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Juventus vs. Inter Milan Preview: Round 17 — Let the games begin ... again

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There was a time where Juventus vs. Inter was a top-of-the-table kind of clash, one that played a huge role in who would end up winning the Scudetto at the end of the current season. We aren't exactly very far removed from those days, with many of you folks still pretty keen to the fact of what Inter's new yet also old manager did the last time he was at the helm.

But let's check on how each team has done so far this season, shall we?

  • Juventus, despite changing managers on the second day of preseason training, has remained atop the Serie A table, three points in front of second-place Roma. Max Allegri has steadied a ship that really could have ventured into rocky waters with everything that went on off the field in the middle of July. Instead, Juve have remained the top dog in Italy and qualified for the next round of the Champions League while going through a rather large yet completely needed change in tactics two months ago.

    So basically, things are going pretty well right now. For those who see things in black and white, that is...

  • Inter has also changed managers, but just a few short weeks ago rather than before the season started, with our old buddy Roberto Mancini stepping in for Walter Mazzarri last month. Why'd they do that? Well let's look at the table and see why. They aren't in the top three. They're not in any of the European football spots, either. Shoot, you've gotta scroll down a little bit before you find Inter. They enter 2015 sitting in 11th place, behind clubs like Sampdoria, Genoa, Lazio, Udinese and the recently-promoted Palermo.

    So basically, Inter are a mid-table team these days. Not exactly resembling the "top club" like some of their players are saying about Inter in the press this week.

Is Tuesday night's meeting a classic top-of-the-table clash? Not unless it's being played in your own personal save FIFA15, boys and girls. And even then that might not be the case. This is definitely a different kind of Inter — or maybe a return to the old kind of Inter? — compared to Mancini's first tour of duty on the San Siro's sideline. But as we know, that Inter team had a little help in winning a couple of titles without much competition at all.

But the season's first edition of the Derby d'Italia brings us the reboot of Serie A football in the new year. We've had to wait through all the other teams to play their first games of 2015, but that's just what happens when you're the league's main event on a Tuesday night. And just for an added bonus, Juventus gets to kick off the new year with Mancini's return to Juventus Stadium, which he last stepped foot into as Galatasaray's manager last season.

(We won't talk about those games against Galatasaray anymore. I promise.)

Just another Derby d'Italia where there's absolutely nothing to talk about, right? (Yeah, who am I kidding?)

GOOD NEWS

Look at where Inter currently resides in the Serie A table. Look at who their manager currently is. Have a laugh.

Now don't you feel better?

MORE GOOD NEWS

Since there's not much to grumble about these days outside of the constant stream of Wesley Sneijder-to-Juventus transfer rumors, we're changing it up a bit entering Tuesday night's derby. Don't worry, regular service will be resumed over the weekend in all likelihood.

The injury list is getting shorter and shorter. Max Allegri announced at his pre-match press conference that both long-term absentees Martín Cáceres and Luca Marrone will be back in the squad for tomorrow night's match against Inter. Only three long-term injuries remain to inform the masses about — Andrea Barzagli, Kwadwo Asamoah and Romulo. It's a whole lot better than what I was putting in this second a month or two ago, I gotta admit.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Starting the new year on the right foot.

By all accounts, Juventus ended their 2014 calendar year with a dud against Napoli in the Supercoppa. They've been thinking about that result and subsequently hearing Napoli players brag about winning a glorified exhibition game for two weeks now. It was clearly a disappointing result, one that never should have gone to penalties according to some. But the past is the past, and Max Allegri's squad has the chance to pick up right where they left off in Serie A. And that's winning, keeping the lead over Roma — which has a tricky trip to Udinese that kicks off Tuesday's action — stable at three points at the very minimum.

2. Can Arturo Vidal find some (positive consistency?

If we were to assemble a list of Juventus' most important players in the new year, Vidal is easily in the top three, and maybe the single-most in the grand scheme of things. The first half of the 2014-15 season hasn't been kind to King Arturo, with his physical problems from the spring and summer clearly carrying over into the fall and winter months. But the holiday break has given Vidal something he hasn't had much of the last four or five months — rest. Not just a few days off, but just a full two weeks without having to play any games. We'll see if all the rest truly pays off. But there's no doubting that if Juventus wants to win a fourth straight Scudetto and do some kind of damage in the Champions League knockout stage, Vidal will have to be more like the Vidal of old.

3. Will Juventus' makeshift trequartista play like an actual trequartista?

Juventus don't have a natural trequartista to plug in behind the strikers. This is probably why Juventus are in the market for a trequartista this month. Simple is as simple does. But until somebody is actually brought in by Beppe Marotta and Co., we're left to see Allegri roll with the non-trequartistas in the hole. We've seen Vidal played there more often than not. Roberto Pereyra has gotten a few starts there, too. But for a team that has so many good midfielders, none of them really do fit what Allegri is looking for. Thus the reason why Marotta is trying to sign somebody like Wesley Sneijder — who, all things considered, is at least more of a trequartista compared to any of Juve's current midfielders.

4. Can Fernando Llorente start 2015 like he did 2014?

Here's what Llorente did in January last season: Four Serie A starts, four goals scored. You can't ask for much more than that from a striker during a four-game period. Especially coming right out of such a good amount of time away from the field during the holiday break.

I bring that up because of this: A lot like the first half of the 2014-15 season for Vidal, Llorente was far from the player we saw that scored 16 goals in his debut campaign with Juventus. He struggled for any kind of consistency, and the four goals in close to 1,000 Serie A minutes thus far. Sure, his role is different compared to last season with Antonio Conte, but Llorente is still on the field to score goals — something he hasn't done on a consistent basis since last spring. Much like what is potentially the case with Vidal, maybe the break was just a time to clear the mind as well as recharge the batteries for Llorente. That's what I hope, at least. Because I sure do like watching Llorente when he's the striker he has shown to be in the past.

5. Can Juventus keep Mateo Kovacic?

If you head over to Google News and type in 'Mateo Kovacic,' there's a good number of stories about how big-money clubs should reach deep into their pockets to sign the 20-year-old Croatian midfielder. And for good reason. The kid can play — and it's not like he's proving otherwise this season. In an otherwise bad season for Inter, Kovacic has been quite good. It doesn't really matter where Mancini fields him — in the middle of the '3' in a 4-2-3-1 or as a trequartista in a 4-3-1-2 formation — he will be a focal point and expected to not only setup goals, but try and score as well. Basically do what he's been doing every game this season to date.

My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba; Vidal; Tévez, Morata

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 9 P.M. IN ITALY; 3 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; HIGH NOON ON THE WEST COAST