Serie A Preview: Inter Milan - Cagliari
What: Serie A - Matchday 35
Who: Inter (1st, 78 points) vs Cagliari (15th, 35 points)
When: Sunday 27 April 2008, 15:00 CET
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Scudetto Almost In The Bag For Inter
When people will look back at this Serie A season, they will most probably indicate last weekend's round of games as the one that decided the title race. Inter held a four-point lead over a feisty Roma side with five games to go, and the match programme saw the Giallorossi host bottom club Livorno before Inter faced Torino away from home.
Luciano Spalletti's side could only muster a 1-1 draw against the Amaranto in another game where they wasted a miriad of chances. Inter took full advantage the next evening as they scraped a 1-0 victory thanks to a poacher's goal by Julio Cruz. So now the Nerazzurri have a six-point lead with four matches to go, and only a collapse of historical proportions would prevent them from winning their third consecutive Scudetto (16th in total).
In theory it could already happen this weekend, although they would need Torino to get a win in Rome, which is unlikely to say the least, while Inter of course would need to beat Cagliari at home. But it would be an even more satisfying party for the Nerazzurri if they win the title in the derby against Milan next week, and perhaps hand their city rivals the decisive blow in their pursuit of a Champions League place.
Considering all the problems and the heavy criticism Inter have had to endure since the start of the new year, which reached a boiling point after the elimination in the Champions League against Liverpool, they deserve credit for having bounced back so well in the last few weeks.
With three consecutive wins against Atalanta, Fiorentina, and Torino they made up for a spell of poor results and now they deservedly have the Scudetto within touching distance.
Cagliari Close To Safety
Thanks to a great run of results, Cagliari have managed to overturn a situation that saw them seemingly hopeless at the bottom of the table. Without a decent strikeforce and a defence that was leaking all over the place, coach Daniele Ballardini faced a daunting task when he took control of the team in January, when they were six points off the safe zone.
Most probably the turnaround came in the home game against Napoli in late January, which Cagliari won thanks to two injury time goals after trailing 1-0. Since that game, their home form has been excellent, having beaten the likes of Lazio, Genoa, Atalanta, and held Roma to a 1-1 draw.
It hasn't been the same story in away games, where they've been mostly disappointing, although they did happen to win their most recent match away from home against bottom club Livorno. But of course the most important thing for them is that they are now five points clear of the danger zone, which with only four games to go puts them in a very good position.
Still, the next three games will be tough ones for Cagliari, as they face Fiorentina and Udinese after visiting Inter. Considering the hard work done by Ballardini and his players to get out of such a desperate situation, they certainly wouldn't deserve the dreaded drop to Serie B.
20/04 (Serie A): Torino-Inter Milan 0-1
16/04 (Coppa Italia): Inter Milan-Lazio 0-0
13/04 (Serie A): Inter Milan-Fiorentina 2-0
06/04 (Serie A): Atalanta-Inter Milan 0-2
29/03 (Serie A): Lazio-Inter Milan 1-1
20/04 (Serie A): Cagliari-Empoli 2-0
13/04 (Serie A): Livorno-Cagliari 1-2
05/04 (Serie A): Milan-Cagliari 3-1
29/03 (Serie A): Cagliari-Roma 1-1
22/03 (Serie A): Sampdoria-Cagliari 1-1
Olivier Dacourt, Walter Samuel, Ivan Cordoba are all out for the season, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Figo are also unavailable through injury.
Possible formation (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Chivu, Materazzi, Maxwell; Vieira, Cambiasso, Zanetti; Stankovic; Crespo, Cruz.
Davide Marchini and Andrea Parola are out injured, while Pasquale Foggia, Michele Fini, and Francesco Pisano are suspended. Robert Acquafresca could be kept out to preserve him for the match against Fiorentina.
Possible formation (4-3-1-2): Storari; Ferri, Lopez, Bianco, Agostini; Del Grosso, Biondini, Conti; Cossu; Jeda, Matri.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Julio Cruz (Inter Milan)
Last weekend he popped up again with a probably crucial, decisive goal in the match against Torino. He hadn't managed to score at all in the new year, except in the Coppa Italia, so it was good to see him back doing what he does best. Before Christmas, he was in the form of his life, scoring 10 goals, and even kept his countryman Hernan Crespo out of the starting line-up.
Alessandro Matri (Cagliari)
The 23-year-old Milan youth product will be keen to impress in this match. If he manages to score against Inter, he would certainly grab the attention of the Rossoneri's managers. At Cagliari he's had a somewhat disappointing season, however, scoring just 6 goals and being mostly overshadowed by his younger strike partner Robert Acquafresca.
Despite Cagliari being on a good run of form, I think Inter will put on a good show in this one and win comfortably.