Mauro Icardi said he was relishing the chance to measure himself against Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time as Inter Milan travel to Turin on Friday looking to inflict the first defeat of the season on Italian champions Juventus and keep the Serie A title race alive.
Juventus have set a frenetic pace this season since signing Ronaldo, making a record start with 40 points after the first 14 games in Serie A.
Napoli are second — eight points behind Juventus — with Inter Milan 11 points adrift of the champions in third.
A defeat for Inter in the ‘Derby D’Italia’ between the two northern giants would likely be a killer blow to their ambitions and leave Juventus free to claim an eighth consecutive title.
“I’ve played (Juventus) many times but this is the most important since I’ve been here,” said Icardi. “I won’t settle for a draw. We must go there without fear. I can’t wait to play against Cristiano Ronaldo, it will be a pleasure to have him up front. But he’s not my problem, (defenders) Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar are there.”
The 25-year-old Icardi has been in fine form this season, scoring eight Serie A goals and 11 in all competitions, with Ronaldo, 33, having bagging 10 in Serie A and 11 in total for Juventus.
Inter’s last win in Turin dates back to November 2012.
But Inter’s Chinese president Steven Zhang insisted his side “are always confident”.
“We’re ready for the match. We’re improving and playing better, every season we try to do better than the previous one.”
Inter coach Luciano Spalletti will also have an eye on next week’s decisive Champions League game against PSV Eindhoven in the San Siro, with Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan still recovering from an ankle injury.
Ronaldo’s added motivation
Juventus are already through to the knock-out rounds of the Champions League before their game against Young Boys in Switzerland next week.
But Portuguese star Ronaldo will be looking to make a point after missing out on a record sixth Ballon d’Or trophy to former Real Madrid team-mate Luka Modric this week.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri believes that it will be an added motivation for the striker.
“His motivation now is to win it next year with Juventus,” said Allegri. “It’s the game of the year because it’s the Derby d’Italia and that’s always one of the toughest, five out of five on the difficulty scale, but then we need to get to May and win the Scudetto.”
Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli will be looking to keep pace with Juventus at home against second-from-bottom Frosinone before their crunch journey to Liverpool next week in Europe.
AC Milan bid to consolidate fourth place against Torino, as Lazio, a point behind in fifth, host midtable Sampdoria after being held by bottom club Chievo last weekend.
Roma — safely through to the last 16 in Europe — need to bring points back from Cagliari to salvage their flagging Serie A campaign as they sit seventh — 20 points behind Juventus.