(Reuters) – Inter Milan will look to go out with a bang in the Italian top flight’s final round of fixtures before the winter break this week after a year to remember for Simone Inzaghi’s Serie A table toppers.
Inter lifted their first Scudetto in 11 years in May, finishing 12 points ahead of rivals AC Milan in second.
After losing key figures in that title success during the close season – coach Antonio Conte, top goalscorer Romelu Lukaku and flying fullback Achraf Hakimi – things did not start well this term, with Inter playing catch up until recent weeks.
They have found top gear again, however, to sit top of the standings by four points. Inter were crowned winter champions, too, following their sixth successive league win, at Salernitana on Friday, and Milan’s loss to Napoli on Sunday.
Friday’s 5-0 success took Inter to 100 goals in a calendar year for the first time in their Serie A history, with Torino their final opponent of a successful 2021 on Wednesday.
By their high standards, Juventus’s 2021 has been nothing short of woeful.
Looking to make it 10 successive league titles last season, rookie coach Andrea Pirlo could only steer Juve to fourth position – a return that cost him his job.
Massimiliano Allegri returned to save the day in the close season, taking charge of the Turin club for the second time, but he has fared even worse, with Juve languishing down in seventh ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Cagliari.
Allegri is fully aware he has it all to do to turn things around.
“We have to win tomorrow and then see where we can get,” Allegri told a news conference on Monday. “On February 28, we’ll know if we are in the race for the top four. There’s a lot of work to do over the next two months.”
Milan are again looking likely to be one of Inter’s main title challengers, but Stefano Pioli’s side, who went unbeaten in their opening 12 league matches of the season, have stuttered of late, losing three of their last six league games.
Empoli are Milan’s final opponent before the winter break on Wednesday and will be no pushovers, having already beaten Juve and Napoli this season.
Napoli’s 1-0 win in the San Siro on Sunday saw them climb above Milan to sit second on goal difference. They too went unbeaten in their opening 12 league games before falling away. Victory over Spezia on Wednesday will keep them in the title hunt.
Fourth-placed Atalanta’s six-game Serie A winning streak was ended by AS Roma on Sunday, meaning they cannot afford more dropped points at Genoa on Tuesday if they are to keep Inter in their sights.
(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Toby Davis)