Inter’s 0-0 draw against Porto meant it passed its first big test of the week, but the opposition doesn’t get any easier this weekend. The Nerazzurri’s reward for moving onto the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals in nail-biting fashion is to run smack into Juventus and a Derby d’Italia Sunday evening as the race for next season’s UCL spots thickens in Serie A.
Inter’s almost-disastrous 2-1 defeat to Spezia last Friday was followed by Lazio’s 0-0 draw at Bologna, Roma’s 3-4 loss vs Sassuolo, and Milan’s 1-1 tie against Salernitana as the melee for the top four descends even more so into havoc and bedlam. It’s hard to even call it a race - all four teams involved appear intent on avoiding the UCL spots like they’re a hot potato and letting Juve back into the mix. If it was a race, it would be one in which the contestants were blindfolded, the track was covered in Legos, and no one was told which direction to run in.
Thanks to last weekend’s mass collapse, Inter remains second on 50 points, 3 clear of 5th place Roma. The two Roman teams meet Sunday, which means someone is sure to drop points, and perhaps more important considering the nature of these teams this season, someone is sure to gain points. That means Inter may be able to create some separation on 5th place by the time the weekend is over - or will be dragged right into the middle of the storm should things go wrong.
Sunday’s Derby is important enough given all of that, but it also may be Inter’s most winnable game for the next month - and I’m only half joking. Fiorentina, Salernitana, Monza, and Empoli are the Nerazzurri’s upcoming opponents in domestic play (the Coppa Italia semifinals and UCL quarterfinals will be in there as well), and, well, the less said about Inter’s record against teams 10th and below the better.
The Bianconeri had some midweek action of their own, beating Freiburg 2-0 to advance to the Europa League quarterfinals. Max Allegri’s side has now won 9 of its last 11 games in all competitions, outscoring opponents 22-6 over that time frame. Without their 15-point deduction for financial cheating (surprise, surprise), Juve would be comfortably 2nd on 53 points.
Instead, it’s 7th on 38 points, holding onto the final European spot and 10 points short of the top four. Playing style-wise, this has been a typical Allegri season with a heavy emphasis on grinding out results and little to none on footballing beauty. Still, it’s hard to argue when Juve has the 3rd best attack (44 scored), the 3rd best defense (22), and the second-most points won on the field this year.
Individually, though some star attackers have struggled under Allegri’s reign, none more so than Dusan Vlahovic, who despite holding the tag of Juve’s leading scorer, has managed just 11 goals in 27 games. The goalscoring haul has been picked up by Adrien Rabiot (9g), Arkadiusz Milik (8g), and Angel di Maria (8g, 7a), while Filip Kostic has been the creator down Juve’s left flank with 2 goals and 11 assists to his name.
Inter lost the reverse fixture this season by a scoreline of 2-0 back on November 6th, extending Juve’s lead in the all-time series to 108W-57D-68L in the Old Lady’s favor.
Predicted Starting XIs
Alessandro Bastoni has been ruled out with injury, but Milan Skrinar should hopefully return to the starting eleven after some back issues.
Prediction: Inter Milan 2-1 Juventus
Inter’s big-game form will continue with a Derby d’Italia victory, headlined by goals from Lautaro Martinez and Hakan Calhanoglu for the good guys while di Maria strikes for the visitors.