Roberto Mancini will feel he is back in the big time on Sunday when his Inter Milan side play the Milan derby. He will also know that this new job – his sixth as a coach – could end up being his toughest.
He has worked the poor squad-low expectations combination, and he knows the great players-high expectations scenario, too. But this is the nightmare mix – high expectations and a poor set of players.
Mancini returns as the “golden boy” – the Inter coach who broke Milan’s dominance with three titles from 2006 to 2008. His successor at San Siro, Jose Mourinho, said he won the first in the courts (when Juventus were stripped of the 2005-06 scudetto after the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal), the second because there were no competitors (with Milan docked 15 points and Juventus relegated) and the third only on the last day of the season. Mourinho also topped that trio of Serie A titles by becoming the first coach to win the treble in Italy – scudetto, Coppa Italia and Champions League – after he took over from him.
Yet for Inter fans Mancini remains a maverick – the man who brought sexy football to San Siro once, and who can do so again.
How attractive Inter can get when former Cardiff midfield enforcer Gary Medel is now their playmaker is questionable. Medel’s quality is beyond doubt but the degree to which the much-maligned, outgoing Inter coach Walter Mazzarri relied on him for creative inspiration underlines the workmanlike squad Mancini inherits.
Getting into the Champions League will be enough for this campaign and that will earn him a transfer kitty for next summer, but clinching third place in Serie A will not be easy with Juventus and Roma contesting the title and Rafael Benitez’s Napoli looking favourites to finish just behind the top two.
Beating Milan would be the perfect start but he only managed it in four out of 10 attempts in his first spell as Inter coach and has unhappy memories of facing Milan counterpart Filippo Inzaghi, who scored for the Rossoneri when they nearly derailed Inter’s title run-in with a 2-1 win in 2008.
Having priced himself out of the Italy job and been overlooked by Juventus, Mancini is back with Inter. Even if the phoenix rises on Sunday, he knows that keeping it airborne could end up being his biggest challenge yet.
Vidic and Torres set to meet again
Sunday’s meeting also brings together Nemanja Vidic and Fernando Torres. It has been five years since those Premier League encounters when both were at their peak and when the then Liverpool striker invariably gave the Manchester United defender a torrid time. Both players’ careers have gone into decline since then and neither has had the desired impact in Italy since moving there this year. Vidic must hope Mancini reverts to a four-man defence with Inter, but Torres is struggling with the “false nine” attack Inzaghi prefers for Milan.
Modric injury is a big blow to Real
Ask Real Madrid supporters who the team’s most important player is and the majority would answer Cristiano Ronaldo or Sergio Ramos. Ask the coaching staff and, microphones off, they would probably say Luka Modric. Ronaldo is brilliant but Gareth Bale can offer the same qualities; Ramos is exceptional but has a fine understudy in Raphaël Varane. There is no replacement for Modric. Therefore the last player the Champions League holders needed to be out for three months with a torn thigh muscle – suffered playing for Croatia against Italy on Sunday – is the former Tottenham midfielder.