Despite a good comeback away to Fiorentina on Saturday night, a late equaliser from Per Kroldrup allowed Roma to snatch Serie A’s top spot from Inter after beating Atalanta on Sunday. This puts the Nerazzurri in the unenviable position of having to play catch up over the next few weeks whilst relying on the Giallorossi to drop points.
Playing away in Florence is never easy, and Fiorentina started brightly against an Inter side who looked shocked by the quality of their opponents. However, the Nerazzurri responded very well in the second half and gave everything they had in order to gain a 2-1 lead through Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o, but once again the champions were left with the feeling that two points had been dropped when Kroldrup scored in the 82nd minute to level the tie.
Fortunately, this coming weekend sees Inter take on Juventus and Roma face Lazio in what is technically the ‘away’ derby, so, if la Magica are to win the title, they will first have to beat their fierce rivals in front of 70,000 Laziali. Although Lazio have endured a disappointing season, the motivation of having the chance to rob Roma of their fourth Scudetto will surely be a powerful incentive. However, Juventus will also be wanting to put another dent in Inter’s title hopes, and it could be all but over before the teams take to the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday night.
With just four games remaining after the coming weekend it is certain that the title race will go down to the wire, but Roma would expect to take full points from Sampdoria, Parma, Cagliari and Chievo – and with no European competition to make them lose focus this could be the week which decides the destination of lo Scudetto. In truth, the form of Jose Mourinho’s team has been patchy this season, allowing a seemingly unassailable lead to slip away, so to win would be more of a relief than a celebration. As this writer suggested earlier in the campaign, this has the potential to be the Scudetto of which la Beneamata could be most proud, won against the odds and despite facing opponents better equipped and more determined than in previous years.
The question which Inter have, once again, to ask themselves is which do they want more, lo Scudetto or the Champions League? Obviously European success is the ultimate goal for any team, but with Barcelona standing in their way it may well be a game too far even for Mourinho’s side and, despite the fact that they have been replaced at the summit of Serie A, the title would probably be a more attainable target. In a season of wild highs and lows only one thing has remained certain, ending up with nothing would be a disaster for Inter.
Interestingly, it would appear that the Nerazzurri’s key to success in either competition could be the controversial Mario Balotelli. Setting aside all the troubles and animosity between the young striker and his manager, Balotelli has proven himself an important and highly influential player in his last few appearances. His direct running, dribbling ability and physical presence had Fiorentina terrified, and his performance against CSKA Moscow was equally exciting. If used properly, Balotelli could prove a major asset in Inter’s remaining league games and even has the ability to trouble the apparently indomitable Barcelona. Whether his recent ‘make-up’ with Mourinho will last remains to be seen, but with Balotelli fresh after making relatively few appearances this season and clearly in fine form, he could well prove the extra boost that the side need to help them to what would be a famous victory.
Finally, Inter have a Coppa Italia semi-final second-leg match against Fiorentina tonight, also away at the Artemio Franchi in Florence. The Nerazzurri have a 1-0 lead after the first-leg and will be anxious to put right Saturday’s result – although another 2-2 draw would send them through on aggregate. However, don’t be surprised if Mourinho fields a weakened side as, with so many important games coming up in other competitions, the Coppa may have to take a back seat.
This promises to be the most exciting run-in Serie A has had for years, and this coming weekend is when the fun will really start.