Relegation-haunted Parma seek to bridge an unimaginable gap against league leaders Inter Milan on Thursday, as the second-from-bottom side attempt to end a record winless streak against the Serie A champions-elect.
With many pundits, coaches and ex-professionals lining up to crown the Nerazzurri as potential Scudetto winners, coach Antonio Conte will expect his in-form team to sweep aside the home side’s challenge at the Tardini.
Following another regulation win – this time over a much-weakened Genoa outfit at San Siro last weekend – Inter remain an irresistible force in Serie A, with only one target in mind: securing their first Scudetto since 2010 and ending the nearly decade-long dominance of rivals Juventus into the bargain.
Now sitting on 56 points, on only three occasions have Inter gained at least that many after 24 Serie A games in the three-points-for-a-win era, going on to lift the title in each of those campaigns, in a golden spell between 2006 and 2009.
Six wins from their last seven league games, while conceding just one goal during that period and racking up 17 themselves, have resulted in a four-point lead at the top of the table for the Nerazzurri ahead of this midweek round of fixtures. With a deep squad, no major injury concerns to manage and a self-inflicted lack of European commitments, the path could be paved for Antonio Conte to be the first man to lead the club to the championship since Jose Mourinho.
As in a previous winning run around the turn of the year, Inter’s star strikers are seemingly taking it in turns to punish opponents of late – it was top scorer Romelu Lukaku who took centre-stage versus Genoa, with a goal after just 32 seconds, while Lautaro Martinez had led the way in the previous success against city rivals Milan.
‘El Toro’ bounced back from a brief lull in his sky-high standards in the Derby and has now been involved in 17 league goals this season (13 goals, four assists) – as many as he managed in the entirety of 2019-20. Looking sharper and more hungry than at any other stage this campaign, both Lautaro and his teammates will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing down Parma’s porous defence on Thursday.
Inter have also kept a clean sheet in each of their last three away matches in the league, so should have every chance of keeping the hosts’ goal-shy forwards at bay too.
Having already held Antonio Conte’s men to an unexpected 2-2 draw at San Siro this season – an encounter which they really should have won after going two goals to the good through a Gervinho double, but ultimately conceded a heartbreaking equaliser at the death – struggling Parma have repeated that same scoreline in each of their last two league outings.
As in Milan last October, draws with both Spezia and Udinese in the past fortnight came after going 2-0 up but failing to hold on to the lead. Those dropped points were sorely needed too, as the Crociati’s period of league games without success ticked over to 15 in La Spezia, representing their worst-ever spell in Serie A.
Stadio Ennio Tardini has not proved a happy home for the Emilians this term, as Parma have picked up only eight points from their 12 home matches so far. Only in 2014, when they were eventually relegated, have they collected fewer at this stage of the season.
A key signifier of the chaos enveloping the club is apparent when noting that, under the management of both Fabio Liverani and current incumbent Roberto D’Aversa, the Gialloblu have used the most players in Serie A this season – an incredible 36 – while relatively settled opponents Inter have fielded the fewest so far (22).
As if their task on Thursday was not tough enough, Parma’s misfiring attack – which has now actually produced two goals in two consecutive games, a real rarity given their previous output – could be decimated by injuries for the Nerazzurri’s visit.
Certainly, given the circumstances, D’Aversa will treat this clash and those upcoming against Roma and Milan as free shots to nothing, while games with Fiorentina and Benevento in the next month offer more realistic opportunities to claw themselves clear of the drop – if, by then, it is not already too late.
Parma Serie A form: LLLLDD
Inter Milan Serie A form: DWWWWW
Inter Milan form (all competitions): LWDWWW