Crowned Coppa Italia champions after an epic final in midweek, Inter Milan continue the defence of their Scudetto into Serie A’s penultimate round, as they visit relegation-threatened Cagliari on Sunday.
Two points adrift of city rivals Milan with just two games to play, the Nerazzurri must target victory in Sardinia to keep title hopes alive, while their hosts are just inside the drop zone and are equally desperate for three points.
Made all the more sweet by defeating their arch-rivals in a second straight fight for silverware, Inter came from behind against Juventus on Wednesday to clinch a first Coppa Italia since 2011, at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
Following their Supercoppa Italiana triumph earlier this season, an Ivan Perisic double in extra time helped Simone Inzaghi’s men to achieve the first part of their attempted domestic double, after Hakan Calhanoglu’s 80th-minute penalty had forced extra time.
Perisic then stepped up to the spot and put Inter 3-2 in front on 99 minutes, before slamming home an unstoppable fourth just three minutes later, to secure an eighth Coppa for his club.
Now set to face Cagliari and Sampdoria in their final two league games, the reigning Serie A champions have won six of their last seven league fixtures, but a calamitous recent loss at Bologna still haunts them and could ultimately prove their undoing – unless Milan slip up at some stage.
They certainly cannot afford to do so themselves, and are strong favourites to prevail on this occasion despite ceding home advantage to their latest opponents – Inter have won eight of their last 10 league games against Cagliari, losing just once in that spell.
Inzaghi has seen his side regain their touch in the final third of late, and having scored in each of their last 11 outings – including four goals in their comeback win over Empoli last Friday – the buoyant visitors are not exactly welcome guests in Sardinia this weekend.
Unsurprisingly, given the difference in their relative stature, Cagliari’s last 13 home matches against Inter have seen eight defeats for the Isolani and only three victories over their Milanese counterparts.
Indeed, Serie A’s 18th-placed side have won just three home games so far this season; their joint-fewest in a single top-flight campaign, and the worst such return in over two decades.
That lack of success in front of their own fans has contributed to the Rossoblu’s current predicament, which sees them staring demotion to Serie B in the face, with time fast running out to save their skins.
Set to tackle Venezia next weekend, when their fellow strugglers could already be relegated, a tall task awaits the side now managed by Alessandro Agostini, who has been elevated from the primavera side to oversee the campaign’s conclusion, in the wake of former Inter coach Walter Mazzarri’s dismissal.
If Cagliari are to extend their top-flight stay to a seventh straight season, they may reflect on last week’s late equaliser by defender Giorgio Altare as an invaluable intervention, as his 99th-minute strike against Salernitana not only salvaged a precious point but also keeps them within touching distance of the Granata in the table. However, something similarly miraculous may be needed to topple the champions on Sunday.
Cagliari Serie A form:
Inter Milan Serie A form:
Inter Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Cagliari 0-2 Inter Milan
Following a 4-0 win in December’s reverse fixture at San Siro, Inter are set to complete the double over Cagliari, as they carry over momentum from their Coppa Italia triumph.
With a winnable game remaining on the final day, the hosts may still have a shot at redemption next week, but they have lost half of their home fixtures to this point and are particularly vulnerable defensively.