The timing could not be worse for Siena as they prepare for, and contemplate, Saturday’s game against top-of-the-league and current Serie A champions, Inter. The Bianconeri are living up to all expectations this season, as after 16 games Marco Giampaolo’s men are sitting in 15th place, hovering above the relegation spots on 19 points. If the first half of the season is a marker for what is to come, the second half will see Siena struggling for survival and fully drawn into the long and difficult relegation dogfight. The teams at the bottom are close together and include some strong and seasoned teams with the likes of Sampdoria and Torino, and this doesn’t bode well for the team from Tuscany.
Life could not be more different for Jose Mourinho and his Nerazzurri. The blue-and-black half of Milan has proven they are strongest team in the league and have won their last seven games. Inter have more than double the points of Siena and it is a match which has been forecast as a simple victory for Mourinho’s men. They only need to turn up to claim the three points. Siena’s prospects of an unlikely upset have been completely underplayed and practically non-existent, especially after dismal 2-0 defeats to Napoli and Palermo have left them so far pointless in December.
Some remnants of hope can be found for Siena however, as the forthcoming January break gives a new focus to those teams languishing in the precarious lower-league positions. Coach Giampaolo will prepare well, hope for a rare, under-par performance from the robotically efficient Inter, and seek to score a victory which could alleviate his team, and lift the entire town itself. The current mood in camp at the Stadio Artemio Franchi on the back of those two defeats is damp, akin to the winter rains. The fact that no goals have been scored and four conceded is a clear warning to Giampaolo, and he isn’t the sort of man who will wait for January before expecting things to change. It is a stark reminder of last season, when the Bianconeri’s dire form in the early parts of the season left them destined for Serie B. The miraculous resurgence, including the 1-0 win at Juventus, and the ability to remain undefeated for longer periods, will be hard to re-enact, so everyone involved with the club wants the changes to start now. What better way to signal a change in spirit and attitude, than with a strong performance, and possibly a win, against the champions and current league-leaders.
For Inter, the victories against Lazio and Chievo have done well to highlight the wealth of strength and versatility within Jose Mourinho’s squad. Key players, like Patrick Vieira have been out through injury, and others such as Brazilian powerhouse Adriano, have been rested because of poor recent form. The worrying factor for rivals of the Nerazzurri, is that the Portuguese Coach proved his squad could handle the minor threat of Lazio, even after a great deal of significant rotation. The same was evident in the last match against a valiant Chievo side. The team from Verona showed guile and determination to score two against the seemingly unbreakable pairing of Walter Samuel and Ivan Cordoba, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic turned up late on to score two fantastic goals and end the Chievo dream.
Ibrahimovic continues to remain brilliantly consistent, and the Interisti will turn up at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in their droves in the hope of seeing some more magic from the feet of the titanic Swede.
The set-up at Inter is perfectly geared towards retaining the Scudetto and for success in the Champions League. Mourinho knows the pitfalls and difficulties of trying to win both in the same season with Chelsea, but this Inter team need to impress upon the European stage to live up to the hype and fully relay their fantastic ability and efficiency upon a large – and sceptical – international audience. The world will hear if the minnows of Siena topple the might of the Nerazzurri, and reputations could fall accordingly. The meticulous Inter Coach will be wary of Siena, and will have studied Giampaolo’s team like a hawk.
Also, if Inter start stuttering before the long Christmas break, the news will reach league rivals Milan, Juve, Napoli and Fiorentina and instil a belief in those sides that the Nerazzurri is a machine which is capable of breaking down. There is too much inactivity and time to dwell on over January, and Mourinho will not want to look back at a defeat to Siena as a turning point in his season. It is vital for Inter to maintain and even increase upon their six-point lead by beating the lowly Bianconeri.
It doesn’t look good for Giampaolo and his team, but faint heart never won fair lady. Siena must reach deep within them to emulate last season’s fantastic destruction of Juve to be in with a chance of beating Inter. Napoli beat Giampaolo’s solid 4-4-2 formation with some deft attacks, and mid-table Palermo ground out a similar result, so more will be needed from last season’s top-scorer, Massimo Maccarone against Inter. If the bald bomber is on form he will pose a significant threat and possibly grab a goal.
The key is in the set-up. Siena have shown they can defend well for long periods of a match and are strong in the midst of a game, but it has proven difficult to maintain 100% concentration throughout an entire match, and this inability is what separates teams like Siena from those above them. It is interesting to see that it was only late in the second half when Napoli finally pierced the Bianconeri’s backline and scored two goals. On a different day the result might have been more favourable to Siena.
Inter are unbelievably strong from set-pieces, one of the best clubs in world football at both ends, and often neutralize teams in open play, before scoring with carefully constructed goals from free-kicks and corners. Lazio and Chievo have been fine examples of Inter’s steamroller tactics. Will Siena be another?