Despite their inconsistency, Inter have not given up their quest for Champions League football. Roberto Mancini’s men presently sit in fourth and are pretty much guaranteed European football for the 2016/2017 term, but it will be in the Europa League. Given that at one point the Nerazzurri were on top of the Serie A table, Europe’s second tier competition will feel like a huge disappointment, not an achievement for a side who were in contention for their first Scudetto since 2010.
When that ship sailed following their mid-season meltdown, attention then turned towards the Coppa Italia. Despite an impressive performance against Juventus that saw them overturn a 3-0 deficit and push the game to penalties, it was not enough for Inter to book their spot in the finals. Now, the last thing to salvage their season would be to finish in third. Roma currently have that coveted place and are six points ahead. With six games remaining, however, it is not out of reach – at least mathematically – but the Nerazzurri obviously will have to start winning.
That winning run will have to start this evening. At home against Napoli, Inter have been quite solid. Out of their past 12 games at the Guiseppe Meazza, they have won nine, drawn two, and lost just once. And although they lost the reverse fixture 2-1 earlier this season, the Partenopei are now sans the services of their top marksman due to a lengthy ban.
Indeed, Maurizio Sarri’s troops lost more than just ground on Juventus in the Scudetto race when they were beaten 3-1 by Udinese. The loss really got to Gonzalo Higuain, who in a moment of madness, decided he had enough with the referee and was suspended for four games as a result. Although that was reduced, the Argentinian star, who has scored a whopping 30 goals thus far, will play no part in this fixture.
Advantage Inter? Perhaps. The Nerazzurri did defeat Napoli in the Coppa Italia at the Stadio San Paolo earlier this year. It was a fiery game that spilled off the pitch, and no, not the fans. Rather, Sarri found himself in hot water after being accused of hurling homophobic and other offensive slurs at Mancini. Despite the former Manchester City boss being straight, he was rightfully offended by the intolerant and bigoted remarks, but both parties appear to have reconciled and have moved on from that incident. Nonetheless, all eyes will be on both coaches to see how they interact in their first meeting since that flashpoint at the San Paolo from earlier this season.
Of concern to Sarri – besides, obviously, Higuain’s absence – will be Napoli’s downturn in form on the road. In their past four away matches, the Partenopei have won just one. Before that, they had picked up 12 points from their prior quartet, and with Juventus pulling away, he will obviously need his men to get back on track in order to have any chance to start applying pressure to La Vecchia Signora at the top of the table.
A win for Napoli would temporarily close the gap to three and will give Juventus some food for thought ahead of their match versus Palermo on Sunday. Meanwhile, victory for Inter will also close their gap on Roma to three and breathe some new life into their push for a Champions League race.
Six points, six games to go. Will one of these team halve their deficit with a win tonight?
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