Because of his inflammatory nature, Inter Milan's head coach, Jose Mourinho, seldom approaches a fixture without an old grudge waiting among the opposition. For tonight, step forward Fiorentina's Adrian Mutu. Mutu knows Mourinho as the man who effectively sacked him as a player at Chelsea after the most notorious episode of Mutu's colourful career, a positive dope test that showed traces of cocaine in Romanian's system. That was the end of Mutu and the English Premier League.
The power of the Premier League brought an end to Mourinho's hopes of Champions League success with Inter four days ago, and the best fixture of the Serie A weekend, Inter versus Fiorentina, cannot help but shiver under the dark cloud of Italy's poor performance in Europe. Fiorentina themselves exited the Uefa Cup last month, and in the senior competition, Inter achieved less progress under Mourinho than they had under his predecessor Roberto Mancini.
The overall ledger is damning: Inter won only two out of eight matches in the 2008-09 Champions League. Europe was always the stage where judgement of the Portuguese coach would be reserved to, so the rest of his first season in Italy will be narrated through a series of questions: Will he stay? One banner at Pinentina, the club's training ground, suggested he should not. If Mourinho stays, who will he ask Inter to buy? By how many points will they win the scudetto? Will they win the scudetto?
The answer to the last must be yes, because Inter's advantage over Juventus remains handsome and the competitive edge of chasers like Fiorentina has seemed blunted over recent weeks. Mutu, whose comeback from his career nadir has been impressive, has it in him to trouble the defending champions this evening at San Siro. For Fiorentina, Alberto Gilardino has been as prolific a goal scorer this season as Inter's leading marksman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
They will be unleashed on a defence weakened by injury, with fitness doubts over Ivan Cordoba, Walter Samuel, Christian Chivu, Nicolas Burdisso and Marco Materazzi. Expect, though, some pent-up aggression about Inter. About 180 goalless minutes against Manchester United is bound to leave an itch that needs scratching. Roma, contesting a top-four place with Fiorentina, go to Sampdoria with more pronounced symptoms of frustration.
Eliminated from the Champions League by Arsenal via a penalty shoot-out, they are missing Philippe Mexes and Daniele de Rossi because of suspensions. Milan, in third spot, go to Siena with fitness concerns over all four creative midfielders, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Clarence Seedorf and David Beckham while in the south, Roberto Donadoni makes his debut as Napoli's head coach at Reggina. The former manager of the Italy national team has an alarming slump to correct and some impatient fans to impress.