Kick Off: Saturday 7 March, 18:00 CET, Stadio Marassi, Genoa.
Critical Time For Inter
As the decisive stage of the season edges closer, the pressure is starting to mount on Inter, evident both in their performances on the pitch and in the behaviour of their eccentric coach, José Mourinho. Last Tuesday ahead of the Coppa Italia semi-final against Sampdoria, he gave a press conference in which he slammed numerous aspects of Italian football and took stabs at colleagues such as Luciano Spalletti of Roma and Claudio Ranieri of Juventus.
As often happens following controversial comments made by the Portuguese coach, a massive debate has been generated, but most reactions to his words have been negative. There is even a chance he will be punished by the Federcalcio. What started it all was the penalty awarded to Inter’s Mario Balotelli in last Sunday’s 3-3 draw in the league against Roma, and the young striker’s disrespectful attitude towards Roma’s players and fans. According to many, once again Inter have been heavily favoured by referees this season, but it should be pointed out that this was only the second penalty in their favour this season.
It certainly isn’t like last year, when at one point Inter were getting extremely soft penalties every week. However, what is similar to last season is the fact that they are again struggling in the February-March period, coinciding with the return of the Champions League. Against Samp, they suffered their most embarassing defeat of the season along with the one against Atalanta in the league, going down 3-0 to first-half goals by Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini, who scored a brace. An eventual Coppa Italia final against arch-rivals Juventus, who only lost the first leg of their semi-final 2-1 to Lazio, seems a near impossibility now.
This weekend they return to the same ground to face Sampdoria’s city rivals Genoa in a match that could be vital for the Scudetto race. In fact, last weekend Juventus cut the deficit from Inter to seven points, and with Genoa not having lost at home this season, there is a good chance the Bianconeri will be only five points behind if they beat Torino in the derby a few hours after the Inter game finishes.
This match will also be a good test of Inter’s resilience ahead of the huge (to use a euphemism) clash at Old Trafford against Manchester United next Wednesday. Genoa are notoriously strong at home, which of course also goes for United, so it is undoubtedly a good test case.
Genoa Still Flying High
Gian Piero Gasperini’s Genoa have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the Serie A season. They have been playing some great football, indeed they are perhaps Italy’s most entertaining team, and they are deservedly challenging for a spot in next season’s Champions League.
Recently they even managed to reach that coveted fourth position and keep it for a while, but at the moment Fiorentina, who also finished fourth last season, are occupying the last Champions League spot. It’s sure to be an enthralling race until the end, as currently there are four teams within a space of four points. Milan are third with 48 points, Fiorentina are fourth with 46, fifth-placed Genoa have 45, while Roma have 44 points.
Of course, Gasperini’s team are not the favourites to actually qualify for the Champions League; you’d fancy more experienced teams like Roma or Fiorentina to do the trick. Still, last season showed that when big teams falter unexpected things can happen, as nobody expected Fiorentina to actually beat a stuttering Milan side to the fourth place, but they did. Qualifying for the UEFA Cup would already be considered a great achievement, but if Genoa make it into the Champions League, the fans will build Gasperini a statue.
In recent times they have frequently managed to get good results against Inter. Last season when they hosted the Nerazzurri, they earned a 1-1 draw with a last-minute goal by Marco Borriello after the eventual champions were reduced to ten men, David Suazo scoring the opening goal. Earlier this season, Genoa were the first away team to leave San Siro unbeaten, hanging on for a 0-0 draw in late October, though they actually played better and could have left with all three points.
The two sides also recently met at San Siro in the Coppa Italia, at the last 16 stage. In the first half Genoa were reduced to ten men, but it took Inter more than 70 minutes to open the score, through Adriano. Soon after, though, the visitors equalised with a great goal by Marco Rossi. In extra-time, goals by Esteban Cambiasso and Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw Mourinho’s side through to the quarter-finals.
01/03 (Serie A): Siena-Genoa 0-0
22/02 (Serie A): Napoli-Genoa 0-1
15/02 (Serie A): Genoa-Fiorentina 3-3
08/02 (Serie A): Roma-Genoa 3-0
01/02 (Serie A): Genoa-Palermo 1-0
04/03 (Coppa Italia): Sampdoria-Inter 3-0
01/03 (Serie A): Inter-Roma 3-3
24/02 (Champions League): Inter-Manchester United 0-0
21/02 (Serie A): Bologna-Inter 1-2
15/02 (Serie A): Inter-Milan 2-1
Matteo Paro and Anthony Van Den Borre are out injured.
Possible formation (3-4-3): Rubinho; Biava, Ferrari, Bocchetti; Rossi, Thiago Motta, Juric, Criscito; Mesto, Milito, Jankovic.
Walter Samuel is out injured, while Patrick Vieira is suspended.
Possible formation (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Materazzi, Cordoba, Santon; Muntari, Cambiasso, Zanetti; Stankovic; Adriano, Ibrahimovic.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Diego Milito (Genoa)
After three very prolific seasons at Real Zaragoza, where he scored 52 goals in total, he made his return to Genoa last summer, having already played for them in Serie B between 2003 and 2005. Currently the 29-year-old striker is competing for the Capocannoniere title, as he’s already scored 15 goals so far in his first Serie A season. There were even rumours he would join Inter in the January transfer window, and he may still be a future objective for the Nerazzurri, so he’ll be keen to impress in this game.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Inter)
All eyes will be on him in next Wednesday’s Champions League clash at Old Trafford against Manchester United. This will be his big chance to show he can perform in the biggest games, which he has been known to have problems with in the past, particularly in European matches. Of course, if Inter play like they did in the first leg, he won’t get a chance to express himself, as nowadays no player can win games on his own. There is a chance Mourinho will leave him out for this one, but if he is fully fit, which he wasn’t for last weekend’s match against Roma, he should play because this is a hugely important match for Inter’s Scudetto push.
Based on their recent form Inter probably won’t disdain a draw.
Danilo Pochini, Goal.com
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