Future fixtures placing onus on Inter to win at Sampdoria
Inter travel to Sampdoria on Sunday in what will be Walter Mazzarri's biggest game as Inter boss.
After picking up only three points from their last four league games, Inter find themselves clinging onto sixth place and the final Europa League spot in Serie A.
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With only six games left in the season, it is crucial that Inter start winning games if they want to be in Europe next season, especially considering Inter's schedule the rest of the season:
-- Sampdoria: A -- Parma: A -- Napoli: H -- Milan: A -- Lazio: H -- Chievo: A
That is a brutal run of games, and it is likely that Inter will be underdogs against Parma, Napoli, Milan and Lazio based on current form. Which is why winning at Sampdoria is so important.
Inter head into the game in the midst of the miserable run of form, winning only two of their last six games. After having one of the best defensive records in Serie A, Inter are suddenly conceding goals left and right, giving up two goals in three of their last four games. One glimmer of hope for Inter fans is that Inter are unbeaten in their last four away games, with two wins and two draws.
Sampdoria, on the other hand, are in better form at the moment with three wins and a draw in their last six games. Sampdoria have been especially strong at home with three wins and two draws in their last six home games.
Inter will be without Juan Jesus for the rest of the season after he tore ligaments in his knee last weekend. Walter Samuel and Andrea Ranocchia are expected to partner with Rolando in the Inter defence.
As for Sampdoria, they will be without forward Manolo Gabbiadini who is out with a shoulder injury and Gianluca Sansone is expected to replace him in the starting XI.
Getting the midfield right:
When Inter signed Hernanes from Lazio in January, I wondered how Mazzarri was going to fit Hernanes, Esteban Cambiasso, Fredy Guarin and Ricky Alvarez all into the starting XI. After two months it is clear that Mazzarri does not yet know his best three starting midfield players.
He seems to have settled on Hernanes and Cambiasso, while Guarin and Alvarez get the same treatment that Saphir Taider and Mateo Kovacic got earlier in the season; one plays for 50-60 minutes and is replaced by the other. The rotation system did not work for Taider and Kovacic and it is not working for Guarin and Alvarez. I don't think that it is a coincidence that both Guarin and Alvarez are in the midst of their worst slumps of the season.
But Guarin and Alvarez are not the only midfield players who have lost form at the worst possible time; Cambiasso is also struggling. According to whoscored.com, Cambiasso has been average (below 7.0 rating) in seven of his last ten appearances.
Under normal circumstances, I would expect Mazzarri to freshen up his midfield this week by starting either Zdravko Kuzmanovic or Kovacic. But these are not normal circumstances. Inter are playing for their Europa League lives, while Mazzarri has to be worried about whether he will still be Inter manager next season, especially if Inter don't qualify for Europe.
For that reason, I expect Mazzarri to go with the tried and trusted this weekend against Sampdora. That means Hernanes, Cambiasso and the combination of Guarin/Alvarez in central midfield. If he is going to lose his job, Mazzarri will want to make sure that he did not lose it because of youthful enthusiasm. He will want to make sure that he has his big names on the pitch as much as possible.
Anything less than a win will be a disaster for Inter, especially with that upcoming fixture list. The pressure on Mazzarri and the players will be massive if Inter don't win. This is the time when the likes of Javier Zanetti, Cambiasso, Diego Milito have to show their leadership in the dressing room.
It will not be easy to get a win at Sampdoria, but I expect an improved defensive effort from Inter this weekend, and in-form striker Mauro Icardi to snatch a goal as the Nerazzurri get back to winning.
Score: Sampdoria 0 Inter 1