Cagliari vs. Inter Milan, Preview: Win-or-bust for inconsistent Inter's Champions League hopes

Claudio Villa

After their sensational 4-3 loss to Atalanta last weekend, Inter sit a full eight points from their city rivals Milan in the final Champions League spot. A victory in Sardinia is essential.

Cagliari have quietly enjoyed a prosperous season since Ivo Pulga replaced Massimo Ficcadenti in October. They have eased away from the relegation zone and lie in a comfortable 11th, 12 points clear of danger and level on points with Parma above them. Their form in 2013 has been magnificent, currently unbeaten in four and only having lost twice since the turn of the year, to Lazio in the first encounter of the new year and to Bologna at the beginning of March. It has been quite a remarkable turnaround for a side which only won once between the start of November and the end of 2012. They have managed to hurt sides looking at European qualification, beating Roma 4-2 at the Olimpico in Zdenek Zeman's final match in charge, holding Milan to a 1-1 draw at the Is Arenas and beating Fiorentina 2-1, also in Sant'Elena. Cagliari have played like a team challenging for Europe themselves and had their pre-Christmas form been a little better, there's every chance that they could've been just that. Take into account that they've done all this whilst being effectively homeless, and it becomes even more remarkable, with Sunday's match to take place in Trieste after the Is Arenas was deemed unsuitable.

When Ricky Alvarez scored his second goal to put Inter 3-1 up against Atalanta at the San Siro, it looked as if they were cruising to a routine victory, and three points towards their European charge. The brakes were firmly put on this by one German Denis, Il Tanque netting a 12-minute hat-trick to stun Inter and leave their Champions League hopes in tatters on the ground. The problem for Inter since the turn of the year has been their blinding inconsistency, unable to stitch together consecutive league victories since beating Napoli and Palermo at the beginning of December. They have been hamstrung by an injury crisis, Antonio Cassano hobbling off with a hamstring tear last week meaning that the only fit striker is now Tommaso Rocchi and no less than ten first team players are unavailable for this fixture.

Cagliari's injury worries are non-existent by comparison, with Francesco Pisano sitting out and Radja Nainggolan suspended, with the participation of Mauricio Pinilla and Gabriele Perico in doubt. As already stated, Inter have a real crisis on their hands with Cassano, Rodrigo Palacio and Diego Milito amongst a host of injuries, whilst Ezequiel Schelotto is suspended.

Cagliari Injuries and Suspensions:

Out: Francesco Pisano (injured); Radja Nainggolan (suspended). In doubt: Mauricio Pinilla, Gabriele Perico, Vlada Avramov.

Inter Injuries and Suspensions:

Out: Ibrahima Mbaye, Antonio Cassano, Rodrigo Palacio, Cristian Chivu, Dejan Stankovic, Diego Milito, Joel Obi, Gaby Mudingayi, Luca Castellazzi (injured); Ezequiel Schelotto (suspended). In doubt: Yuto Nagatomo.

Match Date/Time: Sunday 14th April 2013, 15:00 local, 09:00 E.T.

Venue: Stadio Nereo Rocco, Trieste

TV: Sky Calcio 1 (Italy), beIN Sport En Espanol (USA)

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