Leaders Inter travel to the capital to take on a Lazio side in need of a win to strengthen their status amongst the chasing pack. In the corresponding fixture last season we witnessed a 1-1 draw and although a goal fest seems unlikely again this time around, the encounter makes for some very interesting viewing.
After a promising start to the campaign where the Eagles soared to the Serie A summit, more recent form has seen their wings clipped and the zest they had in those early displays is sadly missing. With Argentine wonder-kid Mauro Zarate now a marked man, Lazio are finding it more difficult for goals to come by and if they are to keep up their title challenge for a place in Europe, Delio Rossi needs to look at alternative options.
One ploy he may consider is a change of formation. So far this season the Biancocelesti Coach has opted for an attacking trident and three man midfield. On occasion, the team revert to a 4-3-2-1, or a 4-3-1-2, but have been most effective in a 4-3-3. However, when Rossi allows his wide men to roam, it upsets the shape and the Romans subsequently become disjointed. Gaping holes open in midfield and in trying to fill the gaps, a disorganised back line has not looked convincing.
Jose Mourinho will most likely opt for his usual away stance of 4-5-1 and on current form Inter may severely punish the home side. The Aquile coach may therefore revert to a rigid 4-4-2 formation with Lorenzo De Silvestri and Stefano Mauri occupying the flanks and Zarate playing through the middle off the shoulder of Tommaso Rocchi. Although the Lazio captain is searching for his match sharpness after a lengthy lay-off, the capital side are much more of a potent striking force when he is leading the line.
Lazio must be as drilled and disciplined in defense as their weekend opponents and setting up two banks of four to protect the goal will allow give the side a more solid shape. The key here is for the wide players to come infield to defend and use the wide areas to attack. Inter may well orchestrate a similar tactic with Adriano sitting in behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Milan side will also have midfielders Dejan Stankovic, Sulley Muntari and Javier Zanetti running from deep. Therefore a midfield four with a central pairing of the two Cristians – Brocchi and Ledesma – will be better qualified to cope with the onslaught.
The attack-mindedness Nerazzurri full-backs will look to venture forward at any given opportunity and are a constant source of danger running from deep which is something the Aquile wide men will have to guard against. However, their absence at the back will allow the wandering Zarate to exploit the open space. Maicon is always keen to break forward which will suit the little Argentinean who is considered a threat coming in off the left flank onto his right foot.
Inter work hard and don’t give a great deal away and although blessed with steel and craft, Mourinho does not allow for complacency in his team. Their graft and work rate lends itself as much to their success as the wealth of talent amongst their ranks and is a contributing factor to them topping the table six points clear. The Portuguese Tactician will be under no illusions that his side are the team to beat and if his players don’t put in the same commitment as their opponents they will leave the Stadio Olimpico empty-handed.
Inter’s backline are so well disciplined it does not seem to have any adverse effect who slots in where. With Esteban Cambiasso protecting the back four so diligently, the Nerazzurri are a tough unit to crack. It is little wonder they have the meanest defense in Serie A conceding on only eight occasions. Mourinho’s main concern this season has been his front line and has come under fire for persisting with a 4-3-3 formation that has failed to deliver. Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not look comfortable as a lone striker whilst wide men Ricardo Quaresma, Victor Obinna, and Amantino Mancini have all been under-performing. With Adriano in and out of favour for various episodes of unruly behaviour, Inter, on occasion, have struggled to find the net. In the last few weeks though, the Portuguese maestro has affected some vital changes and oiled the machine.
Adriano has returned to the side, though one can’t help thinking his presence is peer pressure from above rather than the Coach’s own choosing. Either way, both Ibrahimovic and Massimo Moratti’s golden boy are looking sharper and may well go on to forge a partnership that could see them rip teams apart unlike anything before. The talented Brazilian will be asked to drop a little deeper against the Biancocelesti and form part of a five man midfield and it will be interesting to see if indiscipline leads him to loiter further up field.
With either side able to change formation almost at will, there will be no surprises to see a reshuffle of packs once the game is underway. Inter can be exposed down the flanks and if Rossi chooses to exploit that, Mourinho will have to rethink how he sets up his stall. For both Coaches the pitch is a tactical minefield. One false move and it could all explode in their face.