When: Sunday, March 12th, 9:00am ET/3:00pm CET
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy
After a week of birthday celebrations party time is well and truly over for Inter, as this weekend they face another crossroads in their season with the arrival of Atalanta at San Siro. Stefano Pioli's boys have the chance on Sunday afternoon to gain some vital ground in the race for European football as the 2016-17 season heads into the home straight, however victory will be anything but easy to come by against a side that sits one point ahead of them in the Serie A table and shows no sign at all of slowing down.
As much as this game matters in terms of the league standings it is also a very important test for Pioli himself. While I don't share this rather defiant viewpoint myself, there are a few Interisti who do not believe he is cut out to manage a club like Inter because of the poor performances we have put in against other big teams this season. As a result of the comprehensive defeats we have suffered under Pioli against Napoli and Roma (as well as perhaps the defeat to Juventus), he is accused of not being able to hack it in so-called 'scontri diretti' (the big games) because he lacks the tactical acumen to take on other top coaches, so this is the perfect opportunity for our mister to prove these doubters wrong - because make no mistake, matches against Atalanta currently count as scontri diretti given the extraordinary season they are having. If Pioli can set the team up effectively and extract an authoritative winning performance out of the players, he would go a long way to silencing his critics and stake a convincing claim to the club that he deserves to be kept on for next season.
San Siro is expected to be packed on Sunday with as many as 60,000 Interisti making their way to the stadium, so the team should have all the support they will need to win a game that probably looks a little easier to some than it really is. We will be expected to take all three points but Atalanta have demonstrated on several occasions this year that they can cut it with Serie A's big boys, so a top display will be required. Fail to win and not only would we severely compromise the remainder of our campaign; we would also give mister Gasperini yet another opportunity to gloat in the face of his former employees, whom he beat back in October and has continuously moaned about ever since he was unceremoniously sacked in September 2012. And we really do not want that.
After last weekend's demolition of Cagliari Stefano Pioli is likely to persist with the 4-2-3-1 formation that produced five goals and a convincing team performance. He is also expected by most news outlets to confirm the 11 players who occupied that formation, although Jeison Murillo could replace Cristian Ansaldi at the back with Danilo D'Ambrosio moving over to the left-hand side of defence. One man who is guaranteed of a place in the XI is Roberto Gagliardini, who will come up against Atalanta for the first time after spending 16 years at the club between academy and first team; it sure will be a special afternoon for him. Nobody is unavailable either through injury or suspension, as Marcelo Brozovic returns to the match-day squad after missing the Cagliari match.
Atalanta's starting XI should not contain many surprises either. Gian Piero Gasperini will stick with the 3-4-1-2 system that has brought the Bergamaschi so much success this season, and apart from replacing the suspended Andrea Masiello with Erwin Zukanovic he is unlikely to make any personnel changes himself. If you are already getting excited about this summer's transfer window then there are two Andreas you might wish to keep a particular eye on; both Conti and Petagna have been linked with Inter over the last few months, so this match will be a great opportunity for them to impress the Nerazzurri hierarchy. (I mean let's hope they both play terribly, but you know what I mean.)
Probable Starting XIs
Inter (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; Murillo, Medel, Miranda, D'Ambrosio; Gagliardini, Kondogbia; Candreva, Banega, Perisic; Icardi.
Atalanta: (3-4-1-2): Berisha; Toloi, Caldara, Zukanovic; Conti, Kessie, Freuler, Spinazzola; Kurtic; Petagna, Gomez.
How to Watch
TV: Sky Calcio 1 HD & Premium Calcio 1 HD (Italy); RAI International (USA)
Online: SKY Go Italia (Italy); beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA)
(For other countries' streaming and broadcasting options see here)