When the 2017-18 season began, it appeared as though Luciano Spalletti’s move from Roma to Inter over the summer had been mutually beneficial.
Now though they head into their second meeting of the season in what could be a make-or-break match for both sides, and one which could shift perceptions of both teams and their respective Coaches.
In the Inter vs Roma best odds the hosts are favourite at 13/20, with the visitors at 39/20, but Spalletti could never have imagined how crucial this game could prove when he left the Eternal City at the end of last season.
The Coach opted not to renew his contract with the Giallorossi, despite guiding them to a highest-ever points total, and soon made the move north to the Nerazzurri. His replacement was a former Lupi player, Eusebio Di Francesco, and initially both teams appeared to be in rude health.
Roma may have been slightly less consistent post-Spalletti, but they overcame their European hoodoo to top their Champions League group and were firmly in the Scudetto race. With the Coppa Italia to compete for too, fans not unreasonably felt that Di Francesco might be able to achieve was Spalletti hadn’t in his second spell and win a trophy.
In the black and blue half of Milan too things looked rosy. The Beneamata made an unbeaten start to the season, and with no European football to contend with there was real hope they could make a Scudetto challenge, with Spalletti seen as reviving their fortunes the way Antonio Conte had done for Juventus in the 2011-12 season.
Things appeared to be going brilliantly for both teams - then came December. Heading into Sunday’s clash at San Siro, Inter are winless in seven games across all competitions. They’re out of the Coppa Italia, eliminated at the hands of city rivals Milan, and nine points off the Serie A summit.
The visitors have problems of their own, with three defeats and a draw in their last five games. All of a sudden, this match has the potential to define each Coach’s season.
A win for Roma would see them go level with the Nerazzurri on points, potentially pushing them out of the top four in the process. Given that Spalletti’s remit was to return Inter to the Champions League, pressure could begin to mount on the Tuscan.
Interisti have been almost unanimous in their praise for their Coach so far, but if that winless run stretches to eight games and the Beneamata slide out of the top four, there could be rumblings of discontent.
If Inter win, recent criticism of Di Francesco will come to a head. The former Sassuolo Coach has been accused of being stubborn, as he refuses to deviate from his favoured 4-3-3 formation. Defeat to the Giallorossi’s former Coach would throw his perceived shortcomings into sharp focus.
The former midfielder is in his first big job, and it won’t take much for the narrative that he’s out of his depth to take hold. Internal problems with Radja Nainggolan, a poor run of form, an unwillingness to change formation… Roma fans could well start pointing out that these things couldn’t be said under Spalletti.
Neither Coach will be sacked if they lose this Sunday’s game, but come the end of the season we may well look back on it as the defining match of their respective tenures.