June 29, 2022
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Simone Inzaghi’s team have the momentum in the defence of their title, with their recent defensive sturdiness matching the non-stop goalscoring.

AC Milan may be top in Serie A heading into gameweek 17, but there is a feeling their fierce rivals Inter Milan have all the momentum as the season nears its halfway point.

It feels a long time ago now since Stefano Pioli’s team were one of two sides in Europe’s top five leagues to be unbeaten in November, an impressive achievement they shared with Napoli, who were sat top of the table at the time.

Since Milan and the Partenopei suffered defeats in gameweek 13, their performances and results have dipped. Pioli’s team have won only two of their last five league games, while Luciano Spalletti’s injury-hit outfit have claimed a sole win in as many games, suffering two defeats in that time.

Spalletti's Napoli have seen their results tail off on account of injuries

Thus, Inter have been beneficiaries of the ongoing difficulties of the pair, their momentum underscored by an eight-game unbeaten domestic run in which they have claimed six victories. Simone Inzaghi will argue it should be seven wins, with the questionable refereeing call to give Juventus a late penalty in round nine’s 1-1 stalemate still rankling at Appiano Gentile.

At the time, Paulo Dybala’s 89th-minute spot-kick extended the Nerazzurri’s run without a Serie A clean sheet to eight, with the only league shut out coming in their opening day 4-0 success over Genoa.

Going two months with constant blemish was concerning, especially as this group had kept 14 clean sheets in their title-winning campaign under Antonio Conte, joint-highest with Milan and Napoli the other two sides in this year’s Scudetto tussle.

The story has changed markedly since that Juventus draw in late October though, with Inter restricting opponents and giving little away in the main. Inzaghi’s troops have not been breached in five of their last seven matches, with goals conceded coming in the Derby della Madonnina and an encounter with Spalletti’s men a week later.

Last week’s 3-0 success at Roma extended Inter’s run without letting in a goal to three on the trot, a run which has a nicer ring to it when you realise Conte’s team managed this only once en route to the club’s first domestic title in 11 years.

Inter ran riot in impressive fashion against Roma, with Dzeko scoring against his former club.

The title-winning group’s defence went unbreachable for four games, a feat Inzaghi’s side look to match when second-bottom Cagliari visit San Siro on Sunday night.

Inter’s ongoing defensive stinginess is not only reflected in the raw numbers but impressively evident in the underlying statistics.

Their accumulated expected goals against (xGA) in the last seven games is 4.3, averaging 0.61 xGA per match. Compare this to the opening nine matches in Serie A where the league’s defending champions accrued xGA against of 12.8, averaging 1.42 xGA per match.

Inzaghi’s team are conceding fewer clear chances and allowing lesser shots on Samir Handanovic’s goal, with the goalkeeper facing an average of 2.71 shots on target in the last seven matches, significantly fewer than 4.11 shots on target he averaged in the first nine rounds.

Things have tightened up in front of Samir Handanovic at Inter

This bodes well for a successful title defence and Inter will strive to be as miserly in the upcoming games against Cagliari — one of the league’s lowly scoring teams with 17 goals — Salernitana — the lowest scorers with 11 — and Torino whose 20 strikes better only the division’s bottom five sides.

Similarly, Conte’s team struggled for clean sheets at the start of last season before finding the right balance as the season progressed. This was aided by their elimination from European competition altogether, a luxury Inzaghi will not have in the New Year.

Having endured criticism early doors, the former Lazio boss is showing the adaptability in Lombardy to drown out the initial reservations.

If the current defensive solidity holds out for the majority of what is left of this season, the Nerazzurri could be celebrating successive titles at the campaign’s denouement.

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Seye Omidiora is a passionate football writer and pundit whose deep appreciation for the beautiful game exceeds the usual. He is currently a columnist for Goal Africa and has previously written for Vital Football UK, IBCity Info and Opera News.

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