Could this be the week that Inter secure the Scudetto? It is a possible outcome, as José Mourinho’s men take on relegation-battlers Chievo at the Bentegodi stadium in Verona. A victory for the Nerazzurri would mean that if Milan slips to defeat against Juventus, the fourth consecutive Serie A title would go to the blue and black half of Milano. However, considering Chievo’s hard-fought point away to Roma last weekend, and the sublime form that Carlo Ancelotti’s charges are currently showing, the champagne could well be kept on ice for another week yet.
Nonetheless, Inter will be high on confidence again following their 2-0 victory over Lazio – business as usual after a blip of three games without a win. Despite their success, cracks continue to appear at the football club, with the controversial hand gestures made by Zlatan Ibrahimović at the weekend and dissenting supporters’ criticism of Mourinho’s laboured style of football. This disharmony will not aid Inter’s title challenge, and will give Chievo all the more reason to fancy their chances. With four games remaining, the Veronese outfit lie six points above the relegation zone, and victory over the league-leaders would all but guarantee their safety for another season.
Following their draw away at the Stadio Olimpico, Chievo supporters will be praying they can take that form into this fixture and earn some ‘bonus’ points against the Nerazzurri. They will have to do it without their two Udinese loanees, rapid forward Antonio Langella and defensive midfielder Giampero Pinzi, both of whom are suspended for the encounter. The current injury list for i Mussi Volanti reads as follows: Nigerian forward Stephen Makinwa, defender Fabio Moro, start-of-season signing Francesco Scardina and on-loan midfielder Giuseppe Colucci.
Simone Bentivoglio is likely to play in the hole just behind the forwards, hoping to supply club captain Sergio Pellissier with some much needed ammunition. The 4-3-1-2 formation that Domenico Di Carlo is likely to employ may be fairly adventurous, but Chievo need points and if the manager does adopt this approach, it will be a brave decision. Either way, it would be fair to predict that Stefano Sorrentino will be the busier of the two goalkeepers.
21 Frey – 2 Morero – 33 Yepes – 4 Mantovani
10 Luciano – 16 Rigoni – 7 Marcolini
31 Pellissier – 23 Bogdani
Ibrahimović’s goals scored and created in last week’s fixture will have been of relief to Mourinho, but a suspension means that the Portuguese Tactician will have to do without his talisman in Verona. Returning from a ban is Mario Balotelli, as a probable straight swap for the Swedish striker. It is presumable that Mourinho will adopt a formation similar to the one Ancelotti is currently implementing so successfully at Milan – a 4-3-2-1 system, where a solitary centre-forward is deployed to hold the ball up, supported by two attacking midfielders who have a bit more license to roam than the three disciplined central midfielders behind them.
Milan’s tactical policy is a fluid, flexible one – but only because they have the creative players of Kaká, Andrea Pirlo and David Beckham to do it, so whether Inter will be able to match the quality of football with Dejan Stankovic and Luis Figo in behind Balotelli is doubtful. Mourinho’s team has a more workman-like quality, effective in its style as they look to release the Ghanaian-born frontman’s pace on the counter-attack. The insurance policy will see Julio Cruz and Hernán Crespo on the bench. Maicon, the rampaging right-back, misses out once more through injury.
12 Júlio César
39 Santon – 2 Córdoba – 25 Samuel – 26 Chivu
4 Zanetti – 19 Cambiasso – 20 Muntari
7 Figo – 5 Stankovic
The obvious prediction is to go for an away win, with Inter’s highly-paid stars just too much for Chievo. It is difficult to see anything other than a Nerazzurri victory, but the Veronese side have shown a spirit this season that is likely to keep them in the division, and The Special One will be making sure his players do not underestimate them. Chievo’s strength this year has been its relatively solid back line (for a team at the wrong end of the table), with the invaluable experience of players such as Mario Yepes enhancing their defensive capabilities. However, with just 31 goals scored in 34 games, it is easy to see why Di Carlo’s team are not out of the mire yet. Add to that, Júlio César and company have conceded the fewest goals in the league, and it makes Chievo’s task seem even harder.
The fixture between the two sides earlier in the campaign saw Inter run out 4-2 winners, though it was not until a late double from their star Swede that they managed to get over the winning line. The Ceo fans will be dreaming of an upset, but even without their best player, Inter’s quality should shine through once more.