Though a midweek defeat may have checked their momentum, Inter Milan seek to continue their charge back into the Scudetto race with a home match against Cagliari on Sunday.
Having qualified from the Champions League group stages for the first time in a decade – despite losing to Real Madrid – Inter are back within a point of the Serie A summit following four league wins in a row, while their 18th-placed visitors toil against the drop once again.
After seeing out the last half hour with 10 men in Madrid, a 2-0 reverse to La Liga leaders Real saw Inter spurn their chance to progress to the Champions League knockout rounds in first place. However, finishing runners-up in Group D gives the Italian champions something special to look forward to when the action resumes in February.
The Nerazzurri now return to domestic duty following their surprisingly comfortable 3-0 defeat of Roma last week, and they have not lost in the league since mid-October.
Under both Simone Inzaghi and his Scudetto-winning predecessor Antonio Conte, Inter have won more home league games in 2021 than any other side in Europe’s top five leagues, and they would equal a club record in that regard with a win on Sunday.
Inzaghi has been able to maintain the Nerazzurri’s irresistible attacking momentum since taking charge in the summer, and as a result they have now scored 94 Serie A goals in 2021 – only in 1950 have they netted more in a calendar year.
They could even surpass that record mark of 99 and reach their century with some favourable fixtures next up on the calendar, including – after Cagliari’s visit this weekend – the long trip south to take on Salernitana and then a San Siro meeting with Torino, which ends a memorable year for the club.
While Inter have enjoyed four wins on the spin in Serie A, Cagliari have endured different fortunes in their last quartet, drawing each of their games since suffering a fourth successive loss in early November.
Still entrenched in the relegation zone, the Isolani may have finally reached double figures in terms of points when they came from behind to secure a 1-1 home draw with Torino last time out, but remain in trouble approaching the winter break.
Successive single-point hauls from fixtures against Sassuolo, Salernitana and Verona of course means that Walter Mazzarri’s men have stayed unbeaten for several weeks, but they will need to convert some of those missed opportunities into maximums if they are to avoid being cut adrift at the bottom.
Victory is an improbable ask at San Siro, though, as Inter have beaten Cagliari in seven of their last nine Serie A meetings – scoring nearly two and a half goals per game on average in the process.
After a midweek Coppa Italia tie with Serie B side Cittadella, the vastly experienced Mazzarri – who once managed Sunday’s opponents for a brief but unsuccessful spell – leads his side into a more winnable contest with Udinese, before ending 2021 with a trip to Turin, where they meet Juventus.
Inter Milan Serie A form:
Inter Milan form (all competitions):
Cagliari Serie A form:
We say: Inter Milan 3-0 Cagliari
Cagliari may have stiffened their resolve of late – conceding only twice in their last three outings – but are set to be picked apart by a superior attacking force when they visit San Siro.
As Inter continue their defence of the championship in free-scoring style, it will be a matter of ‘how many?’ rather than ‘if’ for a dominant home side.