back into third in Serie A, all in one week.
In public relations terms, that is a golden opportunity.
But, it is up to Icardi to take hold of that and for Spalletti to let him do it.
Some may question the mood in the locker room concerning Icardi. Is it damaged? I think the answer to that is ‘yes.’ But, is it repairable? I believe the answer to that is also ‘yes.’
If he doesn’t come back this week, or if Spalletti doesn’t allow it, the situation for Inter becomes much different … and more challenging.
Spalletti will be forced to find an alternative to attacking against Frankfurt. This could mean moving Ivan Perisic and/or Matteo Politano to a more centralized attacking role. Andrea Ranocchia will also have to step up and produce, especially if Brozovic and Nainggolan are both out for either or both of these matches.
On defense, Southampton loanee Cedric Soares will have to help fill the void left by Asamoah’s absence, which could also lead to Danilo D’Ambrosio moving forward.
Regardless, Inter and Spalletti are faced with a difficult task in what can only be viewed as perhaps the most pivotal time of the season.
Failure could lead to Spaletti’s dismissal at the end of the season – if not sooner – and could further deepen the disconnect between Icardi and the club.
If Spalletti gets the nod from Icardi, I believe it will be a no-brainer decision to put him in the lineup, regardless of the past antics. Even with past decisions to ease injured players back into the roster.
All of this could prove to be one of the best weeks for Inter … or one of the worst.
What do you think? Post your comments below!