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I wouldn't say that Samir Handanovic is the best goalkeeper in Serie A. That honor remains Gianluigi Buffon's and his alone. But no goalkeeper has been more integral to his team's success this season than Inter's stopper.
In his first season since arriving from Udinese and supplanting the decorated Julio Cesar, Handanovic has been simply spectacular. His defense has constantly failed him, but he has put in heroic performances to keep games close and allow Inter to snatch points from games they should have lost by multiple goals.
With Andrea Ranocchia losing some of the luster he had before his December suspension, Walter Samuel aging and Juan Jesus just simply disappearing, Handanovic will likely be called into action often even against a bottom-half team like Cagliari, and Inter needs to have him at the top of his game once more.
With Diego Milito out for the season and Antonio Cassano leaving the field injured Sunday against Atalanta, Palacio is now Inter's top attacking threat. He'll need to find his way past Cagliari central defenders Davide Astori and Luca Rossettini and give the nerazzurri the goals they need in this critical match.
The Argentine is the team's leading scorer with 18 goals in all competitions, but with no backup Cagliari will likely try to collapse the defense around Palacio and force the rest of the team to beat them.
Despite a dip in form since the turn of the calendar, Ranocchia is still Inter's most important defender, and he's averaging 4.9 tackles per match to go along with 2.8 interceptions and 7.6 clearances. His passing from the back is also important for Inter's game. He has completed 87 percent of his passes and nearly four long balls per game.
For Inter to be able to finish strong, Ranocchia will have to be on the top of his game and give Handanovic some degree of protection. If he gets strung out, as he was on German Denis' second goal on Sunday, Handanovic will only be able to play Superman for so long.