Milan (AFP) – Inter Milan’s Champions League qualifying hopes could hinge on victory over Roma this Sunday, and former coach Frank De Boer believes the ‘Nerazzurri’ only have themselves to blame.
Inter, fourth at 15 points adrift of leaders Juventus and six behind Napoli in the third and final Champions League spot, have failed to qualify for the competition since an ill-fated group stage campaign in 2012.
Victory at a packed San Siro on Sunday would see the 2010 competition winners, now under the helm of Stefano Pioli, take another step towards redressing the balance.
But De Boer suggested Inter could be even closer to their objective — if key players had acted differently during his ill-fated spell that lasted just 85 days.
He notably faced the fallout from captain Mauro Icardi’s controversial autobiography, as well as the nocturnal antics of Croatia midfielder Marcelo Brozovic.
“… at Inter I had to deal with so many things away from football, you lose energy,” he said in an interview with dailymail.co.uk.
“Every time you thought, ‘Finally, a good result, everything has calmed down’, then comes Mauro Icardi’s book (in which the captain criticised the club’s Ultras) or Marcelo Brozovic is in the discotheque and you have to punish him.
“We only had three months but honestly, it felt like a year.”
Whatever Icardi’s past sins — he was forced to republish his book following angry complaints by fans over inconsistencies — Pioli will welcome the Argentine back with open arms from a two-game ban.
During that absence Icardi dropped four goals behind Serie A sharpshooter Edin Dzeko, who shares the league lead with Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain on 19 goals.
Despite firing blanks in a 1-0 loss to Villarreal that sent Roma through to the Europa League last 16, 4-1 on aggregate, Dzeko — contrary to Icardi — is letting his boots do the talking.
A well-taken opener in a 4-1 rout of Torino was Dzeko’s 29th goal of the season last week and matched his all-time record set at Wolfsburg in 2009-2010.
“Dzeko has really started to believe in his goalscoring again and that’s a big plus for us,” Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said.
Inter stunned Juventus earlier this season, when Icardi hit the opener in a 2-1 San Siro win, but striker Eder said: “Roma are a really strong side. I see it 50-50, even although we have the home advantage.
“We’re doing really well … but if Roma play well as a team, all of their individual players get stronger. It’s not just about Dzeko.”
An Inter win would not only inject life into the race for Champions League spots, but dent Roma’s challenge to a Juventus side heading towards a record sixth consecutive scudetto.
Juve can even add to any pre-match Roma nerves if, as expected, they account for struggling Empoli in Turin a day earlier and go 10 points clear.
Only one of Empoli’s five wins was away and that was a 4-0 rout at struggling Pescara. The financial gulf between the pair was laid bare by club official Francesco Ghelfi on Thursday.
“Juventus have turnover of 350-400 million euros. We have 50m,” he told the Tirreno newspaper.
“With the 90m they paid for Higuain, we could build three stadiums and still have 10m left over for a player.”
Defender Leonardo Bonucci is expected to return after being sidelined by Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri following a heated clash between the pair in a 4-1 win over Palermo last week.
Elsewhere, Lazio could capitalise on an Atalanta defeat to Napoli to move up to fifth with a home win over Udinese.
AC Milan, stuck in seventh at 19 points off the pace and 10 behind Napoli, face a tricky trip to Sassuolo looking to take their recent unbeaten run to three games.
Napoli v Atalanta (1700), Juventus v Empoli (1945)
Palermo v Sampdoria (1130), Chievo v Pescara, Crotone v Cagliari, Genoa v Bologna, Lazio v Udinese, Sassuolo v AC Milan (all 1400), Inter Milan v Roma (1945)
Fiorentina v Torino (1945)