Inter will look to maintain their three-point lead over arch-rivals AC Milan as they travel to Sardegna Arena to face Cagliari on Friday.

Champions League aspirants Inter Milan could run the risk of blowing their three-point lead over fourth-placed AC Milan as they face Cagliari on Friday night.

The Serie A giants are coming on the back of a disappointing performance against Fiorentina, where they conceded a late equalizer to settle for a 3-3 draw, which allowed both Milan and Roma to pile more pressure on Luciano Spalletti’s men.

Therefore, the Nerazzurri can’t afford any more slip-ups if they are to secure Champions League qualification come the end of the season and collecting all three points will be imperative against a Cagliari side, who are coming on the back of a narrow defeat to Sampdoria in their last game.

The Red and Blues haven’t fared quite well since the turn of the year, registering only one win their last seven matches in all competition. As a result, they are dawdling in the mid-table of the league standings but considering Inter Milan’s mixed form in February, the hosts will be looking to salvage at least a point in this crucial fixture.

And here at the Hard Tackle, we run the rule over the two sides ahead of their league meeting at the Sardegna Stadium on Friday.

Team News & Tactics

Cagliari

Cagliari head coach Rolando Maran will be missing out on the services of key central midfielder Lucas Castro as well as Valter Birsa, both of whom are ruled out with injuries.

However, Maran will be boosted by the return of Joao Pedro, who is available after serving a one-game suspension. He will be deployed in the attacking midfield slot alongside Artur Ionita in Cagliari’s 4-3-2-1. Both the players will be entrusted with the job of providing the creative spark in the attack.

CAGLIARI, ITALY - FEBRUARY 04: Joao Pedro of Cagliari looks on during the Serie A match between Cagliari and Atalanta BC at Sardegna Arena on February 4, 2019 in Cagliari, Italy. (Photo by Enrico Locci/Getty Images)

Joao Pedro will return from suspension this week. (Photo by Enrico Locci/Getty Images)

The absence of Castro, however, will mean Luca Cigarini will start as the main holding midfielder, who will be partnered by Nicolo Barella and Simone Padoin in a slightly advanced position.

Expect Barella to operate in a deeper role following the return of Pedro and the young midfielder will play a key role in circulating possession for his team.

Minimal changes are expected in defence, though Dario Srna may return to the right-back slot while the likes of Fabio Pisacane, Luca Ceppitelli and Luca Pellegrini will retain their place in the backline.

Meanwhile, the Cagliari attack will be led by Leonardo Pavoletti, who is the club’s top scorer with nine goals this season.

Probable Lineup (4-3-2-1): Cragno; Srna, Pisacane, Ceppitelli, Pellegrini; Padoin, Cigarini, Barella; Pedro, Ionita; Pavoletti.

Inter Milan

We could expect Inter Milan to make a few alternations to the side that drew with Fiorentina, with Spalletti having one eye on the important Europa League fixture against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.

Mauro Icardi has once again claimed he’s injured, thus we expect Lautaro Martinez to lead the Inter attack on Friday. He will probably remain Inter’s first choice striker throughout the rest of the campaign, with Icardi likely to leave the club in the summer.

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 17: Lautaro Martinez of FC Internazionale looks on during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and UC Sampdoria at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 17, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Can Lautaro Martinez fill in the shoes of Icardi? (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Antonio Candreva could return to the starting lineup, replacing Matteo Politano in the right wing slot while Ivan Perisic is likely to retain his place on the opposite flank. Radja Nainggolan, as usual, will be deployed as the lone attacking midfielder.

The central midfield combination of Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino could remain unchanged but in defence, left-back Dalbert could make way for Kwadwo Asamoah, while Danny D’Ambrosio will continue as the right-sided full-back. Milan Skriniar will start alongside Stefan de Vrij at the heart of Inter’s four-man backline with Samir Handanovic starting in goal.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, de Vrij, Asamoah; Brozovic, Vecino; Candreva, Nainggolan, Perisic; Martinez.

Key Stats

  • Inter Milan have won 6 of their last 7 matches against Cagliari in all competitions.
  • The Italian giants have also scored as many as 14 goals in their last four matches against the same opponents.
  • The last time Cagliari picked just 24 or fewer points after matchday 25 was back in 2014/15 campaign. They were relegated to Serie B that season.
  • Inter have failed to win six of their last eight away matches.
  • Cagliari have scored only twice in their last seven matches.

Player to Watch

Ivan Perisic

FLORENCE, ITALY - FEBRUARY 24: Ivan Perisic of FC Internazionale celebrates after scoring a goal during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and FC Internazionale at Stadio Artemio Franchi on February 24, 2019 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

Perisic will be the focal point of the Inter attack this week. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

With Icardi ruled out, Ivan Perisic will become the focal point of the Inter Milan attack throughout the rest of the campaign.

The Croatian international has been one of the most consistent performers for the club over the past few years and his willingness to take on defenders coupled with his slick movements could cause a lot of problems for the Cagliari defence, who have had a disastrous record against Inter, of late.

It will also be interesting to see how Perisic combines with Lautaro Martinez in attack, especially considering the fact that both the players will play a key role for the club during the remainder of this campaign.

Prediction

Cagliari 0-1 Inter Milan

Cagliari have had one of the worst attacks in the league this season and it is unlikely that they will be able to breach past an Inter defence that has conceded only 20 goals so far – a tally only bettered by Napoli and league leaders Juventus. Thus, we expect a narrow 1-0 win for the visitors in this encounter.