Defending champions and current Serie A table-toppers Inter Milan will aim to stretch their seven-match winning run at Bologna on Thursday afternoon.

Inter Milan are rapidly becoming an unstoppable force in Italian football. The Nerazzurri ended the first half of the season in an exhilarating fashion, winning their last six league games without conceding even a single goal.

That run propelled Simone Inzaghi’s side from seven points off the top position to four points clear at the summit, as their purple patch coincided with a dip in form for title contenders Napoli and AC Milan. Following a brief festive-period break, the champions are back in action with a string of six games in sixteen days, beginning with Thursday’s return to Serie A clash at Bologna.

Inzaghi will also lead his side out against Atalanta, his previous club Lazio, and city rivals Milan over the next month, so this might be a pivotal period in their title defence.

Bologna, meanwhile, generally underperformed in the first half of the season and presently sit 10th in the Serie A standings. They had a few high-profile victories over Lazio and Roma but have been largely inconsistent. Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side comes into this game on the back of a 3-0 win over Sassuolo in the league, with goals from Riccardo Orsolini, Aaron Hickey and Federico Santander ensuring a morale-boosting victory.

In September, the reverse fixture resulted in a 6-1 thrashing of Bologna, as they were simply swept aside by Inter Milan at San Siro. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, the Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both sides.

Team News & Tactics

Bologna

Bologna boss Sinisa Mihajlovic has several pressing issues to contend with due to injury and Covid-19 related concerns. Young goalkeeper Marco Molla and Gary Medel have tested positive for Coronavirus, joining Nicolas Viola, Aaron Hickey, and Nicolas Dominguez in quarantine this week.

Mihajlovic could line up the Rossoblu in an unusual 3-4-1-2 shape against Inter Milan, majorly due to the absentees from the squad. Lukasz Skorupski is a certainty between the sticks for Bologna. A three-man defensive unit of Arthur Theate, Kevin Bonifazi and former Lille star Adama Soumaoro will be tasked to keep things tight at the back.

Jerdy Schouten will be absent from the Bologna midfield. The Dutch midfielder’s season has been disrupted by a hip issue, and his expected return date is still uncertain. Teenager Niklas Pyyhtia, who has already featured in several UEFA Europa Conference League qualifying games this term, may thus be handed his Serie A debut and a chance to impress in middle of the park.

A double midfield pivot of Mattias Svanberg and Pyyhtia will have the job to track Inter’s midfield runners in Nicola Barella and Arturo Vidal, while Lorenzo De Silvestri and Mitchell Dijks will stay tight in the wider areas to contain Inter’s attacking wing-backs in the absence of Rossoblu’s Scottish sensation Aaron Hickey, who has caught the eye, scoring four league goals from left-back.

Roberto Soriano will be the creative lynchpin for Bologna, sitting just behind the forwards. Riccardo Orsolini has begun to thrive when deployed as a second striker and Musa Barrow’s departure to the Africa Cup of Nations should provide the Italian with another opportunity to play up top alongside Marko Arnautovic. The Austrian has registered six league goals this term and will be Bologna’s most potent threat against Inter.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Skorupski; Soumaoro, Bonifazi, Theate; De Silvestri, Svanberg, Pyyhtia, Dijks; Soriano; Orsolini, Arnautovic

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Inter Milan

Unlike his counterpart in the Bologna dugout, Inter Milan boss Simone Inzaghi barely has any injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the game. But he will have to make a couple of enforced changes to his preferred pairing in attack, with Edin Dzeko in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 while the suspension of Hakan Calhanoglu will mandate a change in midfield.

The Nerazzurri kept six clean sheets in those seven successive victories and arguably looked a stronger, more cohesive and exciting unit than Antonio Conte’s side that won the title last season. Inzaghi could again set up Inter in his preferred 3-5-2 formation, which has worked wonders.

In goal, there is no looking past skipper Samir Handanovic, who looked back to his best just before the winter break, but that has not stopped Inter from pursuing Ajax’s Andre Onana’s in the transfer market to provide the Slovenian shot-stopper with competition. The formidable trio of Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni will form the three-man central defensive unit.

With Calhanoglu unavailable, it will be a straight fight between Arturo Vidal and Stefano Sensi to join Nicolo Barella and Marcelo Brozovic in midfield. Brozovic will take up the holding midfield role and will screen the back-three. A pressing machine, Barella will be an energetic box-to-box presence, while veteran Vidal has already shown that he is still a classy operator despite his advancing years.

Ivan Perisic has been largely preferred to feature as the left wing-back ahead of the more natural Federico Dimarco, while Denzel Dumfries will be providing the attacking impetus from the opposite flank. The absence of Edin Dzeko will open the gates for Alexis Sanchez to start. He will be raring to impress, slotting in alongside Lautaro Martinez, who has been Inter’s main protagonist in attack this season.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Vidal, Perisic; Martinez, Sanchez

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Key Stats

  • Bologna have also failed to beat Inter Milan in each of their past 15 Serie A outings, losing no less than 12 times while sharing the spoils on the other three occasions.
  • Inter are unbeaten in their last 16 away matches against Bologna in all competitions while they are also undefeated in 32 of their last 35 Serie A matches on the road.
  • Inter Milan became the first team since 1950 to score more than 100 Serie A goals in a calendar year and won 19 home league games in 2021.
  • Bologna have not played a draw in their last 11 league games (W5 L6).
  • Both sides have got on the score sheet in four of their previous five meetings, and this fixture has goals written all over it, evident by Bologna’s 6-1 hammering at the hands of Inter in the reverse fixture.

Player to Watch

Lautaro Martinez

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Following Romelu Lukaku’s departure, Lautaro Martinez has really stepped up his output in front of goal and has been one of the stand-out performers for Inter Milan in the first half of the season and scored the opener in the reverse fixture. The striker upped his form near the end of 2021, scoring six goals in his last seven Serie A games.

An established presence in the dressing room and on the pitch, the 24-year-old has also taken over the leadership mantle at Inter this season, while the Argentinian striker has also struck up a fruitful partnership with summer signings Edin Dzeko and Hakan Calhanoglu. Martinez will again look to add to his tally of 11 league goals when he faces Bologna in the midweek fixture.

Prediction

Bologna 1-3 Inter Milan

The visitors are unbeaten in their past 11 league games heading into the encounter, and they can build on that momentum on Thursday when they go as the favourite of the two teams. Despite the departures of superstars such as Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi, Inter Milan have scarcely missed a beat this season and are firing on all cylinders instead, credit to their canny recruitment and Inzaghi’s management.

With Juventus stumbling, Napoli and AC Milan inconsistent of late, it will be a surprise if they do not end up retaining the Serie A title. As for Bologna, they will need to be in top form this mid-week if they are to grind out anything from the game.

Recent domination against Bologna and an impressive record away from home are pointing to a free-scoring Inter earning another victory to kick off 2022 in style. The Hard Tackle predicts a comfortable 3-1 victory for the Nerazzurri to continue their winning streak at the Renato Dall’Ara Stadium.

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