Inter Milan, enjoying a new lease of life under coach Stefano Pioli, will face their stiffest test since his arrival when they visit Serie A leaders Juventus FC on Sunday and try to end the Turin side’s run of 27 successive home league wins.
Inter Milan were eighth when Stefano Pioli was appointed in early November to replace Frank de Boer, fired after just 85 days, and become their ninth coach in the last six years.
The 51-year-old, who has done the rounds of some of Italy’s less glamorous clubs, was regarded as a safe pair of hands after the experiment with Dutchman De Boer, who had never previously played or coached in Serie A, went badly wrong.
Although Pioli’s failure to win a major title so far in his coaching career had some wondering whether he was the right choice for such a big club, he quickly vindicated the management’s decision.
Inter have won eight of their 10 Serie A games under Pioli, including the last seven in a row, and have climbed to fourth place, just three points off the Champions League playoff spot.
“We are doing really well but I am sure we can do even better,” said Pioli. “This is a very strong group with so much quality, there are no limits as to how far we can go. We have plenty to build on the future.”
Indeed, Inter’s squad is arguably the strongest in Serie A apart from the Turin side themselves.
Forward Mauro Icardi is one of Serie A’s most dangerous marksmen and their goal is guarded by one of its top keepers, Samir Handanovic.
They also boast Gary Medel, the versatile Chilean known for his never-say-die approach, Argentine attacking midfielder Ever Banega, Euro 2016 winner Joao Mario, Croatia winger Ivan Perisic and Italian international Antonio Candreva, a player with a potent long-range shot.
Meanwhile, Pioli has reinstated midfielders Geoffrey Kondogbia and Marcelo Brozovic, who were ostracised under De Boer.
“Pioli knows the Italian league well and he is helping the team tactically, now we are winning games and we have to carry on like this. It’s not all about running a lot, it’s about running well,” said Joao Mario.
“Of course we believe in qualifying for the Champions League but there is still a long way to go.”
Not even the thought of facing Juventus at their nearly impregnable fortress can daunt Pioli.
“We are Inter and we always try to win,” he said.