Even with a performance that left much to be desired, Inter was still able to keep rolling midweek against Parma and notch another three points on the board. But the Nerazzurri will have no such luxury on Matchday 26. Antonio Conte’s side is up against a red-hot Atalanta at the San Siro Monday evening in Serie A’s marquee fixture.
Like Inter, Atalanta is riding a lengthy winning run (four games in a row). La Dea has put a firm grasp on the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot; its haul of 49 points is two ahead of AS Roma but level with Juventus and only four behind AC Milan. The mid-season exit of Papu Gomez hasn’t slowed the side from Bergamo down, and the other attacking pieces (of which there are many) under Gian Piero Gasperini’s disposal have stepped up. Only Inter (62) has scored more than Atalanta’s tally of 60 from 15 goal scorers. Luis Muriel (15 goals, 6 assists) is leading the line for La Dea, along with Duvan Zapata (9g, 6a) and Robin Gosens (9g, 4a), quite a remarkable tally for a wing-back. Josep Illicic (5g, 6a) is world-class on his day, though luckily for the rest of Serie A he hasn’t found consistency so far.
As you might have suspected if you’ve seen much of Atalanta in recent seasons, its attacking prowess is second to none. This season is no different, and La Dea leads Serie A in most offensive statistics. Its first in shots created (676), is second in shots per game (16.24), third in percentage of shots on target (36%), and has the most touches in its attacking third and penalty box. Inter’s rock-solid defense has handled Atalanta well in years past, conceding just twice in the past three outings and that matchup is generally the key to who walks away with the victory.
Another facet of Atalanta’s game is the high press. Atalanta is second in the league in pressures in both the middle and final third, while it has engaged in the most tackles in both of those areas as well. La Dea also has made the most interceptions (299). Ball retention in the center of the park will be vital for Inter, and Conte may opt to go with a more bullish player like Arturo Vidal instead of Christian Eriksen to combat the press. Cristian Romero, a center back on loan from Juve, is particularly important for this setup. He leads Atalanta in both tackles and pressures in the defensive third and acts as an anchor when the press is broken. He and Lukaku seem destined to end up in several one-on-one scenarios, and Lukaku will need to show the same speed and finesse as he did vs Lazio, Milan, and Parma to find a way past the Argentine defender.
With Juve and Milan playing Lazio and Hellas Verona respectively over the weekend, Inter could very well go into Monday night looking to extend its lead at the top of the table or instead needing to keep sufficient distance between its challengers. Either way, though, this round of action’s results will certainly give us a much clearer image of the title race. Atalanta is one of the trickiest tests yet for the Nerazzurri, but that would make a win all the more important.
Three out of the past four meetings have ended in draws, though Inter has the sole victory from Matchday 38 of last season. The Nerazzurri also lead the all-time record 26W-18T-11L
- 2-0, 1/7/20
- 1-1, 8/11/20
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Inter Milan 2-2 Atalanta
Goals certainly seem to be on the menu and I expect a wild, end-to-end ninety minutes. Lukaku and Lautaro will net a goal each but a Duvan Zapata brace will cancel the Inter striker pair out. The Nerazzurri vs Nerazzurri derby will conclude on level terms for the second time this season.