Milan (AFP) – The attacking threat of Inter Milan should present a severe test to Serie A-loving England goalkeeper Joe Hart as his side Torino host on form vistors on Sunday.
With 15 goals from their past three league outings, Inter’s bid for a top three finish and a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2012 is taking shape.
But Stefano Pioli’s men remain six points behind Napoli in the third and last Champions League qualifying spot and the coach said Thursday: “Torino have some top class players, so we have to be wary.
“We have to take things one game at a time and try to keep winning until the end of the season.”
Hart joined Torino on a season-long loan deal from Manchester City after being rejected by coach Pep Guardiola and has conceded 42 of the 46 goals shipped so far this campaign.
Yet the 29-year-old remains a hugely popular figure in the former Italian capital and seems in no hurry to return to England, despite Guardiola affirming Hart “remains a City player” earlier this week.
“I’m truly grateful to the fans for everything they’re giving me,” Hart told media at a sponsors’ event in Turin on Wednesday.
“There’s nothing I don’t like about Italian football, from the fans to the coach, Serie A and the culture. I like all of it.
“I will take that into account when it comes to considering my future, but for now I’m focused on Toro and what I need to do.”
At 31 points behind leaders Juventus and 15 points off the closest Europa League place, Torino have little to play for over the remaining 10 fixtures.
But the ‘Granata’ could throw a spanner in the works for Inter, who — after a five-year absence — are desperate to contend the competition they won in 2010 as part of a memorable treble under Jose Mourinho.
Even before kick-off, emotions will be running high.
A former free-kick specialist with Lazio, Mihajlovic played out his career with Inter before beginning his coaching career as an assistant to Roberto Mancini with the Nerazzurri.
Mihajlovic also coached Inter’s city rivals AC Milan before being sacked by the Rossoneri in April 2016.
There’s also the small matter of Maxi Lopez and Mauro Icardi. Formerly best friends while playing at Sampdoria, the Argentinians have been at war since Icardi ran off with Lopez’s wife Wanda Nara, and the couple’s two children.
On previous meetings, Torino striker Lopez has refused to even look at Icardi at the pre-match handshake, let alone shake his hand.
Although Icardi hit a hat-trick in a 7-1 rout of Atalanta last week to take his season tally to 20, a slimline Lopez hit one in a 3-1 reverse at Lazio last time out — and Torino striker Andrea Belotti is leading the league on 22 strikes.
“Since he (Lopez) has lost weight, he’s scored twice. Thankfully he’s starting to come into some good form,” said the Serbian.
With Inter away, injury-ravaged Milan host Genoa at the San Siro looking to maintain their bid for a Europa League place.
Vincenzo Montella’s men are seventh, four points behind Inter and desperate not to suffer a second consecutive defeat to Genoa after a 3-0 upset last October.
Montella will be without inspirational Spanish playmaker Suso, striker Carlos Bacca and defender Ignazio Abate, all through injury.
Juventus, fresh from qualifying for the Champions League quarter-finals with a 3-0 aggregate win over Porto, are expected to cruise to the three points at Sampdoria on Sunday.
As they bid for a record sixth consecutive scudetto, a win would leave Massimilino Allegri’s men 11 points ahead of Roma, in second, before they host Sassuolo later in the day.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Torino v Inter Milan (1700), AC Milan v Genoa (1945)
Empoli v Napoli (1130), Atalanta v Pescara, Bologna v Chievo, Cagliari v Lazio, Crotone v Fiorentina, Sampdoria v Juventus (all 1400), Udinese v Palermo (1700), Roma v Sassuolo (1945)