World Cup qualifiers have meant a short break from Serie A and, thankfully in the eyes of some, José Mourinho. With attention directed firmly towards the Azzurri, the Portuguese Coach has had to put up with a period out of the limelight. Nevertheless, it would take a global catastrophe to keep Mourinho quiet for any longer than two days, and an international break has certainly not stopped him from talking in the media.
The lack of Serie A fixtures meant that his main comments were directed at his own club, and in particular the make-up of his squad. Apparently unhappy at the current mentality of buying foreign players, The Special One plans to add more Italians to his first-team squad, claiming “the foundations of a squad must be made up of elements from that country.” This season, he appears to have taken the first steps along this path, with the introduction of Davide Santon to the starting line-up, along with the now more regular appearances of Mario Balotelli. Those Interisti who are excited at the prospect of seeing more home-grown players in their team should perhaps take a note from Mourinho’s corresponding second season at Chelsea where he had seven Englishmen in his squad, yet only two were his own purchases – Scott Sinclair and Shaun Wright-Phillips, with the latter seeing his amount of first-team action decreasing the longer he stayed at the club, and the former barely getting a glimpse of a starting shirt.
There are currently seven Italian’s in Inter’s first-team squad, two of which are the second and third choice goalkeepers, Francesco Toldo and Paolo Orlandoni respectively. A further two, Francesco Bolzoni and Andrea Mei, have not made a single appearance this season. We are only left to speculate as to how the former Chelsea Boss intends to go about supplementing his current septet. He hinted that he would delve into the club’s youth academy in search of his Italian fix, and based on the Primavera side’s current form, that does not appear to be a bad choice.
They currently top the Campionato Primavera Divison B by two points (with a game in hand) with the best attack (48 goals scored) and defence (only 14 conceded). They are certain to qualify for the knockout stages, where they will be one of the favourites to win a trophy they held as recently as 2007. The immense success of the team means we are only left to speculate as to whom the potential candidates for promotion to the first-team may be. First on Mourinho’s list may well be strike duo Aiman Napoli, who is captain of the Primavera team, and Mattia Destro, who between them have hit 23 of the 48 goals scored so far. Napoli turns 20 in July, and in football terms that does not leave him with long to make the breakthrough. The Portuguese Tactician’s recent claims that the team perhaps requires a traditional No.10, a fantasista if you will, may not be what the youngster wants to here when you consider it is his younger strike partner who seems to be more suited to that role. Left-sided defender Luca Caldirola, who can play in the centre or at left-back, also stands a very good chance. Even more so if rumours surrounding the departure of Brazilian left-back Maxwell are true. With many first-team defenders linked with the exit door in the summer, it is perhaps this group of youth products that seem most likely to get the call.
For now, Mourinho is left with a squad lacking in Italians, but full of international stars. Seven of the first-team squad were away for World Cup qualifying action (a further four only missed out due to injury or lack of fitness). Unfortunately, they paid the price this week with the injury to Douglas Maicon, who reportedly sustained a tear in the rectus femoris muscle of his right thigh that could keep him out for the rest of the season. Whilst this news is understandably a blow to the Inter Coach, it has come at a stage of the season where it is unlikely to have any major impact on the achievement of their primary objective, retaining the Scudetto. Their fixture on Sunday, away to Udinese, could potentially have been problematic considering the Friuli outfit’s knack of performing against the big teams at home. However, they too suffered a loss during the international break, that of their captain Antonio Di Natale, and it will undoubtedly hit them harder than that of Maicon to Inter. With Alexis Sánchez suspended for the weekend’s encounter, the Udinese frontline is highly likely to be made up of Simone Pepe, Antonio Floro Flores and Fabio Quagliarella, barring any further injuries.
The injury to Maicon will force Mourinho into a slight re-shuffle. We may well see Davide Santon moved across to right-back, his natural position, to allow Maxwell to take the left-back slot. The youngster has a chance to impress, as if he has not done so already, in a position that will feel more comfortable to him. Whether he can offer the attacking impetus that the Brazilian does remains to be seen, he is after all a tough act to follow. Even so, the switch should put a stop to the constant cutting inside onto his right foot that has been an inevitable consequence of playing on the left. Defensively, he has coped fine playing on his wrong side, but going forward he has at times caused delay in getting the ball into the box due to a weak left foot. This should not be the case on Sunday.
Tactically, we may see a return to the 4-3-1-2 that has been used for the majority of this campaign. Despite a good performance against bottom of the table Reggina, the 4-2-3-1 will leave them very open away to an attacking Udinese side. They were fortunate that the Calabria club could not take advantage of the opportunities the Nerazzurri afforded them (hence why they are bottom). Pasquale Marino and his players will not be so forgiving, a difference you would expect the tactically aware Special One to understand. A draw here would not be such a tragic result when all is taken into account. Providing it is followed up with a victory against Palermo the following week, they will head into the key fixture against Juventus a minimum of five points in front (assuming the Bianconeri take advantage of the projected slip-up), with Claudio Ranieri’s players under all the pressure to take the victory. The optimists will be out in force if the points are shared this coming Sunday, but in reality José and his men will know they are in complete control of the situation.