Pressure on goal-shy Inter to react
Third-placed Inter Milan are under pressure to react to rivals AC Milan and Lazio's early season surges as they travel to Genoa on Friday.
The reigning champions sit four points off leaders Lazio and two behind their city rivals following last weekend's disappointing 1-1 home draw with Sampdoria. And now they face the potentially tricky trip to the oldest club in the country knowing that anything other than a victory could see them lose more ground in the title race.
Milan's impressive, if somewhat fortuitous 2-1 victory at Napoli on Monday night has given them an unexpected advantage over their fiercest rivals. And with Lazio's stunning start to the campaign showing no signs of abating, Inter are under pressure to keep pace, particularly given that their forthcoming participation in the FIFA Club World Cup in December will see them potentially lose more ground as their league fixtures at that time will be postponed.
There is some good news for Rafael Benitez's side as hot-shot Diego Milito, Nelson Rivas and Mancini all returned to training this week following injuries. There's no guarantee any of them will be available against Genoa and only Milito is likely to be in the match-day squad let alone the first XI. But the Argentine's return could also pose Benitez with a problem.
In Milito's absence, Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o has been on fire in a central striking role and has smashed home 15 goals in 13 games in all competitions. In Benitez's 4-2-3-1 formation, Milito is only really suited to the central striking role but to remove a player as on fire as Eto'o from that position could be counter-productive.
Eto'o can also play in one of the wide striking roles but was far less productive in front of goal from there last season. However, there is no denying that Inter as a team have been less effective this season given that they have managed a paltry ten goals in eight league games - seven from Eto'o. At the same stage last season they had already notched 19 goals.
That's something president Massimo Moratti blames on injuries. "I think it's due to some players missing even though those who have filled in have started to play really well," he said. "But it's clear that you feel the absence of (Dejan) Stankovic, (Thiago) Motta, Milito and (Goran) Pandev, players who bring strength and experience."
Friday's should be a tough game against Milito's ex team-mates but that was expected to be the case a year ago as well before Inter ran away easy 5-0 victors. That was one of the Nerazzurri's finest performances in the last campaign and one which also demonstrated the weakness in Genoa's 3-4-3 system that at times left them exposed at the back.
Interestingly enough, neither Milito nor Eto'o played in that game last season, at almost exactly the same stage of the campaign, as Esteban Cambiasso, Stankovic, Maicon and the now departed Mario Balotelli and Patrick Vieira all found the net.
Since losing their opening home game of the season 3-1 against Chievo, Genoa have improved markedly with back-to-back wins against Bari and Catania at the Mazzarri stadium. But marquee signing Luca Toni's return of two goals in seven Serie A games has been a disappointment.