Curtain set to fall on Inter heroes
The curtain comes down on Inter Milan's 2013-14 season Sunday when they travel to Chievo for what is now a meaningless end-of-season encounter after the Nerazzurri wrapped up European qualification with the 4-1 thumping of Lazio last weekend while Chievo ensured their survival in Serie A with a 1-0 win at Cagliari.
As I wrote midweek, this will be a summer of change at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza as Erick Thohir and Walter Mazzarri attempt to put their stamp on a squad that they both inherited from their predecessors.
With nine players out of contract after the season concludes, Sunday could be the final time we see the likes of Esteban Cambiasso, Diego Milito and Walter Samuel in the colours of the Nerazzuri. Of course, it will be the final time Javier Zanetti pulls on the shirt before his retirement.
Mazzarri has not announced his squad yet, but after the fiasco of the Derby della Madonnina and not getting Zanetti on the pitch at the end of the match, there's hope that the Inter boss starts all four likely departing stars Sunday so that the travelling support can say goodbye to this core of players that has meant so much for the club.
Of those emotional departures, it will prove to be most important for Inter to find a replacement for Cambiasso. I had my doubts about his ability to fit into Mazzarri's system, but Cambiasso has turned back the clock. According to WhoScored, he's been the best Argentinian central midfielder in Europe this season. Cambiasso has shown that he can still play at the highest level, but it is a shame that it likely won't be in an Inter shirt.
Walter Samuel is someone else whose performance surprised me this season. I thought he was past is best, and would be a squad player at best, but he has regained his form in the back three and brought a steel and physicality to the Inter defence that the other defenders lack. Samuel has only made 13 starts in the league this season, but his contribution appears greater than that. Nemanja Vidic brings a lot of the same characteristics to the team as Samuel does, but I would love to see the club bring Samuel back as a squad player as cover for Vidic.
It has been sad to watch the demise of Diego Milito this season as he has really struggled to return to form after tearing up his knee against Cluj in a Europa League match 15 months ago. Milito has been unable to stay fit this season as a series of nagging injuries has limited him to just five starts. Two seasons ago, the two goals that El Principe managed this season would have been a bad month.
Between 2009 and 2012, Milito was among the best strikers in Europe. There is no historic treble without his contributions.
Javier Zanetti was given a wonderful farewell at the San Siro last week, and former club president Massimo Moratti said this week that Il Capitano will become a vice-president of the club this summer. There has been growing discussion in the Italian media about whether the club should retire Zanetti's No. 4, and I cannot think of a more fitting closure to his wonderful career than for Zanetti to join Giacinto Facchetti as the only two Internazionale players to have ever had their shirts retired.
As for the game itself on Sunday, season finales are so hard to predict as you never know what mental state the players and coaches are in. Are they ready for the match or are they already thinking of where they will be going on vacation next week?
The advantage that the Beneamata have is that with 10 players in their country's preliminary squads for this summer's World Cup, Inter's players are likely to be the more motivated of the two squads, wanting to carry their form into their respective country's training camps.
Prediction: Cagliari 0 Inter 2