Expectations on Simone Inzaghi in Serie A are sky-high after Antonio Conte led Inter to a commanding Scudetto last season. The Nerazzurri were a whopping 12 points - yes, twelve- ahead of its closest challenger and had the title locked up by early May. But there’s one area where Inzaghi can (and should) get the best of his predecessor. Despite domestic dominance, Inter suffered a pair of embarrassing Champions League group stage exits under Conte’s watch. First came a third-placed finish in 2019/20 where Inter needed only to beat a Barcelona B-team at home on Matchday 6 to book a Round of 16 spots. The 2-1 loss that night wouldn’t even be the worst UCL memory from Conte’s era. After a mediocre 2020/21 group stage, Inter once again came into Matchday 6 needing a home win, this time against Shakhtar Donetsk. The Nerazzurri stumbled to a 0-0 draw, however, and ended the day with a humiliating last-place finish.
The mantle has now passed onto Simone Inzaghi’s shoulders and the Italian will get a shot at advancing from almost the exact same group Conte finished fourth in. Inter drew Real Madrid and Shakhtar once again alongside Moldovan minnow Sherrif Tiraspol. Inzaghi has already had some success on Europe’s biggest stage and guided Lazio to a second-place finish in their first UCL campaign since 2007. Lazio needed a fair share of luck in its group stage finale against Club Brugge to stay alive but the side from Rome showed its mettle with a win and draw against Borussia Dortmund. Lazio ended up getting steamrolled 6-2 on aggregate by Bayern in the next round, but hey, who hasn’t? Inzaghi is also the Biancocelesti’s leading scorer in the competition and has 15 goals to his name in 31 appearances.
Though Inter’s squad lacks the top-end talent it had last season, Inzaghi has the makings of the type of manager that can get this team into the knockout rounds at long last. He’s far from as tactically stubborn as his predecessor and as we saw last year, sticking to one system no matter the circumstances has its drawbacks. But Inzaghi’s job is far from easy. As the 2-2 draw with Sampdoria showed, this team is far from a finished product. The defending on display in Genoa is cause for concern. A lethal Real Madrid frontline will have a field day if Sunday’s performance is repeated. Inter’s midfield also needs to step it up Wednesday. Hakan Calhanoglu and Marcelo Brozovic were non-factors against Sampdoria. Madrid’s midfield trio of Casemiro-Modric-Valverde will dictate play (and subsequently, the result) if Brozovic and Calhanoglu are pushed to the periphery once again. Barella can only do so much and singlehandedly beating one of the best midfield in the world is too much even for the Italian.
Los Blancos aren’t quite identical to the team we saw last year. Zinedine Zidane has been replaced by Carlo Ancelotti at the helm while the backline is reeling from the departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. The only summer signings were David Alaba’s free transfer from Bayern Munich and Eduardo Camavinga’s €30 million move from Rennes. Despite the big changes at the Bernabéu, the early returns on Ancelotti are positive. Madrid is tied for first in La Liga after four games, with three wins and one draw. It boasts a league-high 13 goals scored but conceded a 4th-worst six. Karim Benzema is as influential as ever in the final third, with five goals and four assists to his name after a mere four appearances. Vinicius Junior’s development has also taken a major step forward and he’s found the back of the net on four occasions. The dynamic duo of the Brazilian and Frenchman will put Inter’s backline to its first real test of the season. And if Sampdoria is anything to go by, the Nerazzurri have some work to do.
- 3-2 (A), 3/11/20
- 0-2 (H), 25/11/20
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Inter Milan 2-2 Real Madrid
Goals will come thick and fast at the San Siro. The Joaquin Correa and Lautaro partnership will cause Madrid’s flimsy defense constant problems, but a Benzema brace will end proceedings level.