Inter has passed its menacing Juve-Benfica-Napoli test with just about flying colors, but now the Nerazzurri has to make sure its hard work doesn’t go to waste against a mid-table bogey team - Udinese. The Zebrette are a bit closer to the relegation line than normal, but its Saturday night visit to the San Siro has the makings of a trap game for the good guys.
Udinese is 16th with 12 points, two clear of the drop zone, and winless in three. In fact, it has just one win all season, at none other than Milan by a 1-0 scoreline. That was the first win of Gabriele Cioffi’s second tenure at the helm in Friulani after the sacking of Andrea Sottil, but recent results such as a blowout loss at Roma and a home draw to Hellas Verona suggest that its problems run a bit deeper than the manager. Udinese has the 3rd worst attack and 6th worst defense in the league with 12 goals scored and 21 conceded in 14 outings.
Those numbers aren’t quite fully representative of Udinese’s campaign, however, and it’s been riddled with unluckiness. Cioffi’s side has the 9th highest expected goal differential in the league, but poor finishing in the final third (it’s scored five less than what the expected goals numbers would suggest) has made wins hard to come by. To give the Zebrette credit, they’ve managed to avoid defeat more often than not with just 4 losses (the 5th fewest), but its league-high nine draws only go so far in the standings. One such of those draws came last week in a 3-3 goal fest against Verona, and while the defensive display was lacking, a brace from Lorenzo Lucca (with 4 goals on the year) and a Lazar Samardzic header (now up to 2 goals and 2 assists) have Udinese’s stars in top form just in time for Inter. Keep an eye out for Samardzic especially, who’s been Udinese’s MVP in midfield this season after his failed summer transfer to Inter.
The Nerazzrri come into the weekend in first, two points clear of Juve who take on Napoli Friday evening. A week off since last week’s big win in Naples and 3 road games in a row has been very welcome for Simone Inzaghi’s men, although they’ll still be far from full strength against Udinese. Benjamin Pavard, Stefan de Vrij, and Denzel Dumfries are all confirmed out, while Alessandro Bastoni should be available but perhaps not from the start. That’s going to give the likes of Juan Cuadrado, Yann Bisseck, and Carlos Augusto a chance to impress for a full 90, but there won’t be much margin for error either.
Inter leads the all-time record handily with a 58W-32D-24L record, although both teams split 3-1 victories last season. Udinese has also had some success against bigger clubs this year, beating Milan and drawing Atalanta.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Inter Milan 2-1 Udinese
Inter will race out of the gates with goals from Lautaro and Thuram to claim the victory, although the Nerazzurri’s makeshift defense will make things a bit closer than comfortable at the other end of the pitch.