Defending champions Inter Milan tackle the toughest test of their Scudetto defence so far on Saturday, as they welcome Atalanta BC to San Siro.
Ahead of hosting a Lombardy derby which has grown in stature over recent years, the Nerazzurri fought back to win in midweek, while their visitors were able to post a second successive win on Tuesday night.
It could have been a very different tale for Inter upon their visit to a transformed Fiorentina side on Wednesday, as when Viola winger Riccardo Sottil put the home side ahead in the first half, the league champions were being pinned back at Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Only a second-half rally, which was brought about by Matteo Darmian’s 52nd-minute goal, managed to turn the purple tide – and Edin Dzeko soon added another before Ivan Perisic’s late third. As a result, Inter have now scored in 24 consecutive top-flight matches – matching a club record set in the 1949-50 season.
Having previously crushed Bologna 6-1 last weekend – when summer signing Dzeko also struck twice – it is clear that Simone Inzaghi’s men have recovered from any disappointment arising from a late loss to Real Madrid on the first night of the Champions League and a 2-2 draw with Sampdoria, when they gave away the lead on two occasions.
In all, it has been a superb start to life in the San Siro dugout for Inter’s continuity candidate, who has taken the foundations laid down by his predecessor Antonio Conte and already started to build on them by incorporating some new faces and involving lesser-used squad players more often in the first XI.
Before the Nerazzurri return to continental competition next week with a trip to Ukraine, where they meet last year’s nemesis Shakhtar Donetsk (who they failed to score against in 180 minutes of group-stage football), they will welcome a local rival to Stadio Giuseppe Meazza with a fine recent record against them.
Despite their opponents’ free-flowing form over the past two years, Inter are unbeaten versus Atalanta across both campaigns, having won and drawn in each pair of fixtures. In fact, the last time La Dea made the short trip from Bergamo, back in March, they were beaten 1-0 – a key result in Inter’s march to title glory.
Welcoming Sassuolo to the Gewiss Stadium on Tuesday evening, Atalanta had been indebted to strikes in the final 15 minutes of each of their last two outings to salvage a positive result, but they certainly did not hang about in turning over their Emilian visitors.
Wing-backs Robin Gosens and Davide Zappacosta both struck in the first half to give the Bergamaschi a two-goal advantage, and although Sassuolo pulled a goal back before the break and had chances to equalise, Gian Piero Gasperini’s men ultimately ran out 2-1 winners.
A 2-2 draw at Villarreal on the opening matchday of the Champions League owed much to another Gosens strike, and the Germany international looks set to reproduce similar figures to his stellar 2020-21 campaign, when he hit double figures for goals and assists from his station high on the left flank.
His input could be crucial against an Inter side with plenty of potential out wide, and a potential head to head with Denzel Dumfries represents a mouthwatering prospect for fans and neutrals alike.
In the continued absence of last term’s top scorer Luis Muriel, it has proved unusually difficult for La Dea to blow teams away in their customary manner, but they will hope to regain their ability to find goals from all quarters during a potentially crucial week – even this early in the season.
After taking the short trip to Milan this weekend, Atalanta then host Young Boys and Milan within the space of four days, so Gasperini will be aware that maintaining his club’s remarkable progress could yet rely on results achieved at this stage.
Inter Milan Serie A form:
Inter Milan form (all competitions):
Atalanta BC Serie A form:
Atalanta BC form (all competitions):
We say: Inter Milan 1-1 Atalanta BC
Though Inter have been building up another head of steam in recent days, Atalanta are slowly improving and can push them all the way at San Siro.
The thrilling prospect of seeing the two sides’ wing-backs launch raid after counter-raid should be worth watching alone, but the spoils will be shared by the Nerazzurro pair on Saturday.