Inter Milan will be aiming to consolidate their place atop the Serie A table when they welcome Sassuolo to San Siro on Wednesday.
We are just a few days out of the first international break of 2021, but matches are already starting to come thick and fast across Europe. In Italy, one of the rearranged fixtures from earlier in the season will see Serie A leaders Inter Milan play hosts to Sassuolo at San Siro on Wednesday, hoping to stretch their lead to 11 points at the top of the table.
Inter Milan have been simply excellent in the 2020/21 Serie A season, losing just twice while grabbing the maximum quota of three points in 21 of their 28 fixtures till date. And so, even though they suffered disappointment in the UEFA Champions League, the Nerazzurri look on course to lift the Scudetto after a gap of 11 years, with neighbours AC Milan eight points adrift in second.
Sassuolo, on the other hand, have been one of the more eye-catching teams in Serie A this season, although their expansive brand of football has often worked against them as well. Nevertheless, the Neroverdi look primed for a top half finish this season, even if their recent run of one win in six games might have been underwhelming.
The reverse fixture, played at Stadio Citta del Tricolore back in November, saw Inter Milan cruise to a 3-0 win over Sassuolo. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
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Antonio Conte has a couple of fresh roster issues hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Sassuolo. On Wednesday, the Inter Milan manager will be bereft of the services of three first-team players due to injury or suspension.
The fresh absentees are Alessandro Bastoni and Marcelo Brozovic, both of whom are set to serve a one-match ban due to an accumulation of bookings. In addition, Ivan Perisic remains on the sidelines due to a muscle injury, while Aleksandar Kolarov and Danilo D’Ambrosio are unlikely to feature due to their recent issues.
The absence of Kolarov and D’Ambrosio in addition to Bastoni means that the three-man central defensive unit of Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Andrea Ranocchia picks itself, with captain Samir Handanovic an automatic choice in goal for Inter Milan.
Meanwhile, Ashley Young will continue to deputise for the injured Perisic, with Achraf Hakimi a certainty in the right wing-back slot. The key decision in midfield, though, will involve Brozovic’s replacement, with Roberto Gagliardini likely to get the nod over Arturo Vidal and Matias Vecino to start alongside Christian Eriksen and Nicolo Barella in the middle of the park.
Finally, there is no looking past Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez to continue their strike partnership, with Alexis Sanchez being the backup option in attack for Inter Milan.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, de Vrij, Ranocchia; Hakimi, Barella, Eriksen, Gagliardini, Young; Lukaku, Martinez
Like his counterpart in the Inter Milan dugout, Roberto De Zerbi has a number of pressing issues to contend with ahead of the trip to San Siro, although he does have a couple of squad members back at his disposal as well. On Wednesday, the Sassuolo boss will have to make do without as many as six first-team players.
Those who are in contention to feature are Manuel Locatelli and Gian Marco Ferrari, both of whom tested negative for the coronavirus. However, the likes of Kaan Ayhan, Filippo Romagna, Mehdi Bourabia, Domenico Berardi, Francesco Caputo and Gregoire Defrel all miss out due to their respective issues.
In particular, it is the absence of Berardi that will be bothersome for Sassuolo, with Giacomo Raspadori set to lead the line against Inter Milan, with the visitors set to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Out wide, Hamed Traore and Filip Djuricic will be the two wingers, who will primarily cut in to overload central areas, with Maxime Lopez reprising the no. 10 role.
In the midfield double pivot, there is no looking past captain Francesco Magnanelli and the available-again Locatelli, who will aim to keep things tight in the middle of the park while progressing Sassuolo forward with pace. At the back, Ferrari is a certainty in the centre, with Marlon, Rogerio and Jeremy Toljan completing the defensive line with Andrea Consigli being in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Consigli; Rogerio, Ferrari, Marlon, Toljan; Magnanelli, Locatelli; Djuricic, Lopez, Traore; Raspadori
- Sassuolo have won seven of their 15 matches against Inter Milan in Serie A (D2 L6); against no side have they won more games in the competition.
- Inter Milan are unbeaten in their last four games against Sassuolo in Serie A (W2 D2), having lost each of the four previous matches versus the Neroverdi.
- Inter Milan have won each of their last nine games in Serie A; the last side to record a longer such streak in the Italian top-flight were Lazio in January 2020 (11).
- Sassuolo have lost five of their last seven away fixtures in Serie A (W1 D1) after remaining unbeaten in seven matches on the road prior to this run (W5 D2).
- Inter Milan have won each of their last ten matches at San Siro. The Nerazzurri have only embarked on a better run than this once: in 2011, when they won 13 home games in a row.
Player to Watch
Whenever Inter Milan take the field, the spotlight is invariably on Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, with the duo being the major source of their goals. However, a big reason why they can flourish is the presence of Marcelo Brozovic in the middle of the park. In the Croat’s absence, the onus will now be on Christian Eriksen to step up.
Having revelled in a deeper role in the second half of the season, the Dane has reinvented himself quite well at San Siro. Now, against a tricky Sassuolo side, Eriksen faces a major test of his credentials. If he manages to come through unscathed, it ought to be a straightforward outing for Inter Milan. If not, the game could well prove to be closely contested.
Inter Milan 2-1 Sassuolo
Inter Milan might be appearing to be quite comfortable at the top of Serie A right now, but the Nerazzurri have been grinding out their wins lately. Sassuolo have what it takes to make them nervy, although the return of Stefan de Vrij ought to help keep the visitors at bay, enabling Antonio Conte & co. to eke out a narrow 2-1 win.