After a calamitous defeat in midweek, reigning champions Inter Milan aim to keep their title defence alive by taking maximum points against mid-table Udinese on Sunday.
Now running out of games to surpass city rivals Milan at the Serie A summit, Inter returned empty-handed from Bologna on Wednesday, and now face opponents who were recently on the right side of another unexpected result.
Missing out on the chance to go top of the table by failing to beat 13th-placed Bologna, the dream of successive Scudetti for Inter has begun to fade a little, following farcical scenes at Dall’Ara.
Stand-in goalkeeper Ionut Radu – only included due to captain and undisputed first choice Samir Handanovic suffering a pre-match back injury – effectively handed the Emilians victory on a plate by erring in the 81st minute; allowing substitute Nicola Sansone to steal a 2-1 win.
That puts arch-rivals Milan in control of the title race, as Inter’s closest counterparts are now two points clear with four games remaining and have the advantage of a better head-to-head record should the teams finish level on points.
Having witnessed an abrupt end to his side’s 11-game unbeaten run on the road in Serie A, Simone Inzaghi will now attempt to rally his troops – including a tearful Radu – and avoid sinking to a second successive away loss for the first time in over two years.
The Nerazzurri had won each of their five previous outings prior to that setback – including victory over Milan to seal a place in the Coppa Italia final – and they will also arrive in Udine with precedent clearly on their side.
In the process of winning six of their last eight games against Sunday’s opponents in Serie A, Inter have not conceded on seven occasions; and the Bianconeri’s last win in this fixture came back in December 2017.
Indeed, in the last eight league matches between Udinese and Inter in Friuli there have been only six defeats and two draws for the hosts; though both draws were in two of the three most recent encounters.
Gabriele Cioffi’s current side, though, are firing on all cylinders at the moment, and a midweek thumping of in-form Fiorentina continued their upward trajectory in some style.
Like Inter, catching up on a fixture previously postponed due to COVID-19 regulations, Udinese were already two goals up at the interval in Florence, and late strikes from Walace and wing-back Destiny Udogie added gloss to the scoreline as they left Stadio Artemio Franchi with a 4-0 win.
As a result, the Friulani trail only Inter in terms of average points per game during April throughout Serie A, and they have scored four or more goals in three of their last six matches – as many times as in their previous 163.
A team transformed under Cioffi, Udinese have also netted the second-highest tally of goals in the last 15 minutes of play this season (16 so far); scoring at least once after the 75th minute in three of their last five outings.
They now sit 12th in the table – closer to the European places than the relegation zone, which was uncomfortably close when Cioffi took charge – and have already bettered last season’s points tally. Therefore, confidence is sky-high in the camp, and another upset may even be possible on Sunday.
Udinese Serie A form:
Inter Milan Serie A form:
Inter Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Udinese 1-2 Inter Milan
Having lost just four times at home all season, Udinese are a force to be reckoned with at the Dacia Arena, but Inter arrive with the bit between their teeth and are sure to leave nothing in reserve following Wednesday’s events.
The hosts are set to score at least once, given their front-line fluency of late, but the champions will not make the same mistakes again and should be able to grind out a precious victory.