Inter Milan is atop the table of Serie A once again this season as it turns for the home stretch with 13 weeks of fixtures left.
Internazionale has won the last four Serie A crowns, and if they hold on to win their fifth straight and 18th overall, they will hop over rivals AC Milans' 17 titles, for second most all-time behind only Juventus' 27 titles.
But after managing only draws in each of their last three matches, has it suddenly become a race for the crown again?
AC Milan and AS Roma are gaining ground on Inter, who currently sit in first place with 55 points. Roma is in second place with 50 points and Milan is in third with 48 points, but have a game in hand that will be played tonight at Fiorentina.
Inter has given the challengers hope in what seemed like a runaway title for the Nerazzurri.
Their recent run has caused reason for concern, and the obstacles keep mounting as their next three matches in the league will be played without Coach Jose Mourinho. He faces a three match ban for his behavior in this past weekend’s draw against Sampdoria.
On top of that, midfielders Esteban Cambiasso and Sulley Muntari were also suspended for misconduct after Saturday’s debacle. Defenders Walter Samuel and Ivan Cordoba will also miss the next match because of a red card and accumulation of cards.
Inter may be a deep squad, but a depleted roster like this is sure to have an effect on the squad’s performance. Especially when there are other fixtures on the calendar, such as the much anticipated match with Chelsea.
Roma, however, are surging and have established themselves as the hottest team in Serie A.
The Giallorossi have won seven straight in the league, and are unbeaten in their last 15 matches. Their last defeat in the league came way back on Oct. 28 in a loss at Udinese.
Boss Claudio Ranieri has developed a winning mentality amongst the club. Despite the slow start and numerous injuries and setbacks, Roma is knocking on Inter’s doorstep and trying to fight their way into the top slot.
If they want to complete one of the most miraculous comebacks in Serie A history, Roma will need “Il Capitano” Francesco Totti back and healthy. It would also come in handy if the recent transfer, Luca Toni, could get back in form to provide an even deeper attacking side for the Giallorossi.
But, how long can Roma’s great run of form last? Have they made their move too soon? Or was the deficit too much from the beginning?
Let's not forget AC Milan.
As the third contender, and because of the hefty schedule ahead of them, AC Milan must be at the top of their game if they want to make a serious run at the crown.
The Rossoneri are still ruing the recent result in the Derby against rivals Inter.
Coach Leonardo has continued his tranquil ways, but Milan needs to show some urgency immediately if they are going to have any hope. This past weekend’s performance against Bari was just what they needed, but there is no time for inconsistency. Displays like that are going to have to come weekly for the Rossoneri to have a shot.
When looking at the schedules it isn’t going to be easy for the challengers to overcome the deficit in Serie A.
AC Milan clearly has the toughest remaining schedule of the three sides—nine of their final 14 matches are against teams on the top half of the table. This includes home and away fixtures with Fiorentina, a trip to Roma, and their final match of the season against Juventus at home.
AS Roma’s schedule may not be as difficult as Milan’s, but it is surely no cakewalk either. Their next two matches are crucial, coming up empty in a tough trip to Napoli is not an option.
With their next match against host Milan, the race might become a two team competition.
Slightly further down the road lays a game that is sure to put the season on the line, when the Giallorossi host Inter. It is critical that Roma gets full points from this match.
Inter has the easiest schedule of the three contenders remaining. As long as they don’t completely collapse, it looks like they will hold their fifth consecutive Serie A Title.
The Nerazzurri only have five matches left against teams on the top half of the table, and a draw against Roma would probably suffice. With their final four matches against lowly bottom-half-of-the-table squads, two of which currently sit in the relegation zone, Inter should be able to pick up easy wins.
So when all is said and done, the odds are clearly in favor of Internazionale.
They are in the driver’s seat and have shown in recent years that they have the knack to score crucial goals and get the necessary results no matter the obstacles.
However, there is something special about the streaking Giallorossi. Expect them to battle to the bitter end and keep this chase exciting until at least the final three weeks of the season.