Inter Milan have bared their teeth in the Serie A title race for the first time since 2011, topping the table before the Christmas break. Antonio Conte has made an immediate impact in his first year at the San Siro, shifting the club out of their years of underachievement back towards competing for the crown. It will be a difficult challenge as Juventus have dominated the league for the past eight years, enjoying a level of unprecedented success.
Napoli have come close to breaking their stranglehold, but were unable to complete the job. Conte was the manager of the Bianconeri in first of their three league triumphs as well as guiding Chelsea to the Premier League crown in the 2016/17 season. The Italian has a strong record, but Carlo Ancelotti had similar past success, although it was not enough to take Napoli over the line in 2018. Inter have to be relentless between now and the end of the campaign to dislodge their rivals.
Conte’s men have been exposed in the Champions League, suffering a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona that dumped them out of the competition. There’s no shame in losing to the Catalan club who are the favourites for the Spanish title in the La Liga betting odds as well as one of the leading contenders for the European crown. However, the manner of the loss will be a concern as it was a high-pressure game for the Nerazzurri, who could have advanced to the next phase of the competition with a victory. Barcelona claimed the win without using Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez – perhaps highlighting a potential weakness in Inter’s composure.
It was reminiscent of their defeat to Juve in Serie A, losing 2-1 on home soil. At the time writing, it has been the only blemish of their campaign in the league as Gonzalo Higuain’s effort delivered the three points for Maurizio Sarri’s side. Given that there is nothing to separate the two teams, the other contest this term against Juve could well decide the crown. Rising to the occasion in a tense game is the true hallmark of a champion. There is not a lot of title-winning experience in Conte’s squad outside of Diego Godin, who is in his first season with the club. He was brought in to provide leadership as well as quality in the heart of the back four. Conte will be leaning heavily on the Uruguayan to radiate calmness in the heat of battle in the second half of the season.
Romelu Lukaku has been sensational this term following his move from Manchester United. The Belgian has scored 12 goals in 17 games – only Lazio’s Ciro Immobile has more in Serie A. Lautaro Martinez has taken a huge step forward in his development, handing Conte two of the most potent forwards in the division. Lukaku has been up and down throughout his career – enjoying impressive runs and then barren spells. He cannot afford to let his standards slip in the second half of the campaign. The same can be said of Martinez as Alexis Sanchez’s injury problems have resulted in the Chilean appearing only four times for the club. Inter’s efficiency in the final third could be the difference between success and failure in their bid to win the title.
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