They say that defending a league title is one of the hardest and most impressive feats in football. Well, try telling Juventus that.
The Old Lady has coasted her way to EIGHT successive Serie A scudetti, and she’s very rarely been forced into putting down her knitting needles.
And having reinforced an already well-nourished squad with the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Aaron Ramsey and a re-invigorated Gonzalo Higuain, you would be forgiven for thinking that the trophy was heading back to Turin for number nine in a row this May.
But hold the phone – there‘s a new sheriff in town – and he goes by the name of Antonio Conte. That’s right, Conte is back and working wonders with his new Inter side, who are hot on the slippers of the Old Lady at the top of the table.
With 11 swashbuckling wins from 13 league games and swaggering displays in the Champions League, Inter are proving that this is not just a lucky streak – they’re the real deal.
Better take off your slippers and put on your dancing shoes Juve, you’re in for a hell of a battle this season.
Victory over SPAL could see I Nerazzurri leapfrog their rivals, depending on Juve’s result against Sassuolo in Sunday’s early kickoff.
But whatever the outcome today, there are no two ways about it – title race fans, we have a title race.
Now that we’re all hyped up over the pure drama that is Serie A, let’s wash it down with some juicy stats that you can wow your amici with down at the pub, all thanks to our friends Opta.
Romelu’s Gonna Get You
Scoring goals for fun, linking up perfectly with his teammates and firing his side to the top of the table. Ya know who needs a guy like that? Manchester United.
Anyway, Lukaku is on fire and Italy is terrified. The big Belgian forward has scored 10 league goals so far, more than three Serie A teams this season, including SPAL (eight).
If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of 11 sets of SPAL knees knocking together in fear.
It’s not only the free-flowing football which is driving the San Siro wild, though.
Among Inter players with more than two penalties taken in Serie A since 2004/05, Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez are the only two to have scored each of the shots they have from the penalty spot (both 3/3).
Blue and black is the ice cold blood which courses through their veins.
San Sir-ial Winners
Pundits often say that head-to-head records mean very little when they stretch back into the distant past, but Inter’s unbeaten run over SPAL is not to be sniffed at.
I Nerazzurri are unbeaten in their last 14 Serie A meetings against SPAL, winning 11 matches and drawing three.
With Inter second-top and SPAL second-bottom, it’s hard to see that streak coming to an abrupt end any time soon.
The History Boys
Conte has come to the city of Milan and got Inter rocking and rolling once again. The Italian giants have made a terrific start to the season, and are on the cusp of an incredible feat which will write this group of players into the record books.
Inter are looking to win 12 of their first 14 matches in a Serie A season for the first time in their history, and could become the fifth side to find the net in each of their first 14 Serie A matches in a season in the 21st century, after Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and AS Roma.
Conte’s men have also scored 2 or more goals in each of their last six league matches, and could do so seven games in a row for the first time since March 2009.
Going Through a Dry SPAL
There’s no ‘I’ in goal, but there are two in ‘he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.’ That’s pretty much how SPAL’s season has gone thus far, and the lack of goals within the team must keep boss Leonardo Semplici up at night.
SPAL are goalless in their last six Serie A away games: only once in their top-flight history have they recorded a longer run (nine in 1963).
That’s not all though – no side have scored fewer goals than SPAL in the top five European leagues this season (eight).
Sorry SPAL pals, one last statto. SPAL are one of the two sides (level with Leganés) to have scored with the fewest different players this term (three).
Hat-tricks all round today, then.
Set Piece Specialists
Would you believe that Conte has turned a team into one of the most efficient sides from dead-ball situations in Europe? Me neither.
But surprise surprise, the ex-Chelsea coach has worked his magic again, and no side have scored more goals than Inter from set-piece situations in the top five European leagues this term (11, alongside AS Roma).
No silly fouls, boys.
Not Inter’s Pal
Some players just have a knack of scoring against the same team every year, regardless of how bad they are at football.
SPAL’s Alberto Paloschi has scored two goals in his last three Serie A meetings against Inter, including his last goal in the competition (in October 2018 at the Paolo Mazza).
Methinks it’ll be two out of four Serie A meetings against Inter after Sunday afternoon, and this stat won’t be included next time round.
Inter’s Confirmed Lineup