What: Inter vs. Sassuolo. Stadio Citta’ del Tricolore, Emilia-Romagna. Sunday, September 22, 2013, 6:30 AM EDT. Match Day 4.
History: U.S. Sassuolo Calcio is currently beginning its first ever season in Serie A. As anyone who's paid any attention to Inter's curva chants ought to know, Inter non sono mai stato anywhere outside of Serie A. Put two and two together, and it’s entirely possible we’ve never played Sassuolo at all in our century-plus history. I own a decent-sized library of scholarly tomes detailing the history of world football and Serie A in general, and last night I breezed through my bookshelf in search of some history here – only one book had an entry for Sassuolo in the index, and I think it might have been a typo.
In other words, there’s very little about this match-up that would excite a neutral fan, which makes it all the more interesting for me. This will be the first time I’ve ever seen this club play, and how often can one say that?
Them: Despite boasting a history roughly on par with some local pub teams, it bears mentioning that Sassuolo is currently experiencing the best run of its 91-year-history. They were last season’s Serie B champions, and managed to win Italian football’s strangest and least-legitimate title, the Trofeo TIM, over Milan and Juventus earlier this summer. Since reaching these heights, the club has begun playing more like one would expect them to play, having racked up three straight defeats, all against teams that have floated between Serie A and Serie B in recent years. (Torino, Livorno and Verona all beat them by a margin of at least two goals.) It’s still frightfully early in the championship, but it’s tough to imagine Sassuolo won’t be hovering around the relegation zone for many months to come.
In other words, no sane person who isn’t part of a Singaporean match-fixing syndicate would bet on Sassuolo in this match. But then again, this is Pazza Inter: we’re fully capable of face-planting against relegation-level squads (cough, Novara, cough), and Sassuolo have literally been waiting for their entire existence to get a shot at a team of Inter’s caliber. And it isn’t like coach Eusebio di Francesco doesn’t have some interesting players to work with. Our old friend Ezequiel Schelotto is currently on loan there, and what he lacks in talent and refinement he makes up for in heart, so if he plays – and he hasn’t left Sassuolo’s bench yet, so he probably won’t – look for him to try and make a case that he deserves to be back here. Former Inter youth product Karim Laribi has been a far more steady presence on the squad, and he’ll be one to watch this weekend. The club also boast a glut of young Juve castoffs and prospects, ranging from Reto Ziegler to Luca Marrone (who seems to be injured) and the interesting young striker Simone Zaza, who knocked in 18 goals with Ascoli in Serie B last season, and has scored Sassuolo’s solitary Serie A goal so far.
Quick note for non-Italian-speakers: Sassuolo is pronounced more or less the way it’s spelled, although I believe most Italian speakers would elide the "u" and "o" into a single syllable, rendering it something like "sass-WHOA-low." As is "your sass – whoa! – that’s low." Although if you wanted to call the team "Sussudio," I doubt anyone would correct you
Us: Since last weekend’s inspiring draw with Juve, there has been very little news to report from the Inter front. Wait, scratch that – there has been some of the most immensely important and game-changing Inter news of the last two decades over the past week, which I’ll get to in a minute, but as for the team sheet, there’s nothing to report. Everyone who was injured is still injured, everyone who was healthy is still healthy, Cambiasso is still bald, the team still wears black and blue, and the earth still orbits the sun at a general speed of one rotation per 365 days.
There has been some talk that Walter Mazzarri might use this match to rest some of the team’s more essential players, particularly Rodrigo Palacio and Ricky Alvarez. As averse as Walter generally tends to be toward team rotation, if he’s going to rest anyone, this would be the perfect match to do so. Taider put in a supremely solid showing last week, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t get the nod again. Kovacic has been battling minor injury and rustiness for a while, making this an ideal match for him to get his sea legs back. (It would also be nice to see Guarin reverse his increasingly worrisome slide in form.)
But if anyone ought to get a full 90 minutes here, it’s Mauro Icardi. The man played less than half of our first match, and managed two shots on goal and another off the crossbar. Last weekend, he only made two touches, total, in his substitute role against Juve – one of those touches was a completed pass, the other was a goal. I think he’s made a damn good case for himself so far, no?
With that in mind, here’s a totally uneducated guess as to how we’ll line up tomorrow, although it wouldn’t surprise me to see Ricky keep his place in the starting XI, considering how revelatory his play has been this season:
Campagnaro – Ranocchia – Juan Jesus
Jonathan – Cambiasso – Kovacic – Taider – Nagatomo
(With at least two out of Belfodil, Wallace and Rolando getting a run-out.)
TL; DR Summary: Of course, it’s difficult to focus on a match against a minnow when there are such earth-shaking developments coming out of Milano. After months of flirtation and aggravation, Massimo Moratti seems poised to finally sell a majority share of the club to Erick Thohir. Negotiations will likely continue for weeks – this is an enormously complex financial arrangement, remember – yet Moratti’s public statements over the past week would seem to confirm that the principles of the deal are done and dusted. I approach this news with a weird mixture of optimism, worry, and most of all general melancholy. Moratti has made some immense mistakes and poor judgment calls as Inter president, a lot of which took place just in the last few years, but I have never known FC Internazionale as a club without Moratti at the head of it. I plan to write a much more thorough appreciation post for the man who spent 600 million of his own money to bring Inter 16 major trophies during his reign, but for now, I’ll leave you with the words of Francesco Totti (of all people), who had this to say today as he signed his last contract extension with Roma:
"Regarding Moratti, I’m sorry to see him pass on ownership of the team. Unfortunately, in football there are dark periods, especially now. In Italian football, Moratti will always remain a true gentleman, respected even by those who are not interiste."