Andy Brassell on European football: Could Inter blow it again?
Inter have performed admirably this season but their fans are starting to fret after a slow restart to their Serie A campaign in 2020, writes Andy Brassell.
Are Inter about to blow it all over again?
Inter's Saturday visit to Lecce was not the happy return to his hometown that Antonio Conte hoped for. After losing a lead, and two points, for the second straight weekend in Serie A, he reminded his team of the need to go at "full pelt" to win. "If we don't," he said, "we become just an ordinary team."
Conte has had a tough week or two, and not just because of the results. His perfectionist streak is not news to anyone and after his blowup about needing more signings following November's Champions League defeat to Dortmund, there will (or at least should) be more sympathy this time around.
Having watched a deal to bring in Leonardo Spinazzola from Roma fall through late on due to his superiors getting cold feet, the coach now awaits news over potential moves for Olivier Giroud and Christian Eriksen.
Maybe those deals could see Inter over the top, maybe not. What the last few weeks have been a reminder of, along with Cristiano Ronaldo's imperious form so far in 2020, is that Juventus are an incredibly tough nut to crack and have been champions every year since 2012 for a reason. Many will point to Inter's post-Christmas slumps from high peaks under Roberto Mancini and Luciano Spalletti in recent years and suggest history is repeating - but as Napoli could attest to, almost faultless form is needed in order to usurp Juve.
Back Inter to win Serie A at5.50
Leipzig in it for the long haul
In the first half of their first Bundesliga match of the calendar year Leipzig's performance had been, to borrow from the brutal post-match lexicon of their top scorer Timo Werner, "nothing." That they roared back to beat Union Berlin and preserve a four-point lead at the summit underlined Werner's irresistible current nick as much as anything else, as his double made it 14 goals in his last 9 Bundesliga games, not to mention numerous assists.
The ease with which those who cover German football have been able to dismiss speculation linking Werner with a move to the Premier League this month - despite a very gettable release clause in his contract, thought to be around the €50 million mark - is a manifestation of the mood around Leipzig, where they believe they have a genuine crack at the Meisterschale this season. So does Werner. To see him move onto a member of the European elite in the summer wouldn't be a surprise. Why would he do it now, though?
As well as wanting stability as he aims to lead Germany into a successful Euro 2020, Werner knows he has a real tilt at the title. Bayern Munich are still mid-transition, Borussia Dortmund aren't reliable at the back and Borussia Mönchengladbach are struggling to last the pace. Leipzig are clearly best placed to swipe Bayern's title fro, them and if Werner should need a breather they have the resources, via Patrik Schick, Youssef Poulsen and the rest, to keep up the pressure.
Back Leipzig to win the Bundesliga at 3.45
Atlético need goals to stop season capsizing
It was back down to earth with a bang for Atlético as they returned to La Liga action. Los Rojiblancos didn't win the Supercopa but competed well with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Unfortunately for them, and for thrill-seeking neutrals, their deficiencies at both ends of the field in the 2-0 loss at Eibar showed exactly why they are not quite there in terms of being a credible title contender, leaving them seven points adrift of the big two.
You'd always trust Diego Simeone to iron out defensive shortcomings given time, even though he must be infuriated with his team giving away goals at set pieces. At the other end, he needs help. The news emanating from France that a move for Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani could be possible in January after all is a breath of air for a club that sees their chronic inefficiency in front of goal threatening to capsize their season.
"Cavani, bring us some goals," begged an editorial in Marca this weekend, but the Uruguayan would bring more than those. His indefatigable style would key into old Atlético, and show the newbies what it's all about on Simeone's behalf. Álvaro Morata needs not to be flogged so hard and João Félix needs some guidance to fulfil his enormous potential. With Diego Costa tentatively making his way back from injury there is precious little of either option at the moment and as things stand, Liverpool will be rubbing their hands ahead of the teams' last 16 meeting in the Champions League.