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The Champions League Push: Round 21 Review

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Inter move back into the European places.

Manchester City v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

With Inter looking to push for a top-three Serie A finish—and an all-important Champions League spot—in the second half of the season, let’s check-in on how the clubs above the Nerazzurri fared this weekend.

Round 21

Inter entered Round 21 of Serie A in 6th place, trailing third place Napoli by five points and league leaders Juventus by nine.

With four of the five clubs ahead of the Nerazzurri in the table playing each other this weekend, Inter’s ugly 1-0 win against Palermo was a crucial result. Extending the club’s six game Serie A (eight in all competitions!) winning streak this weekend sees Inter move back in Italy’s European places.

Here’s what happened in Serie A’s Round 21, and how it affected Inter Milan’s top-three dreams:

AC Milan and Napoli

Inter entered Round 21 just one point behind city rivals AC Milan, who faced a difficult match at the San Siro against third place Napoli. Entering the weekend, Napoli led Inter by five points in the table, and were on an impressive run of form, winning five of their last six league matches.

Napoli’s winning ways continued as they defeated Milan 2-1. Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring for Napoli in the 6th minute after collecting a Dries Mertens lead pass in what looked to be acres of space behind Abate and Gomez. Gianluigi Donnarumma got his fingers on the ball, but it wasn’t enough to steer it wide. Jose Callejon extend the lead just three minutes later from another Mertens pass. Milan’s Juraj Kucka put the home side to within one in the 37th minute after Napoli failed to build up play from the back, and Suso made an opportunist tackle to pry the ball loose to the Slovak.

The second half saw both teams miss opportunities. Most notably, Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic hit the post from a free header in the box. An equalizer wouldn’t come for Milan, and Napoli held on to win.

AC Milan

Points behind Inter: 2 (with a game in hand)

Up next in the league: Away against Udinese on Sunday (after facing Juventus away in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday).

Napoli

Points ahead of Inter: 5

Up next in the league: Palermo at home on Sunday (after beating Fiorentina at home in the Coppa Italia on Tuesday).

AS Roma

Roma entered Round 21 in second place—eight points ahead of Inter—hoping to close the gap on first place Juventus, whom they trail by just one point. Roma faced Cagliari at the Stadio Olimpico, and once again pulled out a 1-0 victory (that’s their third 1-0 win in five games).

After a forgettable first half, Edin Dzeko scored the match’s only goal in 55th minute, hammering home a perfectly placed lob pass from Antonio Rudiger. Dzeko would later hit the crossbar, as Roma failed to find another breakthrough.

Despite not being able to score again, Roma dominated the match, and have now won six of their last seven games in all competitions.

Points ahead of Inter: 8

Up next in the league: Sampdoria away on Sunday.

Lazio and Juventus

Lazio entered the week leading Inter by four points in the table, but faced the unenviable task of playing Juventus away. Juve’s loss against Fiorentina last weekend meant their Serie A lead over Roma was down to just one point (with a game in hand).

The league leaders were able to rebound, defeating Lazio 2-0. Juve switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation for the match, which seemed to work perfectly. Paulo Dybala opened the scoring in just the 5th minute with an impressive shot from distance on the half-volley. Gonzalo Higuain doubled the lead eleven minutes later from a Juan Cuadrado cross. Higuain is now tied with Dzeko and Torino’s Andrea Belotti with 14 league goals this season, just one behind Mauro Icardi.

The victory means Juve's record home winning streak now stands at an unbelievable 27 league matches.

Lazio

Points ahead of Inter: 1

Up next in the league: Chievo Verona at home on Saturday.

Juventus

Points ahead of Inter: 9 (with a game in hand)

Up next in the league: Sassuolo away on Sunday (after facing Milan at home in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday).

Table

Here’s how the table looks entering Round 22:

With a trip to Turin to face Juventus in early February looming—and a seemingly favorable set of matches for top-three rivals—Inter can ill-afford to drop points against bottom of the table Pescara this weekend.

While Stefano Pioli’s side will be thrilled with the eight game winning streak, they’ll understandably be frustrated about remaining five points out of a Champions League spot. Let’s hope Inter can stay focused this weekend and use the momentum to advance in the Coppa Italia, and maybe, just maybe, end a certain streak on February 5th.