Confident Inter Milan must not slip against Bologna
"We believe we can finish third." Those were the confident words of Inter's Gary Medel as told to the Inter Channel. The use of "we" rather than "I" was encouraging, as was the language he used throughout the interview. Medel focused on the group's spirit, the belief in coach Roberto Mancini and a togetherness that seems to have navigated the team through some tough times in 2016. Coming off the back of wins against Juventus in the Coppa Italia and Palermo in Serie A, the Nerazzurri are brimming with confidence, but they have a tough task ahead in facing a well-drilled Bologna side, while still trying to fine tune their own team.
Bologna have been impressive this term; drawing with Juventus and Roma and beating the likes of Milan and Napoli. They have proved themselves to be extremely competent in their approach and execution. The team from Emilia Romagna have taken huge steps since Roberto Donadoni took charge last October and goalless draws in their last three games show that they are tough to break down and incredibly resolute.
This does not mean that they cannot score goals, however, and one man in particular who has been galvanised under the new coach is former Inter youth player Mattia Destro. His start at the club was uninspiring, but soon as it became evident that this young but seasoned forward had all the attributes to make himself dangerous in the division, Donadoni needed only to look at Destro's time at Siena or Roma to know that he had a potent threat. Despite the fact that Destro has not scored against his former club, Inter will have to be wary as he is chasing his 50th Serie A goal.
The Milanese themselves, according to Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport, will look to start the game with a different formation once again in a 4-3-2-1, which is arguably a risk. Despite the win against Juventus in the Coppa, in which the Old Lady were not at full strength, and Palermo, who are in appalling form, Inter have been poor since the turn of the year. Some of their best displays have come when Marcelo Brozovic, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Medel have all started together, although with this 4-3-2-1, it seems that one of them, perhaps the Croatian, will be sacrificed.
Whether it is Mancini's record against Donadoni -- two wins and three draws -- or inter's newfound belief, it seems like the team will be much more offensive. Ivan Perisic and Adem Ljajic on either flank both seem to be coming into form, as does Mauro Icardi, who has altered his game slightly and has been making more intelligent runs to come and pick up the ball.
Rodrigo Palacio is perhaps the surprise package in recent weeks, as he has played his way into contention with a string of good displays. He has altered his game somewhat and while he has always been a thoughtful and technical player, he has leaned on this more in recent weeks, as he no longer can rely on his legs to allow him to play at his industrious best. Whether he is better as an impact substitute is up for debate, but Mancini's choice to consider starting him behind Icardi in the "trequartista" position would be thoroughly justified it wasn't for one thing: Eder.
Inter's winter purchase from Sampdoria may not have broken his duck yet for the Nerazzurri, but his quality and potential to link up with Icardi has been evident. His movement, understanding of the various roles asked of him and his incessant harrying of defenders has been impressive to say the least. For the Genoese outfit he had 12 goals and two assists in 19 Serie A appearances -- and that was for a team that were floundering. The opportunity to play Eder in a position where he does not have to worry about scoring would enable him to supply Icardi. The lack of pressure should help Eder and the results could be very positive for the Nerazzurri moving forward.
Medel's confidence in the team seems to be mirrored by his coach's proposed formation and team selection. The balance, however, is a tough one and will test the mettle of Mancini. Balance and confidence are a tough mix whether in midfield or in attack, especially when the opposition is resolute and dangerous. Many are looking to the upcoming match against Roma to be the standard bearer for Inter's Champions League credentials, but this will be irrelevant should they slip against Bologna.
Richard Hall is an Italian football writer contributing to ESPN, The Guardian, Daily Mail, IBWM and Football Italia. Follow him on Twitter @Gentleman_Ultra.