It's funny with how the schedule has worked its way out with the Champions League fixtures. In other years, any kind of Juventus-Inter meeting would be the main thing that consumes everybody no matter what the rooting interest is. But for Juve and their nine-point lead atop the league, there are bigger things on the horizon — at least that's what we think.
It certainly was the last time Inter and Juve played one another in Turin back in November. It was the game of the week. It was the sole concentration of pretty much every Juventini out there. It was, well, pretty much what the derby usually is — the main course. It was all about Juve's unbeaten run in Serie A trying to reach 50 — which it obviously didn't — up against an Inter squad that was supposedly a sleeper to challenge for the Scudetto — which obviously hasn't happened.
Yet the second time around is a wee bit different.
Juventus' lead in Serie A has ballooned to nine points with nine games to be played. And win, lose, or draw, Juve will be off to Germany shortly after their game against Inter because of that little thing called the Champions League quarterfinals. And because of that, a game that might be the biggest of the season is, well, not exactly that.
Sure, the Derby d'Italia is still important. It's never not important no matter what season it is. It's Inter and Juventus, you guys. But because Bayern Munich are sitting there, with their hands basically on the Bundesliga title, waiting for the Old Lady to roll on in to the Allianz Arena next week, there are bigger matters on the table right now.
To get there, though, Juventus will have to face an Inter team — regardless of what is going on behind the scenes — that is looking to keep their European hopes alive. And if they suffer another setback or two and fall even further than their current seventh-place standing, it could very well be 'Europa League or bust' for the black and blue side of Milan.
Saturday at the San SIro will be fun. It will be stressful. It will likely have the same intensity that a normal Derby d'Italia does. It's hard not to, really. It's one of the most heated rivalries there is in the world of football. And no matter what game is next on Juventus' schedule, Inter will always be one opponent that beating will never tiresome.
"We're trying to not think about the Champions League too much. We have Inter in the championship and that is a game we really want to do well in. Our first talks is to maintain the gap in the standings over Napoli and Milan. And, of course, there was also that stinging defeat against Inter. I admit that, after that 3-1 loss, there is a great desire for revenge..."
- Claudio Marchisio (via Football Italia)
Amen, Principino. A-freaking-men.
As much as you could maybe worry about a team possibly looking ahead to what is waiting for them in the future, Antonio Conte probably doesn't have to stress too, too much about where his team's concentration is centered. This is Inter, the same team that celebrated on the Juventus Stadium field like they had just won the Scudetto. The problem was, of course, that was the first weekend of November, when the season was still months and months away from being over.
Maybe Conte can just tack up those pictures of Inter running around like school children after that win for motivation, can't he? There's nothing scarier in Italy these days than a Juventus team that has a little something extra motivating them from the opening whistle. And what better way to get some revenge than to roll into the San Siro and return the favor that Inter delivered on Nov. 4.
The biggest thing for me is the squad selection conundrum that Conte faces. Just who and how many first-teamers will he field against Inter? Obviously he wants to beat them. Everybody who has any kind of association with Juventus wants to beat Inter. But with Bayern just a few days away, he's surely going to rest some players as well. It has to be digging at him. The nine-point advantage in the league certainly makes things a little easier to cope with, but it's Inter and Conte won't want to send a squad full of backups out there.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. And that brings us to what the squad could look like. I have a gut feeling Conte may rest a regular starter or two, but this is Inter and, like Marchisio said above, there's nothing more enjoyable than getting a little revenge. That means Andrea Pirlo. That means Arturo Vidal. That means Marchisio himself. The usual suspects will be there in all likelihood and that's not really all that surprising. But you never really know when it comes to Antonio Conte's selection. He could throw us a wildcard as easily as he could go completely chalk.
2. If Giorgio Chiellini doesn't play (which looks quite likely at this point), who takes his place? I've heard Luca Marrone. I've heard Federico Peluso. What I haven't heard is that Chiellini will shake off the latest injury he picked up during the international break. So, who is it? I want to say Marrone will get the start — and not just because I wrote about him a few days ago — with Leonardo Bonucci or Andrea Barzagli shifting over to the left side of the three-man defense. But if Peluso gets the nod, I can understand it. It's not like he's been playing that bad since he came over in January.
3. How the internationals play without much of an international "break" at all. With all of this being said, the usual suspects really didn't rest at all during the two-week Serie A layoff. The only regular who wasn't away on international duty was Arturo Vidal — which could be very good news considering how he needs a break every so often to recharge his batteries. But the others, namely all of those who were away and wore an Italy jersey for a couple of games, didn't much rest at all. And with two very important games back-to-back, there won't be much time to rest any more.
Conte: We've had 15 players travelling around the world on international duty, not everyone's returned in perfect condition. #InterJuve— JuventusFC (@juventusfc) March 29, 2013
4. Revenge. Bring it.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Marrone, Bonucci; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Peluso; Matri, Giovinco
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 3 P.M. IN ITALY; 10 A.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 7 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST