Best odds: 5/2
The two teams that finished in top two positions last season in the Serie A, Juventus and Inter Milan, will face each other on Sunday evening in the 18th round of the Italian top flight as the Nerazzurri welcome the Bianconeri to the San Siro Stadium in Milan. These teams are competing for the title again and this match could have arguably been seen as a six-pointer, if there weren’t for the fact that several teams more are involved in the race.
Right now, Inter are in second place with 37 points to their name – three less than AC Milan at the top, and three more than AS Roma in third.
The difference between Inter and Roma could have been greater. These teams met at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on January 10th, and after Lorenzo Pellegrini gave the Romans the lead in the 17th minute, Milan Skriniar (56′) and Achraf Hakimi (63′) turned the score around. However, Gialuca Mancini set it back level with four minutes to go.
Antonio Conte’s team won four of their last six league encounters, and they won them on the trot before spoiling the record with a disappointing defeat away to Sampdoria and that draw against Roma.
Three days after the Rome trip, Inter managed to beat Fiorentina in the round of 16 of the Coppa Italia, and they will face city rivals AC Milan in the quarterfinals on January 26th. Their Champions League campaign didn’t go exactly as planned, however. They ended their campaign by finishing bottom of Group B, behind Real Madrid, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Defender Danilo D’Ambrosio and midfielder Matias Vecino are out with knee injuries and the date of their return to action remains unknown. Defender Matteo Darmian, midfielder Stefano Sensi and forward Andrea Pinamonti are nursing different muscle issues.
Nonetheless, not one of them is exactly a key player under Conte at the moment, and the former Juventus boss will still be able to field a very strong line-up. Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez will likely be upfront. The middle section of the pitch should be covered by the likes of Marcelo Brozovic, Nicolo Barella and Arturo Vidal, flanked by Hakimi on the right and either Ashley Young, Aleksandar Kolarov or Ivan Perisic on the left. Andrea Bastoni, Stefan de Vrij and Skriniar should be playing ahead of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
As for the defending champions, they will be feeling more challenged for the Italian crown this time around than they had been in recent years. At the moment, they’re fourth in the table with 33 points, though they’re only a point behind Roma and four behind Inter, with a game in hand on both, as well as Milan at the top. Looking behind, however, they’re only two points above Atalanta in fifth and Napoli in sixth, and they have no games in hand on either of them.
Last time out, Juventus played Sassuolo on January 10th, winning 3-1 at their Allianz Stadium in Turin. Danilo, Aaron Ramsey and Cristiano Ronaldo were on target, with Pedro Obiang netting the consolation goal for the visitors. Andrea Pirlo’s men fared similarly to Inter in their last six matches, winning four, drawing and losing once apiece. The wins included a 3-1 triumph over leaders Milan, potentially a result of great importance, but the defeat was an extremely disappointing one, 0-3 at home at the hands of Fiorentina.
Like Inter, Juventus have also made it into the quarterfinals of the Italian Cup where they’ll face SPAL, after knocking Genoa out in the previous round. But unlike Inter, the Old Lady finished top of Champions League Group G, above Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros.
Pirlo could have as many as six important players missing for this match. Fullbacks Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado, as well as centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, recently tested positive for Covid-19 and remain doubts. Forward Paulo Dybala is out with a knee injury, while muscle problems are expected to prevent winger Federico Chiesa and midfielder Weston McKennie from taking part.
The experienced Giorgio Chiellini could come back into the team alongside Leonardo Bonucci for this game instead of Merih Demiral, but Danilo and Gianluca Frabotta are very likely to keep their places on the defensive flanks, as is Wojciech Szczesny in goal. Pirlo will be choosing from the likes of Arthur, Rodrigo Bentacur, Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey for the two positions in central midfield, with Federico Bernardeschi and Dejan Kulusevski strong candidates to stand in for Chiesa and McKennie out wide. There’s no way Cristiano Ronaldo is not a part of the starting XI, and in the absence of Dybala, Alvaro Morata will probably be his partner in attack.
Looking ahead, this match looks like a contest between two evenly matches sides, on a very similar run of form at the moment. As such, it could go either way, but the most realistic result would probably be for it to go down the middle.
Best odds: 5/2