Ah, Juventus vs. Inter Milan. Just your average top-of-the-table vs. mid-table meeting, right? Well, based on how the Serie A standings currently look, that's exactly what it is. On one end you have the four-time defending champions and newly-minted Champions League finalists, while in the other you have a team struggling to even make the Europa League.
Hey, that's just reality. And it's also Derby d'Italia time. Those are fun!
Juventus and Inter playing in the 36th of 38 Serie A fixtures might have meant something big in previous years. There might have been one team playing for the Scudetto. Heck, maybe even both going up against one another for it. That's the kind of things those who cover Italy's top flight drool over — the story is there right in front of you even before the game starts and all you have to do is fill in the details.
This game isn't like those games. At least I don't think it is. I'm sure I'm not alone in that line of thinking.
The last time Juventus saw Inter was in the first game of 2015, Roberto Mancini had just taken over after being re-hired as manager following the firing of Walter Mazzarri. Inter were sitting in 11th back then, struggling to do much of anything on a consistent basis other than playing crap football for a decent amount of time.
Since then, Inter has moved ... to eighth place! While they haven't lost in their last seven games (four wins, three draws), Inter is still on the outside looking in on a Europa League spot. I'm pretty sure that's not what the Inter hierarchy envisioned when they brought Mancini back to town to try and right the ship.
Oh, what a different kind of situation than the team they're about to play tomorrow night.
Juventus has successfully clinched the Scudetto with plenty of room to spare. They've advanced to the Champions League final with Wednesday night's 1-1 against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. And just to top it all of, Juve have the chance to win the Coppa Italia on Wednesday night when they face Lazio. The chance to get a treble is now a distinct possibility. Maybe we dismissed it a few weeks ago for a variety of reasons, but with the dispatching of Real Madrid, it's a reality now.
What a beautiful, beautiful reality to have at the end of a fantastic season.
So if you're thinking these are two different teams having two completely different seasons, you're probably right. Or, completely right. Whichever one you want to go with works fine.
If you were hoping to see Gianluigi Buffon, Carlos Tévez, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Patrice Evra all play against Inter, then the link above will probably sadden you. All five players haven't been called up for the trip to the San Siro after Max Allegri has decided to give them the weekend off and let them rest back home in Turin.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Who will get some rest ahead of the Coppa Italia final?
When was the last time Allegri has come out and essentially said he's going to rotate the hell out of the squad in back-to-back weeks? And when was the last time we've seen Juventus rotate the squad like crazy entering a derby matchup and in the game before a Coppa Italia fixture? Ah, these times are changing. (I know it's the Coppa Italia final, but just stay with me here.) Much like it was against Cagliari last weekend, you'll probably be able to count on one hand how many players who started against Real Madrid getting a starting spot against Inter. That's a lot to do with what game Juve just played and the one a few days away, but also the fact that outside of Martin Cáceres, Allegri pretty much has everybody to choose from this weekend. Obviously, some are being rested back at home, but I'm not going to be shocked if the starting lineup against Inter comes quite close to resembling the one from the 1-1 draw against Cagliari.
2. Will Max Allegri turn to a trident like last weekend?
One of those tweaks that Allegri used with so much squad rotation was changing the look of his team in the final third. Instead of going with a 4-3-1-2 formation, Mad Max went with a 4-3-3 and Simone Pepe-Alessandro Matri-Kingsley Coman trident in attack. Allegri could choose to stick with the same three players, or go with Álvaro Morata up front considering he's suspended for the Coppa Italia final. If that means giving Coman some much-needed playing, then I guess I won't be objecting to it. Seeing Coman and Morata playing together would also be a nice opportunity for Max considering how little they've been on the field at the same time this season. No matter who does end up starting, the odds seem to be favoring a 4-3-3 like the one used against Cagliari. Just another chance for Allegri to show off his tactical flexibility, I suppose.
3. Mauro Icardi vs. Juventus' defense.
Carlos Tévez may be atop the Serie A scoring chart, but there's been one of his countryman nipping at his heels all season long. Icardi currently ranks third in Serie A — behind Tévez and Numero Uno Luca Toni — with 18 goals on the campaign. Guess who scored Inter's goal in January's 1-1 draw at Juventus Stadium? Yeah, that would be Icardi. He's undoubtedly been one of Inter's more consistent players in a season where the team has struggled to really do anything consistent until the last few weeks. And if Inter want to break Juventus down no matter who is starting in defense, the Nerazzurri will certainly need Icardi to be a pest just like he was the first time the two teams played.
4. How bad is Juventus' Champions League hangover?
Considering how many crucial players Allegri has left behind to rest in Turin, from the simple fatigue perspective, Juve should be relatively fresh. He's obviously planning for not just the Coppa Italia final, but down the road as well. So, in a sense, Allegri is trying to avoid any kind of lag in his team due to physical tiredness to his most important players by not even having them there. (Not that it's a bad thing. I think we can all agree that having the chance to rest some of his key players like Vidal and Carlitos at this stage of the season is a massive advantage to have.) Still, there's always the chance of Juve struggling just a few days out from such an exciting yet taxing effort in Europe because that's just a natural thing to have happen.
My starting XI (4-3-3): Storari; Romulo, Barzagli, Bonucci, Padoin; Pereyra, Marchisio, Sturaro; Pepe, Morata, Coman
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST