Inter Milan return from the winter break and head right into a key match against Lazio. The Nerazzurri are going to need a sustained run of terrific form, and it must start now if they want to get back in the title conversation and at least secure a Champions League berth.
They headed into the hiatus on a high note after scoring a derby victory over AC Milan. It should provide the boost of confidence Inter have been looking for after some lackluster play in the weeks leading up to the marquee encounter.
Lazio should provide a good test. Even though the Biancocelesti have struggled to find any level of consistency so far during the current campaign, they know it's time to elevate their form if they are going to make a push toward a European place.
The sense of urgency on both sides should lead to an entertaining match. Let's check out all the important information for the clash, followed by a preview and prediction.
What's your prediction for the Serie A clash?
Where: Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy
When: Monday, Jan. 6 at 12:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. GMT)
Watch: RAI Internazionale and BT Sport 1
Live Stream: beIN Sport Play
Match Forecast (via Bloomberg Sports)
Lazio: 39.7 percent
Inter Milan: 33.7 percent
Draw: 26.6 percent
Top Storyline: Can Inter earn three key points and start climbing the table?
If Inter are going to make a charge in the second half of the campaign, these are the type of matches they need to win. Going on the road against a middling opponent and getting all three points is the only way to make progress toward catching the top clubs.
A positive sign for the Nerazzurri is the return of Ricky Alvarez. The talented attacking midfielder missed the derby through suspension, and the club's official site provided comments he made on Sky Sport 24 about how difficult it was to get sidelined for the rivalry game:
I really struggled with not being able to play in the derby, on a scale of one to ten, I'd say it was a ten. It's a big game for us and I was really disappointed not to be able to help my team-mates, but what matters is that the team went out there and got the three points.
Luckily for Inter, they were able to get the win without him, and now he returns for another tricky test. His presence provides a major boost for a midfield that's a major strength when everybody is in top form, but those stretches have been fleeting so far.
For Inter to get the road win, they need terrific performances from Alvarez and Esteban Cambiasso. Those are the two stabilizing forces in the middle of the pitch, and when they are working well together the attack is at its most dangerous.
As the match breakdown passed along by Inter Stats shows, creating scoring opportunities has been one of the club's strengths this season:
By contrast, Lazio have struggled to defend through balls, which should open the door for Alvarez and Cambiasso to create some great chances for the likes of Rodrigo Palacio and Fredy Guarin.
The Biancocelesti are a side that's run hot and cold during the first half. Inter just have to hope they catch the home club having and off day so they can take advantage to get three points.
Before the break, Lazio had a forgettable performance in a 4-1 loss to Hellas Verona, so the respite came at a perfect time. Whether it was enough time to fix all of the mistakes made in the match is something fans will find out early in the match.
All told, Inter are the most complete side and should return from the break on the mission to make a move up the table. It won't be easy, but expect a strong performance from start to finish that will allow them to score a narrow victory.
Inter Milan 2, Lazio 1