Fiorentina and Inter Milan are ready to battle for the classic six-pointer match on Sunday evening as they fight for the third and final Champions League place. Fiorentina have been inconsistent since the beginning of the new year but with four games without a loss they are slightly more confident than their opponents.
Paulo Sousa’s comments about the lack of the activity in the transfer market raised questions about his future with Fiorentina but the situation has calmed down after a clear the air meeting with club hierarchy. Milan Badlej and Mati Fernandez will be missing for this crucial game where Sousa could revert to a back four to counter Inter’s attack.
Inter Milan have seen their season hit the downward spiral following the winter break and their inconsistent run of form has seen them drop out of the race for the Scudetto. Their thrilling 3-3 draw against bottom of the table Hellas Verona saw them concede three goals from set-pieces.
The rock-solid defence which saw them record 13 clean sheets last year has now become incredibly shaky and only some miracle saves from custodian Samir Handanovic have saved them from further embarrassment. The game at the Stadio Artemio Franchi will be massive with the winner gaining a foothold on the crucial third place with Roma moving up the table with purpose and intent.
Paulo Sousa v Roberto Mancini
Sousa and Mancini have met only once in their managerial careers and it was the Portuguese who came out on top in the first meeting this season between the two clubs. Fiorentina thrashed Inter Milan 4-1 at the San Siro earlier this campaign.
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Sousa might use a back four to tackle Inter’s attack
Paulo Sousa has made an instant impact in Italy by implementing arguably the most fascinating tactics in Italian football today, leading the club to some stunning results in the process. While formations are merely a starting point for a style of play, Sousa’s 3-4-2-1 has always focused on positive football from the word go.
The module leads to multiple triangles on the field which are significant in enhancing Fiorentina’s play with or without the ball. Sousa’s defenders will follow the high pressing approach to counter the dangerous front-men of Inter.
His main aim will be to stop Eder and Ljajic from building sustained moves through the center and forcing them to go wide. Gonzalo Rodriguez will have a busy afternoon dealing with his compatriot Mauro Icardi while as usual Sousa’s wing backs Marcos Alonso and Federico Bernardeschi will play vital roles in targeting the weak side backs Inter have.
Milan Badelj will be a big miss for Fiorentina in central midfield. Roncaglia and Astori have performed well on each side of the back three. The latter in particular has settled well to Fiorentina’s brand of football; his elegant left foot and composure under pressure are vital to the team’s ability to build possession from defence.
Bernardeschi has been re-trained to undertake a right wing-back role, from where the former number 10 can drive infield onto his favoured left foot and create. He hasn’t shirked his defensive duties either, dropping into the defensive line to form a back four when necessary.
Despite the poor form, Mancini’s side are not in crisis
There is no question that Inter Milan are struggling but one needs to look at where they are this season compared to the last term. President Erick Thohir has steadily maintained the fact that his team wants to achieve Champions League football and reiterated this in January also.
The media and fans might have thought that Scudetto was a realistic aim after their flawless start to the season but the club hierarchy have always spoken against such lofty ambitions. Dropping points against Sassuolo, Atalanta, Carpi and Hellas have certainly dented their title hopes but getting the third place is still very much possible. And there is no reason to believe Inter are in a crisis.
The biggest concern for Mancini is the manner in which Inter are conceding goals. He will need to fix it very soon as Roma are climbing up the table with real purpose. There is no doubt that Inter can still improve in this campaign, and it is also certain that they need to do this quickly.
The upcoming February clashes with Fiorentina and Juventus will be a huge test, and a potential turning point to the season. It has been a difficult task fro Roberto Mancini to integrate so many new players brought into the squad in the summer and this January. The squad has been hugely improved since Mazzarri years and this team would perhaps put up a respectable fight should they reach the Champions League.
For that to happen they will need to recapture some of that defensive solidity that served them so well in the first half of the season. Samir Handanovic has been the player of the season so far but the partnership of Miranda and Murillo certainly has been a step up from the pair of Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia.
The Nerazzurri coach still has much to solve when it comes to his team. Like the best position for Adem Ljajic, how he can maximize the potential of Geoffrey Kondogbia, how does he get more service to Mauro Icardi. Where should he play Stevan Jovetic, with Icardi or as a trequartista — these are all problems he has been facing and still is encountering and they are the reasons why this team is not challenging for the Scudetto.
Mauro Zárate vs Miranda
Mauro Zarate joined Fiorentina from West Ham on a permanent deal after that Giuseppe Rossi had signed with Levante. He has already made a decisive impact by scoring a stoppage time winner against lowly Carpi. The win gave Fiorentina three very important points plus gave the Argentine confidence ahead of the crucial phase this season.
Zarate felt he was played out of position in England and will be used behind the main striker mostly in Florence. His time at Inter was forgettable for many reasons and Zarate will be eager to show his worth against his former club on Sunday.
Of all the players signed by Inter this summer, Miranda has been the most consistent. The Brazilian has adapted seamlessly to Italian football and has formed a solid partnership with Colombian Jeison Murillo. Miranda has provided steel and leadership to the Inter defence. The Brazilian has showcased a masterclass in defence so far this season without doing anything extravagant.
Nikola Kalinic vs Samir Handanovic
Nikola Kalinic scored a hattrick in the corresponding fixture to give Fiorentina a comprehensive 4-1 win over Inter at the San Siro. The Croatian has 10 goals this season and will be the number one danger-man for Inter on Sunday. Kalinic has failed to find the back of the net regularly this year and Sousa will be hoping his main striker finds his form or else letting Giuseppe Rossi leave on loan might turn out to be a stupid decision.
The 31-year-old has ensured his side come away with a point from games where Inter have been lackluster. Inter have dropped out of the title race although things could have been even worse had it not been for some miraculous performances from Samir Handanovic. The goalkeeper’s cat like reflexes have bailed out Inter on more than one occasion. The Slovenian has been called on numerous times and every time he has responded with one save after another.
Borja Valero vs Geoffrey Kondogbia
Borja Valero is the focal point of Sousa’s system. He usually has the most number of touches than any other player in his team. He is a complete midfielder…a todocampista called in Italy. He dictates the entire tempo with which Fiorentina play and he has a wide range of passes. He tackles, recovers possession and has played in an advanced role too. His role will be even more important on Sunday with Badlej missing out.
Geoffrey Kondogbia has failed to make a positive impact on Italian football after his big money move from Monaco. The feeling is that he will get better as he is still getting used to the physical nature of the league which is different from France. Plus he is learning to play as a mezzala where there is less space than compared to a normal central midfielder. Inter head coach Roberto Mancini feels that there is more to come from the French midfielder.
Fiorentina strengths and weaknesses
- Fiorentina will miss the services of Milan Badlej who has been a very important player for Paulo Sousa this season.
- Nikola Kalinic has not looked sharp at all since the beginning of the new year. He needs to start scoring goals if Fiorentina want to reach the Champions League.
- Mauro Zarate will be eager to show his worth against a club where he failed to deliver after a big money move from Lazio.
Inter Milan AC Milan strengths and weaknesses
- Inter Milan’s rock-solid defence has looked totally shaky in the past few weeks. Defending from set-pieces is a real concern now for Mancini.
- Mauro Icardi has responded in the perfect manner after being dropped for the Milan derby. He needs to fire in this crucial game.