Inter Milan take on newly-promoted Lecce in their 2022/23 Serie A season opener on Saturday as they look to challenge for the title.

Another season of Italian football is upon us, and the attention will soon shift from this summer’s captivating transfer window to the forthcoming opening fixtures. 2021/22 was one of the most competitive campaigns in Italy’s top flight in the last decade, with AC Milan, Inter, and Napoli all enjoying spells at the top of the table, as the title race went to the wire.

AC Milan eventually edged cross-city rivals Inter by just two points to claim their first Scudetto in 11 years and complete the resurrection of both San Siro clubs, ending Juventus’s nine-year hegemony. It remains to be seen whether the Scudetto will return to the city of Milan for a third straight season, but Simone Inzaghi will be hoping that the footballing gods will be on their side this time rather than the Rossoneri.

Despite winning two trophies last year, losing the Serie A title to traditional city-foes AC Milan was a big shock for the Inter faithful and a bitter pill to swallow heading into the summer. This was despite the fact that Simone Inzaghi’s men were actually the best-performing team in Italy across attacking and defensive metrics.

But Inter have made a number of interesting acquisitions, including the high-profile loan return of Romelu Lukaku, who played a major role in their title success in 2021. But their pre-season record was patchy, to say the least, as they won only one of their five games, which came against Swiss club FC Lugano.

The Nerazzurri begin 2022/23 as the favourites after their exploits in the transfer market. Inzaghi will aim to turn last season’s frustration into a major source of motivation for the upcoming season, and a trip to newly-promoted Lecce seems to present them with the ideal chance to make a statement.

Lecce, meanwhile, return to Serie A after two years in Serie B. They stormed to the Serie B title under Marco Baroni. In theory, they should be the best equipped team for survival of the three newcomers this season, but fellow promoted side Monza are taking all the spotlight with their high-profile acquisitions at the moment.

Lecce are coming off the back of a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Serie B side Cittadella last Friday, bringing their Coppa Italia campaign to an abrupt end in the first round itself. They face an uphill battle against Inter in the Serie A 2022/23 season opener. The Hard Tackle takes a look at how both sides may take to the field on the night and the tactics they might employ.

Team News & Tactics

Lecce

Lecce boss Marco Baroni has been extremely proactive this summer and has made a slew of signings. They could make a few more moves, as their squad is still one of the weakest in Serie A. Baroni’s men experienced a dreadful start to the new competitive season with an extra-time defeat to Cittadella last week and will be looking to improve on their last outing here.

The minnows will be without the services of Kastriot Dermaku, Kristoffer Askildsen, and Alessandro Tuia, with the trio recovering from their respective injuries. Baroni will likely deploy a 4-3-3 formation with Wladimiro Falcone in goal for the Paprica. Guarding the Sampdoria loanee will be a narrow back-four of Valentin Gendrey, Alexis Blin, Mert Cetin, and Gianluca Frabotta.

A three-man midfield should be in order, with Kristijan Bistrovic, Morten Hjulmand and Johann Helgason hoping to keep their Inter Milan counterparts quiet on the night. The onus to attack the Inter Milan defence will be on the front three of Gabriel Strefezza, Assan Ceesay, and Di Francesco.

Ceesay, who netted 20 goals from 32 Swiss Super League outings last term, will be the central striker for the hosts and is likely to find himself starved of service upfront, so he will need to be clinical to covert any rare clear-cut chance.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Falcone; Gendrey, Blin, Cetin, Frabotta; Bistrovic, Hjulmand, Helgason; Strefezza, Ceesay, Di Francesco 

Inter Milan

Last season, Inter Milan were flying under Simone Inzaghi’s leadership and were in control of the title race by December. However, their bid to progress further in the UEFA Champions League overstretched their squad, which saw them fall apart domestically in February, where they averaged a point a game across seven fixtures.

To address the issue, Inter Milan have done some decent business so far in retaining the core squad from last season and reducing their wage bill to make room for new signings to beef up their squad depth.

The Nerazzurri head into the game with a clean bill of health, with the exception of Danilo D’Ambrosio. Inzaghi will likely stick with his preferred 3-5-2 formation, with veteran goalkeeper Samir Handanovic retaining his place in between the sticks for the visitors.

Despite extensive rumours of a potential exit, Milan Skriniar seems to have stayed put at San Siro, and will continue in a back three alongside Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni to forge a formidable rearguard.

The better the central defensive trio maintains their shape, the easier it will be for wing-backs Robin Gosens and Denzel Dumfries to bomb forward and create menace. The duo will have plenty of open space down the flanks to squeeze Lecce’s defence and make late darting runs at the back post.

Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, and Hakan Calhanoglu should be the preferred options in the middle of the park as usual. Lukaku’s performances will be crucial in determining what will be the highest ceiling for them this season.

If the Belgian international can find his feet and provide his side with the extra flair, focal point and clinical nature that was lacking during the latter half of last season, Inter would once again be a dominant force, with his telepathic chemistry on the pitch with strike-partner Lautaro Martinez leading the Scudetto charge.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Gosens; Martinez, Lukaku

Key Stats

  • Inter Milan are undefeated in 11 of their last 12 matches against Lecce in all competitions. That said, they are winless in the last three visits to Stadio Comunale Via del Mare and have only won six of the last 12 away trips to Lecce (D3 L3).
  • Inter Milan had the best attack in Serie A last season, hitting 84 goals and winning eight of their final ten games by more than one goal.
  • Lecce have the unwanted record of being the club who have played the most opening day Serie A games without a victory (16).
  • Inter should have no trouble scoring goals on the opening weekend, after finding the back of the net ten times in five pre-season games, although they failed to keep a clean sheet in each of those outings.
  • The visitors are unbeaten in their last 11 Serie A games against newly-promoted sides in the Serie A opening matchday (W9 D2). On August 26, 2019, they defeated Lecce 4-0 in Antonio Conte’s first game in charge.

Player to Watch

Romelu Lukaku

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After an underwhelming first season with Chelsea following his big-money transfer to Stamford Bridge, Lukaku has returned to Inter Milan on loan and will have some unfinished business to convince the ultras who are not too pleased with his homecoming. Inter’s main requirement this summer was an upgrade on Edin Dzeko, and Lukaku’s return seemed the ideal option given his relationship with Lautaro Martinez.

Lukaku and Martinez combined for 41 goals and 20 assists during the 2020/21 Serie A campaign, and if they are just as clinical this season, the odds will stack in favour of Inter to wrestle back the Scudetto this season.

The deadly Serie A duo worked magically under Antonio Conte, but the question is, will it be the same with Inzaghi now in charge? Nonetheless, Lecce could have their hands full trying to contain Lukaku. It would be a safe bet to assume the Belgian striker will find the back of the net on his second bow here.

Prediction

Lecce 1-3 Inter Milan

Inter head into the game as overwhelming favourites. Both teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum and will be keen to get off the mark. However, the quality of the Nerazzurri’s star-studded lineup should come through, and it should be a comfortable win.

Inter outclass Lecce in every respect. The visitors should have an easy night. But the hosts have a chance to make their presence felt in the Italian top flight and will be encouraged by the fact that Simone Inzaghi’s side have been leaking goals for fun in pre-season.

Last season, Inter made a habit of brushing aside inferior opponents and are likely to create a decent amount of chances and shots on target. Unless Inter have a really bad day at the office, the 2021/22 Coppa Italia winners should come away with all three points here.

One Response to “Lecce vs Inter Milan Preview: Probable Lineups, Prediction, Tactics, Team News & Key Stats”

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  1. Lukaku was underrated at Chelsea. Inter is his comfort zone

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