Inter Milan will be keen to keep their Serie A title hopes alive when they take on Empoli at the Giuseppe Meazza on Friday.

Defending champions Inter Milan will look to go top of Serie A when they take on Empoli at the Giuseppe Meaza on Friday. The Nerazzurri kick off this weekend’s fixtures in the Italian top flight and will be aiming to put pressure on local rivals AC Milan in the race for the Scudetto.

The shocking 2-1 loss to Bologna last month took the title race out of Inter’s hands, handing Milan the initiative going into the final few weeks of the campaign. With just three games to go, Simone Inzaghi’s side will hope to overcome a two-point deficit and retain the title they won last season.

It is, however, easier said than done as Inter have no room for error. Anything short of perfection in their remaining games could see any chance of winning the title slip away. Losing it to their arch-rivals will make the blow all the more damning.

Empoli might be safe from relegation and have little to play for this season. However, Inter cannot afford to take them lightly. The minnows stunned SSC Napoli two weeks ago, all but ending their chances of winning Serie A. Whether lightning will strike twice, this time involving Inter remains to be seen.

The Nerazzurri have an excellent record against Empoli and have not lost to them since 2006. Statistics, however, matter for little in crunch games and the home side will need to be at their best to avoid a cataclysmic upset. It promises to be an intriguing game that could set the tone for a grandstand finish at the top of the Serie A standings.

The Hard Tackle looks at how both sides could line up on Friday and what tactics they might employ.

Team News & Tactics

Inter Milan

Samir Handanovic’s return was a welcome boost for Inter last weekend, and the veteran looks set to start once again in goal. Italian international Nicolo Barella suffered a knock to the knee against Udinese, but it appears likely that he will make the cut. Robin Gosens is another player who faces a race against time to feature.

The same cannot be said of ace defender Alessandro Bastoni who is still recovering from his injuries. Both he and Arturo Vidal are doubts for the game, and it remains to be seen if Inzaghi will risk them. With or without them, the Nerazzurri should have enough quality in their ranks to see off Empoli.

Inzaghi looks set to persist with his trademark 3-5-2 system. Handanovic will start in goal behind the back three of Danilo D’Ambrosio, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar. The in-form Ivan Perisic will start as the left wing-back, with Denzel Dumfries returning to the lineup on the other flank.

Marcelo Brozovic will once again act as Inter’s midfield orchestrator and will be joined by Roberto Gagliardini and Hakan Calhanoglu in the middle of the park. Edin Dzeko, for his part, has been shabby in the last few weeks and is likely to give way to Joaquin Correa. The former Lazio man is likely to start alongside Lautaro Martinez in the attack.

With Calhanoglu and Barella blowing hot and cold, it is very likely that Inter will focus their attacks through the wings. Perisic has been in a rich vein of form and could once again prove to be his side’s biggest threat going forward. Adding the attack-minded Dumfries on the other flank will only hand the hosts more options to breach the Empoli defence.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, De Vrij, Skriniar; Dumfries, Gagliardini, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Correa, Martinez

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Empoli

Empoli are comfortably away from the relegation battle and have little to play for. However, the Italians showcased the ability to spring a surprise when they got the better of Napoli last month. They also pushed Milan hard in a 1-0 defeat recently and could spring a shock on Inter should the home side be complacent.

Empoli will, however, have to do so without Valerio Verre and Petar Stojanovic, who are both suspended for the game. They will join the trio of Nicolas Haas, Lorenzo Tonelli and Riccardo Marchizza, who are all out injured.

Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side have lost to Inter twice already this season but put up a real fight in their Coppa Italia matchup. A repeat of the performance will only make life harder for the Nerazzurri. With there being no margin for error, the onus is on the hosts to take the game to their opponents. The longer Empoli can hold on, the more the chances of Inter committing too many bodies forward and getting caught on the break.

Empoli are likely to line up in a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation. This should see them pack bodies in the middle of the pitch, making life difficult for Brozovic. Shackling the Croatian could help swing the pendulum in Empoli’s favour.

Guglielmo Vicario is likely to start in goal with a back four of Fabiano Parisi, Sebastiano Luperto, Mattia Viti and Riccardo Fiamozzi. The trio of Liam Henderson, Kristjan Asllani, and Szymon Zurkowski will be tasked with providing the muscle in midfield and getting stuck in. The trio’s ability to win the midfield battle will open the path for Federico Di Francesco and Nedim Bajrami to play in Patrick Cutrone.

Probable Lineup (4-3-2-1): Vicario; Parisi, Luperto, Viti, Fiamozzi; Henderson, Asllani, Zurkowski; Di Francesco, Bajrami; Cutrone

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Key Stats

  • Inter Milan have not lost to Empoli in their last 13 Serie A games. Empoli have not defeated Inter Milan since 2006.
  • Empoli have lost their last eight Serie A games against Inter Milan. Another loss on Friday will make it their worst run of form against an opposition team in the Italian top flight.
  • Inter Milan have now secured 75 points in 35 games in Serie A for only the fourth time in their history in the three points for a win era. They have won the league in all three previous instances.
  • Inter Milan have defeated newly-promoted sides in all their five fixtures against them in Serie A this season. The last time the Nerazzurri swept the games against newly-promoted teams was in the 2002/03 season.

Player to Watch

Ivan Perisic

 

The Croatian has been central to whatever Inter have done well this season and is hitting the right vein of form at the opportune moment. He has scored in both of Inter’s previous two games and appears to have regained his mojo on the left flank.

With the likes of Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko enduring a poor run of form, the onus could fall on Perisic to once again provide the attacking impetus. At 33, the Croatian is not getting any younger, but his experience could prove to be pivotal as the Scudetto title race heads into its final few weeks.

Prediction

Inter Milan 2-0 Empoli

The Nerazzurri certainly have the better squad on paper and also more reason to secure all three points on the night. With a chance to put early pressure on Milan, Inter can go into the tie with relatively less pressure and seize the initiative in the title race. As long as Inzaghi’s men turn up, it should be a regulation win for the defending champions.

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