Inter travel to Udinese this Sunday looking to maintain their seven point lead at the summit of Serie A and with their opponents preparing to embark on another European adventure, this weekend could well see the Scudetto sealed, academics aside.
It has been an indifferent season for the Bianconeri. Having fallen from grace after a promising start, their European aspirations seem to have gotten the better of them and they have subsequently slipped down the Serie A rankings. The game against the league leaders comes four days before their encounter with the conquerors of Milan, Werder Bremen, and given their slump in league status, the UEFA Cup appears their best option of playing European football next season. It seems apparent that Coach Pasquale Marino and his players believe competition from the second tier of teams in Europe offer better prospects of them picking up silverware and it is no coincidence that they have not won in the league ahead of a European game since September 28 when they overcame Siena at the Stadio Fruili.
Udinese’s prospects of overcoming Inter, given their UEFA Cup distractions, do not look promising. Added to that, they will have to face the current champions and league leaders without two of their most influential players, leaving the spine of their team in tatters. Aleksandar Lukovic does not look to have recovered from the injury he sustained against Zenit St. Petersburg and is doubtful for the weekend. With Maurizio Domizzi suspended and Andrea Coda injured, Luigi Sala is likely to partner Felipe in the heart of defence, flanked either side by Giovanni Pasquale and Cristian Zapata. An alternative is available to Marino, and that is to bring the versatile Mauricio Isla into the back line at right-back and allow Colombian Zapata to partner Felipe in the middle.
The loss of top scorer Antonio Di Natale is more damaging for Marino’s men than any defensive absences, after the striker suffered cruciate and medial ligament damage to his left knee in Italy’s 2-0 win over Montenegro. Alexis Sánchez will also be missing after his red card against Genoa in the last round, therefore the Bianconeri Tactician has little option other than to call on Fabio Quagliarella. The 26-year-old, who this week pledged his future to the club despite interest from this weekend’s opponents and Juventus, might ordinarily have been rested for this game ahead of the encounter with Bremen, but Marino cannot rely on his side to go all the way and win the competition in order to gain automatic qualification for next season’s competition. Owner Giampaolo Pozzo will most likely feel more assured of a top seven finish.
Gaetano D’Agostino will line up behind Kwadwo Asamoah and Niki Zimling in a three man midfield that will have a difficult afternoon attempting to stifle their opponents control in the middle of the park. If he is not deployed at right-back, Mauricio Isla will play slightly ahead of the trio alongside Quagliarella, although they can both expect to be tracking back to hound Inter’s central duo of Dejan Stankovic and Javier Zanetti. Antonio Floro Flores is again likely to get the nod ahead of Simone Pepe and Gokhan Inler who are both likely to be rested in anticipation of Wednesday’s UEFA Cup game.
Whatever team Inter field to face Udinese, we can rest assure that it will have been selected by Coach José Mourinho. The Special One has upset his peers again this week by insinuating they do not all get the job of selecting the eleven players that take to the pitch because club President’s impose themselves over club selection. The Inter Boss added: “If anyone told me what to do with my line-up, the next day my office would be empty and I would have my suitcases packed.” It barely seems to matter what the team choice is, the Nerazzurri are always expected to win.
Esteban Cambiasso is expected to take up his more familiar role in midfield after filling the void in the back four during a time of defensive crisis. Brazilian left-back Maxwell should step back into the side in place of the injured Douglas Maicon. With Davide Santon having impressed for the Under-21’s on Tuesday evening at right-back, he is likely to get his chance to do the same at club level, switching across from the left-sided role he has fulfilled since making his first-team debut. Patrick Vieira is an influential player who is just returning from injury, but the form of Javier Zanetti, Sulley Muntari and Dejan Stankovic may well see him warming the bench for another week at least, but he is likely to warrant a run out at some point to improve his match sharpness whilst on the road to recovery.
Reports that Zlatan Ibrahimović may be set to leave the San Siro will cause a swill of excitement amongst Europe’s top clubs and have Presidents and club owners checking the accounts to quantify the possibility of signing the moody Swede. There is no doubting the Nerazzurri’s top scorer is blessed with explosive talent, but his form and impact can be unpredictable. If the striker does leave in the summer and the conditions at his new club do not suit him, the only guarantee they will get is that the price tag will be a hefty one. What is certain is his place in the starting eleven to face Udinese where he is likely to be paired with promising youngster Mario Balotelli. Starts have been limited this season for the 18-year-old, albeit in part to injury, but when he has been given the opportunity he has performed well. Adriano may also be involved upon his return from representing Brazil in South America, but may not see out a full game due to the long flight.
How the game unfolds at the weekend may well depend on how Marino and his men approach it. The Bianconeri Coach will be tempted to field a weakened side, but in doing so may risk being tactically outflanked by the Special One who may second guess his opponents priorities and gearing his warriors up for a drubbing. With an all-important date with Bremen up next, the last thing the Udinese Boss needs is a result that drains the confidence from his glory seekers.