Defending champions Inter Milan will look to increase their lead at the top of the Serie A table when they take on a plucky Lazio side at the San Siro on Sunday.

Simone Inzaghi’s Inter Milan will take on an inconsistent Lazio side in one of the standout fixtures of this weekend’s Serie A schedule.

The defending champions ended 2021 on a high and are now at the top of the Serie A standings with a game in hand. A win on the night will see them extend their lead over second-placed arch-rivals AC Milan to four points.

In their way stand Inzaghi’s former side, Lazio. Le Aquile remain the only side who have defeated the Nerazzurri in the Serie A this season. If anything, it represents the inconsistency that has defined them during this campaign.

Indeed, Maurizio Sarri’s side have been the Italian top-flight’s Jekyll and Hyde this season. A talented side, they are languishing in the eighth spot and have much work to do if they remain keen on securing a European berth. Lazio thoroughly outplayed Inter in the reverse fixture earlier in the season, and a repeat of the same will take them level on points with fifth-placed Juventus.

Inter were shown their Achilles heel in the loss to Lazio from earlier this season. Since then, the defending champions have raised their game and have brought a semblance of consistency to their gameplay. They are currently on a seven-match winning streak in Serie A and have kept a clean sheet in six straight games.

Both teams are competent in attack and pack a punch going forward. On the other hand, Inter also have a rather solid defence, and it could prove to be the difference on the night. There will be no love lost between the bitter rivals, and the smallest of margins could decide what may turn into a pivotal tie in the grand scheme of the season. The Hard Tackle looks at how both teams will line up and what tactics they might employ.

Team News & Tactics

Inter Milan

Simone Inzaghi’s system finally appears to be producing results at Inter Milan. Playing at home, they will be keen to repay Lazio for the defeat from earlier in the season. Edin Dzeko and Hakan Cahlanoglu remain unavailable for selection for the Nerazzurri for this crucial contest, although the latter has tested negative for coronavirus and is close to returning.

It is difficult to see Inter start in any formation apart from their favoured 3-5-2 formation. Samir Handanovic is a sure starter in goal, while the reliable trio of Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni will form the three-person rearguard.

Marcelo Brozovic has pulled the strings for Inter all season in midfield, and he appears to be a sure starter on the night. The Croatian is a master orchestrator in the middle of the park, and the Nerazzurri will need his strengths against a combative Lazio midfield. Brozovic looks set to partner Nicolo Barella and Arturo Vidal in midfield. The trio’s experience and chemistry will give Inter a massive advantage on the field.

Lazio often attack from their left flank, and this could see Matteo Darmian get the nod over Denzel Dumfries in the right wing-back spot. Darmian is defensively more astute and could prove to be a better fit against Lazio, especially on their strong flank. While the visitors are good on the counter, they possess the same Achilles heel. This could pave the way for Darmian and Ivan Perisic, on the other flank, to wreak havoc going forward.

Former Lazio man Joaquin Correa is likely to partner with Lautaro Martinez upfront.

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

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Lazio

Maurizio Sarri has an excellent record against Inter, and Lazio will hope he can lead them to a double over the Serie A champions this season. He is unbeaten in the last seven games against the Nerazzurri in the league, winning five of them in the process. Le Aquile have a fully fit squad at their disposal barring Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, who is away at the African Cup of Nations, and Francesco Acerbi, who is nursing a hamstring injury.

Thomas Strakosha looks set to start as the goalkeeper in what is likely to be a 4-3-3 system. He will be protected by the back four of Adam Marusic, Luiz Felipe, Stefan Radu and Elseid Hysaj.

Danilo Cataldi will be entrusted with winning the midfield battle. Who wins the duel between him and Brozovic in the centre of the park could set the stage for their side to gain the upper hand. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will start on the right of the three-man midfield while former Liverpool midfielder Luis Alberto will occupy the other side.

This season, Ciro Immobile has already scored 14 goals in the league and will look to add to his tally against Inter. The veteran Italian looks set to lead the line with Pedro and Felipe Anderson in support.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Strakosha; Marusic, Felipe, Radu, Hysaj; Milinkovic-Savic, Cataldi, Alberto; Pedro, Immobile, Anderson

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Key Stats

  • Inter Milan have won just two of their last six Serie A games (D1 L3) against Lazio.
  • Inter Milan are on a 26-game unbeaten run at home. They have bettered this tally just once since the 1990s (46 games from 2008-2010).
  • Inter Milan have won six straight Serie A games without conceding a goal for the first time in their history.
  • Lazio manager Maurizio Sarri is on a seven-match unbeaten streak against Inter Milan, winning five and drawing two in the process.
  • Lazio striker Ciro Immobile has the chance to become just the third player to score at least 15 goals in each of the last six seasons in a top-five European League. He can join an elite list containing Robert Lewandowski and Mohamed Salah should he score against Inter on the night.

Player to Watch

Ivan Perisic

Arsenal bound? (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images )

Ivan Perisic is a key player for Inter Milan. (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images )

The Croatian can be a devastating force down the flank for Inter Milan. Possessing pace, guile and trickery, Perisic can go up against the best defenders. The 32-year-old is central to Inter’s creativity on the wings and will be expected to give Adam Marusic a tough time. Lazio have often struggled to contain their opponents on the flanks and have fallen prey to several counterattacks in the games gone by.

Perisic opened the scoring for Inter in the reverse fixture before Lazio romped back to a 3-1 win. The Croatian has scored just once in his last ten league games and has failed to make the difference in the final third despite his good run of form.

Apart from wreaking havoc down the flank, Perisic could also force Milinkovic-Savic to fall back and support Marusic in defence. This will further outnumber the Lazio midfield, which could very well swing the game in Inter’s favour.

Prediction

Inter Milan 2-1 Lazio

Lazio, on their day, can go toe to toe against the best teams in Italy and have shown as much this season with their 3-1 win in the reverse fixture. Inzaghi’s side, however, learned some harsh lessons that day and, to their credit, have developed into a much more cohesive unit since. Lazio will give them a hard time, but Inter have it in them to come out on top.

The former Lazio boss will be keen to get one over his former club. A win will not just help Inter erase the pain of their sole Serie A defeat this season but also hand them breathing space at the top of the table.

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