Bergamo’s Nerazzurri face up to Milan’s Nerazzurri. It’s a case of La Dea against Il Biscione – the goddess versus the big grass snake – in essence Beauty against the beast. How the Internazionale beast could do with an injection of beauty.
For all their millions and ranking as one of the most celebrated sides of Italian football, there is without doubt an unavoidable dark cloud looming over the San Siro. Although Jose Mourinho sees his team sat top of Serie A, questions are being asked about the general atmosphere within the camp – What is the future for Adriano? Is ‘Super’ Mario Balotelli still causing trouble? Why are such a talented collective unable to produce strong, crushing performances? How have Juventus been allowed back into the title race? Add to the internal problems the Nerazzurri faithful’s discontent and the Week 19 trip to Atalanta’s Stadio Atleti looks ever more an uncomfortable proposition. Inter need a response and Atalanta need a result. Will the pressure of being considered the country’s best side coax a performance from the Milan giants or will they – yet again – struggle against a harder working, hungrier team and only just scrape a result?
On paper, whilst Atalanta may loom inoffensively 11th placed and 19 points behind Sunday’s visitors, they certainly look like a team capable of heaping further pressure on Mourinho’s men who lucky to earn a point from last weekend’s Cagliari game – one they could (and maybe should) have lost. Fortune favoured them even greater in their controversial win over Siena before the winter break and if there is to be a time to play the stuttering reigning champions, it is now. A tough mid-week Coppa Italia tie against Genoa that required extra time to determine a winner will not have pleased Mourinho ahead of a potentially tricky away tie, and the Portuguese will have made his players aware in no uncertain terms just how vital taking maximum points will be. Opposite number Gigi Del Neri will have taken the positives from last weekend’s 3-2 defeat at Palermo where after falling 2-0 behind, his players battled back to draw level before the Sicilians stole a win through Edison Cavani’s late volley. The former Chievo, Roma and Palermo tactician would have spent much of the last week drilling into his side the genuine opportunity they have of not only causing a real upset to their opponents title ambitions, but the chance they have of boosting their own ambitions of European competition next season. Memorably, it was in the UEFA Cup campaign of 1991 where the Orobici had their finest hour; a quarterfinal tie against a Lothar Matthaus inspired (and eventual tournament winners) Internazionale.
The head-to-head record of recent times doesn’t read well for the hosts – their last ten meetings have seen them celebrate just one win – back in 2002 at the San Siro- and last season’s corresponding fixture saw goals from Patrick Vieira and Balotelli put the Nerazzurri of Milan go four points clear of then second placed Roma. This term Atalanta have been uncharitable on home soil – beating the likes of Napoli, Lazio and Udinese whilst also conceding just the seven goals in front of their own fans. Conceding in the manner they did during that dramatic 3-2 defeat at Palermo cannot happen against this Inter side who in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Julio Cruz and Luis Jimenez (likely to replace the suspended Sulley Muntari) lies more than enough quality to be punish any error. The constant questioning of the Inter squad’s desire should be enough to motivate the visitors. Hosting the Scudetto holders should raise the home team who will rely heavily on the experience of Cristiano Doni and the goals of impressive forward Sergio Floccari to fire them to what to many, may be seen as a not so surprising win.