Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku (AFP)
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus and Romelu Lukaku’s Inter Milan clash on Sunday in what could be one of the defining matches of the Serie A season.
The game in the San Siro is between the top two in Serie A last season when Juventus won a ninth consecutive league title just one point ahead of Inter.
It also pits the division’s top two scorers against each other. Ronaldo has 15 goals; Lukaku has 12.
Both teams are favourites this campaign with Inter second, three points behind leaders AC Milan, with Juventus fourth, seven points adrift of top spot with a game in hand.
As Antonio Conte’s Inter and Andrea Pirlo’s Juve battle it out, Milan have a chance to increase their advantage at the half-way point this season as they travel to struggling Cagliari.
Juventus, Inter and Milan are all coming off gruelling Italian Cup fixtures midweek, needing 120 minutes of play each to advance to the quarter-finals.
Conte brushed aside concerns ahead of a match which could determine his side’s chances of a first Serie A title since 2010.
“Every victory provides you with pure energy, wins recharge the batteries,” insisted the former Juventus and Chelsea coach.
“We’ve got time to recover ahead of Sunday’s match, which is an important test to ascertain the level we’re at and see the extent to which we’ve reduced the gap compared to last season.”
Inter’s focus is now on domestic trophies with their European ambitions stifled.
After an eight-match winning run, the Lombardy side have lost momentum, dropping five points in two games with defeat to Sampdoria and drawing at Roma.
Inter have not beaten Juventus since September 2016 — with a run of five defeats and two draws.
By contrast, after a stuttering debut, Pirlo’s champions have bounced back with three wins in a row including 3-1 over AC Milan in the San Siro a week ago.
The clash is between a team with the best attack in the league, with Inter scoring 43 goals, against the one with the tightest defence with 16 goals conceded.
Friday’s Rome derby kicks off the weekend of football behind closed doors, with third-placed Roma looking to get back winning after last weekend’s 2-2 draw to Inter against local rivals Lazio, in eighth.
Atalanta and Napoli, two points behind Juventus, in the European places, host Genoa and Fiorentina respectively.
One to watch: Lorenzo Pellegrini
AS Roma midfielder Pellegrini will be the only Rome-born player for either team on the pitch in the city derby. The 24-year-old Italian international came through Roma’s youth system, and has scored 13 goals in 127 games. Pellegrini was decisive the last time Roma beat Lazio in September 2018, scoring and setting up another in a 3-1 win. “Pellegrini embodies our project,” said Roma’s new general manager Tiago Pinto. “He’s a young, talented player with a great love for Roma. We will do everything possible to negotiate his (contract) renewal.”
43 – Inter are the top scorers in the league
16 – Juventus have one of the tightest defences
11 – Ciro Immobile’s goals for Lazio
10 – Cagliari’s run without a win
7 – Inter’s winless run against Juventus
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