Three days after drawing Salernitana and conceding to Antonio Candreva, Inter went out and claimed a 2-0 first-leg advantage in the Champions League quarterfinals at the Estadio da Luz against Benfica, previously undefeated in the UCL. That sentence feels almost surreal to write, but alas here we are. But before Inter can finish the job as it nears a semifinal on Europe’s biggest stage for the first time since 2010, we’ll get another look at the Nerazzurri’s Jekyll and Hyde nature when Monza comes to town this weekend.
The Biancorossi currently sit 13th on 35 points in their debut Serie A campaign, although that’s not quite the Cinderella story it appears to be thanks to owner Silvio Berlusconi’s major investment in the club. It’s no small feat either, however, especially with first-time manager 38-year-old Raffaele Palladino in charge after the early sacking of Giovanni Stroppa on Matchday 6. Since then Palladino has guided Monza to midtable safety and at one point into the top ten. He prefers a 3-4-2-1 formation featuring names such as Stefano Sensi, Pablo Mari, Armando Izzo, Matteo Pessina, and Andrea Petagna. In short, just about every Serie A journeyman available in last summer’s transfer market.
Palladino has crafted them into a coherent team and managed results such as back-to-back victories over Juventus and draws with Inter and Fiorentina. Its attack is 11th best in the league with 34 scored, with a scoring-by-committee approach as the attacking method of choice. Wingback Carlos Augusto (one to watch now and in the summer transfer window) leads the charts with 5 goals and 5 assists, followed by Gianluca Caprari (4g, 2a) and Patrick Ciurria (4g, 4a). Monza’s defense, meanwhile, ranks 14th with 41 conceded. Monza just about matches up with its underlying expected goals numbers as well, and there’s no denying that this team is fully deserving of Serie A safety in its first year in the big leagues.
Despite the excitement over Inter’s 2-0 victory against Benfica, its situation in domestic play remains worrying. Inter hasn’t won in four rounds and the draw at Salernitana broke a three-game losing streak that finally sent the Nerazzurri out of the top four last week. Simone Inzaghi’s men are 5th on 51 points, two below 3rd place Roma with Milan sandwiched in between. Laizo (58 points) has opened up a gap in second place and appears to be a lock for the top four alongside Napoli. That means two spots (or one if Juve wins its appeal for its point-deduction) are left for those abovementioned three teams and Inter risks being left behind if three points aren’t picked up this weekend.
Inter has just one all-time meeting with Monza, a 2-2 draw, back on January 7th in which Monza scored a 93rd-minute equalizer.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Inter Milan 2-1 Monza
Picking an Inter win in Serie A seems like a fool’s move at this point but this team never ceases to amaze for good and bad. I’ll be optimistic and say they amaze for good this time, finally breaking a month’s long winless run in league play thanks to a Romelu Lukaku brace.