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The Champions League Push: Round 22 Review

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A nearly perfect weekend sees Inter move into sole possession of fourth place.

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 Nerazzurri’s rivals fared this weekend.

Round 22

In this piece last week, I wrote:

“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 Inter of course did not drop points, easily cruising to a 3-0 victory, it’s my pleasure to announce that I was very wrong. Serie A’s Round 22 turned out to be anything but a “favorable set of matches” for Inter’s rivals.

Roma, Milan, and Lazio all lost against teams 10th or worse in the table, and Napoli somehow managed to drop points at home to an almost sure to be relegated Palermo side.

Besides Inter, Juventus were the only club in the top nine to win this weekend. The positive results see the Nerazzurri, leapfrog Lazio into fourth place, and close the gap on Napoli and Roma.

With Inter facing the difficult trip to Turin on Sunday, Round 22 could very well have been the big break needed for the club to seriously push for a Champions League spot.

Lazio

Lazio led Inter by a point entering Round 22, and welcomed a Chievo Verona team to the Stadio Olimpico that was fresh off of a horrible 3-0 loss at home to Fiorentina.

Despite dominating possession, and racking up 28 shots (only eight on goal), Lazio were unable to find the back of the net. The match’s only goal came in the 90th minute when Roberto Inglese scored from point-blank range after impressive buildup play and a nice cross from Massimo Gobbi.

As was the case in many of the matches this weekend, the result went against the run of play, but we’ll gladly take it.

Points behind Inter: 2

Up next in the league: Pescara away on Sunday.

AC Milan

AC Milan entered Round 22 seventh in the league, two points behind Inter, but had a game in hand. They faced Udinese away, which isn’t the easiest of fixtures—as we saw earlier in the month.

A Giacomo Bonaventura goal in the 8th minute put Milan ahead, but the home side equalized in the 31st minute through Cyril Thereau. Udinese found a winner in the 73rd minute when Rodrigo de Paul’s shot from outside the box beat Gianluigi Donnarumma.

As a result, Milan remain in seventh place and are eight points out of a Champions League spot. It’s become more and more difficult to justify keeping them in this piece. I will though for now, as it’s fun to relish in their struggles.

Points behind Inter: 5 (with a game in hand)

Up next in the league: Sampdoria at home on Sunday.

Napoli

Napoli entered Round 22 holding on to their five point lead over Inter for the third spot in Serie A. They faced a desperate Palermo side at home that looks to be a sure bet for relegation. Despite this, Napoli somehow dropped points.

Ilija Nestorovski opened the scoring in the sixth minute, heading home a perfect cross. Napoli found an equalizer in the 66th minute when Dries Mertens’ shot trickled through Palermo goalkeeper Josip Posavec. It was an embarrassing goal to concede, and one that was frankly unfair for a keeper that made nine saves on the night.

Napoli had a chance to win the match in the closing moments as Edordo Goldaniga was sent off in the 89th minute. Despite the man advantage, Napoli couldn’t find a winner, and had to settle for just a point from a match they dominated with 76 percent of possession.

This was a shocking result that Inter Milan fans everywhere will be thrilled to see.

Points ahead of Inter: 3

Up next in the league: Bologna away on Saturday.

AS Roma

Simply put, this weekend was a serious blow to Roma’s title hopes. Having recently closed the gap with Juventus to just one point (Juve still hold a game in hand), the Capitoline club can’t afford to drop points to teams from the bottom half of the table.

Roma lost away to Sampdoria 3-2, in a thrilling match that saw Roma take the lead twice, only to let it slip away. Luis Muriel’s free kick winner for the home side was absolutely stunning:

The loss leaves Roma four points adrift in the title race, and just five ahead of Inter.

Points ahead of Inter: 5

Up next in the league: Fiorentina at home on Tuesday, February 7th.

Juventus

The league leaders faced Sassuolo away in Round 22. I won’t bore you with the details of the match—Juve were impressive and Gonzalo Higuain scored again (he and Edin Dzeko are now level with Mauro Icardi on 15 league goals).

What I will point out from this match is that Juve once again lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation:

This is the second match in a row Juve abandoned their three at the back system and won, so I expect next Sunday to be a battle of the 4-2-3-1 formations.

Points ahead of Inter: 9

Up next in the league: Inter at home on Sunday, not that you need to be reminded.

Table

Here’s how the table looks entering Round 23:

All eyes will be on the Derby D’Italia next weekend. Inter have every reason to be confident heading to Turin. While I don’t necessarily expect a win, I am hopeful that the Nerazzurri may be able to use their momentum to (fingers crossed) end that painfully annoying Juve home-winning streak at 27.