Serie A Matchweek 18 Preview: Inter Milan vs. Juventus (Sun - 20:45h. CET; 19:45h. GMT) - Team news, possible lineups

The Serie A weekend reaches a suitable crescendo on Sunday night, as Inter Milan host Scudetto rivals Juventus in the Derby d'Italia - the 175th league encounter between the Italian giants.

Defending champions Juve trail Antonio Conte's second-placed side by four points before kickoff - with a game in hand - and aim to narrow the gap with a fourth win on the spin.

Match preview

Though their relentless run of eight straight Serie A victories surprisingly came to an end at the hands of mid-table Sampdoria at the start of the year, as they prepare for one of the grandest dates in the Calcio calendar, Inter remain on a streak of five consecutive home league wins.

After only one point from their last two games, the Nerazzurri not only need a win to claim supremacy over old foes Juventus - distancing the fast-closing Bianconeri in the process - they must also keep pace with league-leading city rivals AC Milan.

Extra-time success over Fiorentina in midweek took Conte's men to the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia, thanks to Romelu Lukaku's decisive goal in the 119th minute.

On Sunday, ever-reliable Lukaku will go head-to-head with the only man ahead of him in this season's Capocannoniere race - Juve's Cristiano Ronaldo. The brilliant Belgian striker has registered 12 league strikes so far - to Ronaldo's remarkable tally of 15, which the ex-Real Madrid man accrued even despite absence due to COVID-19.

With Lukaku and his colleagues such as Lautaro Martinez and goal-getting wing-back Achraf Hakimi able to score at a rate of more than 2.5 per game - the top scorers in Serie A - high-pressing Inter are a team still searching for defensive balance.

Their 23 goals conceded represents the second-worst defensive record among the current top six and partly owes to a decline in the performances of stalwart goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, plus a series of individual errors from the three central defenders in front of him.

Slightly further up the pitch, Marcelo Brozovic has made himself an integral cog in a rarely rotated first XI, providing an assist in each of his last four league appearances. Such is his importance to Conte's plans, the once-lauded Christian Eriksen must make do with a role as Brozovic's understudy-in-training.

Juventus are the only team against which Conte has always lost as a manager in Serie A - with three defeats from three to date. On Sunday, he shares the touchline with old ally Andrea Pirlo for the first time - a man who helped Conte lift Juve from mediocrity, putting them on the road to their current run of ten consecutive Scudetti.

A potentially season-defining start to 2021 has seen Juventus scheduled to meet both Milan clubs - and Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana - within the space of a fortnight, as Pirlo's debut campaign in the dugout appears to be belatedly taking shape.

The Bianconeri have put together four consecutive victories since the turn of the year in league and cup - including over Milan - and built up to the clash against Inter with success over Sassuolo last week, plus qualification for the Coppa Italia quarters (like the Nerazzurri, after extra time) by beating Genoa on Wednesday.

Juventus are unbeaten in Serie A meetings with Inter since the start of 2017, in a run of five wins and two draws, and have not lost in nine of the last 10 away league games against their Derby d'Italia opponents. Remarkably, the Old Lady's only loss in this period came in September 2016 - a 2-1 defeat to an Inter under the disastrous reign of Frank de Boer.

A very unfamiliar-looking lineup took to the field against Genoa in midweek, as COVID-19 began to bite and Pirlo also rested key players, but Juve will be much closer to full strength for their 90 minutes at centre stage on Sunday - as the eyes of the global game turn towards San Siro.

Inter Milan Serie A form: WWWWLD
Inter Milan form (all competitions): WWWLDW

Juventus Serie A form: DWLWWW
Juventus form (all competitions): WLWWWW

Team News

Antonio Conte has a near-full hand to play against his former club, but is rarely inclined to deviate from his favoured few in a rigid 3-5-2 formation - only injured squad players Danilo D'Ambrosio, Andrea Pinamonti and Matias Vecino are unavailable.

With Achraf Hakimi now established as an essential starter on the right, only the selection between trusted troop Ashley Young and the more attack-minded Ivan Perisic is in the balance - but with Young most likely to play.

Deep-lying playmaker Marcelo Brozovic returns in place of Coppa Italia deputy Christian Eriksen, with Nicolo Barella and Arturo Vidal also featuring in the midfield three. In attack, Romelu Lukaku regains his rightful place at Inter's apex, ahead of Alexis Sanchez.

Juventus are still without defensive COVID-19 cases Alex Sandro, Juan Cuadrado and Matthijs de Ligt, as well as the injured Paulo Dybala.

Wojciech Szczesny returns after a rest in midweek - with Gianluigi Buffon dropping to the bench - behind a four-man defence most probably composed of Danilo, Merih Demiral, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluca Frabotta.

There are several spots apparently up for grabs in midfield, with Arthur and Adrien Rabiot, Rodrigo Bentancur and Weston McKennie plus Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski all competing against each other for a start. Up front, Alvaro Morata is set to be paired with Cristiano Ronaldo.

Inter Milan possible starting lineup:
Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Vidal; Young; Martinez, Lukaku

Juventus possible starting lineup:
Szczesny; Danilo, Demiral, Bonucci, Frabotta; Chiesa, Rabiot, Bentancur, Ramsey; Morata, Ronaldo

Source: Sports Mole / Jonathan O'Shea  



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