Inzaghi: "We'll need to play with our heads and hearts"
Team— Feb 4th 2023
The Coach's thoughts ahead of Inter vs. AC Milan
APPIANO GENTILE - On Sunday 5 February at 20:45 CET, Inter will take on AC Milan at San Siro in the derby on matchday 21 in Serie A. Ahead of the big game, Nerazzurri boss Simone Inzaghi responded to journalists' questions in his pre-match press conference.
The derby is always a special game. This season, the two sides have met each other twice, and they were very different games. How are the team doing ahead of tomorrow's game? "The derby is a deeply meaningful match for all of us. We'll need to use both our heads and hearts. We're ready to give everything out on the pitch and happy that we made the Coppa Italia semi-finals, which we'll only focus on in April."
Do Inter have a psychological advantage after the 3-0 win just over two weeks ago? Does it provide you with added confidence? "Every derby is a story in itself. In a year and a half, we've played six matches against AC Milan. The three cup fixtures allowed us to win two trophies, while we've had some disappointments in the league. The best solution is to play them with the right amount of focus and remain level-headed. After all, you risk expending a lot of mental energy when you go into games of this nature."
How will you approach tomorrow's game? Is it primarily about the Champions League at this point or could it have Scudetto implications? Will Skriniar play? "We've arrived at a point in the season where points are crucial for any objective. We know what this match represents for us. As regards Skriniar, I'm only going to talk about the man and the player: he's a fantastic lad who works excellently every day. It's very likely he'll be involved."
Is Lukaku causing you a selection headache? How far off is he from the levels he reached two years ago? "Romelu played really well against Atalanta and is improving, and he'll only get better as he plays more minutes. I've always said that my hope is to get every player in optimum condition so I can have everyone at my disposal. Lukaku is making progress, as is Correa. I'm also hoping to have Brozovic and Handanovic back. I want everyone to be in the best possible condition, and then I'll try to make suitable choices depending on the game we have."
How did you approach the topic of captain? "Our captain is Handanovic. We have a hierarchy based on appearances. Skriniar won't be the captain again, but we all spoke about it together in a very calm manner, and this involved both the Club and the lad. Choices will be made from time to time, but the thing that matters to me most right now is the game. The lads have been focused as they look to produce a great performance."
This will be the seventh derby in two years, and results have been evenly split. However, Inter have been better in the cups, while AC Milan have had the edge in the league. Is this a reflection of your team's performance? "It's clear that this has been the case. Last season, just two points separated the teams in the league, and it's currently the same this time around. We've done better in the cup competitions, but I don't expect an under-par AC Milan to turn up. They'll have plenty of desire to produce a big performance, and they're a team that I really respect."
The game is being played on the same date as last year: is this a further reason to get revenge? "Just like we shouldn't keep thinking back to the Supercoppa derby, there's no need to do the same for the match that took place a year ago. These are games that are decided by certain incidents; we need to interpret the match in the right way against an AC Milan side who have the desire for revenge."
Napoli are well clear at the moment: is it something that helps you play in a more relaxed manner? "It doesn't change anything. We know that there's a gap, but, at this moment, every point is important for any objective, whether it's bringing Napoli closer or pulling away from the pursuers. We must only focus on ourselves."
When Inter have won derbies, they've come out on top after strong performances. When AC Milan have won, there's always been this impression that Inter were stronger. Do you think that Inter are stronger than AC Milan? "These two teams competed for the Scudetto until the final matchday, were involved in a Coppa Italia semi-final tie and took each other on in the Supercoppa. They're two well-equipped sides who want to go about their business without focusing on their opponents. Derbies are unique matches where certain incidents are key; a counter-attack or decision can change the course of the game. We'll need to be good at ensuring that the moments go our way."
With Brozovic's return, will there be changes in midfield? "It'll depend from game to game. Brozovic is a very important player for us. He and Lukaku have been out for a long time, and we've found a way to make up for their absences at certain times. Calhanoglu has played in that position for the last three and a half months and has done very well. Asllani is growing and is managing to do well in important and delicate matches after coming on. I'm happy with his progress and Brozovic's return, which will give us more options."
This has been the first season where Lukaku has been injured on a regular basis. You also experienced this during your career: have you spoken to him about how to deal with this situation? "I talk to Romelu a lot. I went through it after 26. It's a new situation for him as he's never had issues. He came back after the injury, but things then slowed down for him. Now, he's working as best he can to help us. His last match and the last few weeks have been very positive, and we hope he can continue on this path. Romelu is very disappointed because he hasn't been able to contribute as much as he would have liked. He's working really hard to bring himself to the same level as his teammates, and he's managing to do so. Once he reaches the best possible condition, we all know what kind of player he is."
Ever since he's returned as a World Champion, have you seen a different Lautaro Martinez? "Lautaro has been playing like this for a good year; in the last twelve months, his performance levels have been very consistent and high. This is something he's deserved given how he works on a daily basis. Since January last year, he's maintained a very high standard, and hopefully this will remain the case until the very end. He's played a lot, but perhaps it's something that has helped him remain in peak condition physically."
AC Milan are really struggling: is this something that could make the game even trickier? "Derbies are unique matches. AC Milan aren't going through a positive spell, but they're the champions of Italy and qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in a long time. They're a high-quality side that I really respect. We'll need to be full of running, aggressive, determined and really focused."