MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) is back on the trail of more continental winners with his European NAP heading to Italy on Sunday night for the final slice of Serie A action this season.
Lazio v Inter Milan | Sunday 20th May 2018, 19:45 | BT Sport
It’s winner-takes-all on Sunday night in Serie A as Lazio and Inter Milan meet in a dramatic encounter to decide who will take Italy’s final Champions League spot.
Lazio currently occupy the fourth and final Italian place in next season’s group stage while Inter are three points behind them in fifth with the fixture list having thrown the pair together for what is effectively a play-off showdown.
Inter are desperate to end a six-season absence from Europe’s showcase competition which they won in 2010 under Jose Mourinho and although the Nerazzurri have been an infuriatingly inconsistent follow this season, Luciano Spaletti’s side have a great opportunity to topple their Roman rivals.
Key components doubtful
The hosts head into the weekend with major doubts residing over the fitness and availability of three four players. Marco Parolo, but more importantly, Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto, are either doubtful or absent for the Stadio Olimpico contest, whilst key centre-half Stefan De Vrij is expected to be left out.
The Dutch defender has already signed a pre-contract with Inter and the Lazio hierarchy are considering dropping him to avoid any conflict of interest. There’s no questioning the player’s professionalism although Italian superstition has led to the likely move of leaving their best backline performer on the sidelines.
If there’s one area of weakness for the Biancocelesti it’s in defence as Simone Inzaghi’s outfit have excelled going forward. The capital club have notched more goals than champions Juventus but Immobile and Luis Alberto have been two critical components to their offensive approach.
With Lazio dropping key points at relegation-threatened Crotone despite taking an early lead last week, returning W1-D2-L4 at top-five rivals and appearing particularly tired and vulnerable in recent weeks, the scene has been set for Inter to pinch fourth before the curtain comes down.
Inter expected to avoid defeat
The Champions League was the very minimum Spalletti expected when he became Inter’s 10th coach in seven years since Mourinho before the start of the season. And having led the side to the summit in December, supporters have been left exasperated by their topsy-turvy performances since.
A shock 2-1 defeat at home to Sassuolo last Saturday, which Spalletti said left his players distraught, appeared to have ended their chances but they were let off the hook by Lazio’s result at Crotone the following day. And now the Nerazzurri may not need a second invitation.
Inter's approach will be significantly different to the way that they have gone about playing the big teams this season. They have often shut up shop, battled for a 0-0 draw (as they did against Lazio earlier this season) and been happy to walk away with a clean sheet.
However, more recently there’s been an obvious push for goals, knowing they’re chasing that elusive Champions League berth. The guests have scored at least twice in four of their last five – including against Juve’s impregnable defence – while at the other end they’ve only conceded more than a single strike in one of their 18 road trips this term.
Sure, they’ve looked a little suspect at the back when taking more risks but I’d back them to make a decent fist of things in Rome here. Inter Milan double chance and Over 1.5 Goals (9/10 188BET) looks more than fair at the odds on offer – should Lazio’s leading lights miss out (or play, knowing they’re not 100%), the Nerazzurri have the tools to seal a memorable final day triumph.
Lazio v Inter Milan – Inter Milan double chance and Over 1.5 Goals (9/10 188BET)