MILAN (Reuters) - The odds appear to be stacked against Inter Milan for Friday's Derby d'Italia at Juventus with the hosts on a seemingly relentless march towards an eighth successive Serie A title.
Juventus have opened an eight-point lead at the top and dropped only two points in their first 14 games. Bolstered by the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, their progress has been relentless and the second half of the season threatens to turn into a one-horse race.
Inter Milan were seen as possible challengers to Juve's dominance at the start of the season but, despite at one point winning seven games in a row, have paid dearly for their inconsistency and are 11 points behind in third.
Even at this stage of the season, it seems their only hope is give a helping hand to second-placed Napoli by taking points off Juve.
Inter’s recent record in the fixture is equally demoralising, with only two wins in the 16 league meetings since winning their last Serie A title in 2010 under Jose Mourinho.
Inter are still smarting from their last meeting in April when they led 2-1 at San Siro with five minutes left, only to lose 3-2. That win practically sealed last season’s title for Juventus. But in the previous match, Inter coach Luciano Spalletti could claim a moral victory as he outsmarted rival Massimiliano Allegri in a 0-0 draw at the Juventus stadium.
The duels between the pair are invariably close and fascinating and their nine previous meetings on the touchline have produced fours wins for Allegri, three for Spalletti and two draws.
When they first crossed paths in 2008, Allegri was still an inexperienced coach with Cagliari and Spalletti had already established himself at Roma.
They met again in 2012 in the Champions League when Allegri was in charge of AC Milan and Spalletti was at Zenit St Petersburg.
There have been five more meetings since 2016, three of those with Spalletti at AS Roma, plus the two last season following his move to Inter.
There is a mutual admiration between the pair with Spalletti admitting that he voted for Allegri in the recent Italian coach of the year award, which Allegri won.
"I voted for him because he is a great coach, it is difficult to find someone who stays on the same bench for so many years and wins everything he has won," said Spalletti.
"It's a difficult match, a fascinating and wonderful one against a great side with a lot of technical quality," said Allegri.
"We are facing a team with great technical value. It’s the game of the year because it’s the Derby d’Italia and that’s always one of the toughest there is -- it's five out of five on the difficulty scale."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)