The dominant theme of the first matchday of the return fixture in Serie A has undeniably been the head-to-head clash between Inter Milan and Juventus. The previous matchday served up much more challenging confrontations for both teams than initially anticipated, with dramatic conclusions and scenarios few predicted would be repeated so soon.
Temporarily setting aside Juventus, who will have a wait of 72 hours knowing the result of their rivals Inter playing in Monza before hosting Sassuolo, how has Inter fared in recent years immediately after reaching the halfway point of the season? A look at the past four seasons reveals some intriguing trends and precedents.
Back in 2019-20, the situation for Inter was the polar opposite of today’s scenario. The team found itself two points behind Sarri-led Juventus, a gap that was widened on the final matchday when Inter drew at San Siro against another Nerazzurri, Atalanta. An early sign of strain that grew palpable in Lecce, where Bastoni’s second-half goal for a fleeting lead resulted in a gap of four points from the league leaders.
During the 2020-21 Conte era, the scenario was identical to the previous year, ending the first half of the season two points behind Milan. However, things eventually took a different turn with Inter going on to win the title. A 4-0 demolition of Benevento, marking their return fixture, acted as a convincing demonstration of intent.
Fast forward to 2021-22, it feels like a lifetime ago, yet it’s only been two winters. Inzaghi’s Inter ended at the top spot, and being the Winter Champion seemed inevitable given the four-point lead over Milan. However, the commencement of the return fixtures saw several matches postponed due to numerous Covid cases, including the Bologna-Inter match that was rescheduled for much later. This turned out to be a detriment, a stumble in their hopes for the tricolour.
Lastly, last season’s championship had effectively concluded after 19 fixtures, if not sooner. Inter resumed their campaign, trailing Napoli by 13 points. Facing the bottom-placed side, it took a Lautaro brace to overturn a defeat at Cremona into a valuable three-point gain for the secondary contest – securing a place in the Champions League.