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Inter Milan FC
Inter Milan FC

The Derby della Madonnina always raises the blood pressure of both Inter Milan and AC Milan fans, no matter what the circumstances are.

This replay Wednesday is certainly no different.

Both teams still have a lot to play for this late in the season.

For the Nerazzurri, all eyes are on a Champions League position which many feel will be the solution to all of our woes.

Will it? Not likely, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

After Sunday’s win over Hellas Verona, Inter sit in fourth – just two points back of Roma – with a game in-hand over the capital club and a point ahead of Lazio who crushed Benevento over the weekend.

Now, we all know that Juventus and Napoli are out of reach. There is no realistic way for Inter to crack the top two this season because of how both the aforementioned teams have performed. It’s unfortunate considering how Inter started the season, but it is what it is.

For Interisti, we have to hope for a top four finish to get back to Europe. And, despite our fall on challenging times in December and January, it is still within our grasp. Which more speaks to the weakness of Serie A’s midtable teams than our ability to keep in the chase.

A win Wednesday puts us over Roma and into third, but by no means secures a spot in the Champions League. But, a loss for Milan likely ends their season chasing the Europa League – which would be great for Inter fans for us to say we shut the door on our rivals.

At this point, it really doesn’t matter how Milan finishes, so long as it isn’t above us. Barring a complete let-down by us and a run of the table for Milan, it is unlikely they finish above us this year. Of course, in the process of writing that I realize I may have jinxed it a bit.

The one certain thing is that Inter Milan controls its own fate. Win and we are in, lose and we leave our future to Roma and Lazio to determine.

The fact of the matter is that we are resting a lot of the future on qualifying for Europe next season. We are banking, literally, on it so much that qualification will have a direct impact on our squad for the next season.

Earning qualification likely means we keep Joao Cancelo and Rafinha, restructure Mauro Icardi’s contract with confidence and keep Luciano Spalletti for another five years or more. Not qualifying means all of those factors come into question.

Not qualifying means we likely ship either Cancelo or Rafinha back, or both. Negotiating Icardi’s contract becomes harder because we lose a lot of contractual leverage. Plus, any hopes of adding anyone withers on the proverbial vine. No Javier Pastore, no anyone.

The belt-tightening by the Suning Group almost assures no new funds infused into the club unless from additional sponsorships or the cash from Champions League football.

It’s not all gloom and doom. With where we currently sit, the Europa League is a strong possibility as Serie A gets its fifth- and sixth-place teams in. The fifth-place team goes to the Group Stage while the sixth-place finisher enters the second qualifying round. But, let’s be honest, we don’t want Europa League. It will be fine, but not the goal and many will see it as a failure despite missing European football completely this season.

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The reality is we are no where near out of the woods and nothing is assured at this stage. With eight games remaining after the Derby, a win gives us a lot of hope with Torino, Atalanta, Cagliari, Chievo, Juventus, Udinese, Sassuolo and Lazio left to round out the regular season.

A loss means Inter has to get wins where it is supposed to in at least six of those remaining games to remain in contention for the Champions League. Plus, we would need help from others to give losses to Roma, Lazio and Milan.

Not that winning Wednesday means we are in, because it certainly doesn’t. But, consider the confidence it will give to the team heading into winnable games in the next four weeks.

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Chelsea
Chelsea

 

 

 

Chelsea missed a string of chances to draw 0-0 at home with Arsenal in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final on Wednesday as the video assistant referee (VAR) stoked the tension with two important interventions.

The hosts struggled to break down Arsene Wenger’s side despite enjoying the majority of possession and will feel hard done by after crafting the best of the game’s few openings in a lively game at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen wasted the best of the hosts’ opportunities, failing to find the target with two headers in the second half after Cesc Fabregas had also spurned a headed chance before the break.

Yet with limited goalmouth action, what little drama there was seemed to stem from referee Martin Atkinson referring a handful of decisions to the VAR.

The VAR system was being given its second outing in English football and was called into action in the first half to confirm Atkinson’s decision to wave away a penalty appeal after Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi went down following a challenge from Victor Moses.

It was called on again with two minutes remaining and once more confirmed the referee’s decision not to award a penalty, this time after Danny Welbeck got a faint touch on the ball when bringing down Fabregas.

With the system still in the test phase all eyes were focussed on how it would work, with Wenger voicing concerns in the aftermath about the length of time it took to confirm the referee’s decision not to award a penalty against Welbeck.

He was, however, delighted with how his side defended to leave the tie in the balance ahead of the second leg in two weeks time.

“I felt there was great togetherness, we didn’t give many chances away. I am pleased with the spirit and determination,” Wenger told sky Sports.

Arsenal came into the game without a win in their last three matches and nursing the wounds of a bruising third round FA Cup defeat to second tier Nottingham Forest, but they were resolute from the beginning in what was a relatively cagey affair.

Headed chances went begging for the hosts either side of halftime as Fabregas could only steer Cesar Azpilicueta’s diagonal ball straight at David Ospina while Christensen twice failed to find the net from close range after the break.

“We tried with all our strength to win the game,” Chelsea boss Antonio Conte said. “We created chances to score but a few times we were not so clinical.”

The winners will face either Manchester City or second tier Bristol City in the final, with the Premier League leaders taking a 2-1 lead into the second leg.