Urged on by the raucous home crowd, Inter Milan burst out of the starting blocks in the Derby D'Italia, scurrying around like they were the side that had just clinched the Serie A title, and spots in the finals of the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League. The Nerazzuri even went on to jump out to an early lead and despite controlling the bulk of the game, reality set in by the final whistle.
The heady days of Jose Mourinho manning Inter to a historic treble are long gone, and the current roster looks like one that is more suited to challenge mid-table Torino, not four-in-a-row champions Juventus.
Bianconeri manager Massimiliano Allegri rested most of his first-team squad with Wednesday's Coppa Italia final against Lazio in mind. Gianluigi Buffon, Patrice Evra, Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carloz Tevez didn't even make the flight to Milan this weekend. Allegri's Inter counterpart, Roberto Mancini, on the other hand, is chasing UEFA Europa League qualification and fielded just about the best side he could muster. Inter play Genoa next and some points in Saturday's derby would have gone a long way towards securing sixth place.
Juve ceded ball control to Inter to an extent the Turin side have not have faced this year. The home side created twenty chances with seven on goal from their 66% possession, while the visitors had four on goal from fourteen attempts. Inter have been competitive lately, beating both second-placed contenders AS Roma and Lazio. The naive midfield of Kovacic and Brozovic is surprisingly plucky and creating plenty for the front trio of Shaqiri, Palacio and Icardi. In the offseason, Mancini will go ahead and mortgage half his side to pay for Yaya Toure's extensive wages in an attempt to recreate his Manchester City side, but it will take more than that to be competitive.
The two best Juve players on the day were Marco Storari and Alvaro Morata. One is one of the least-used members of the squad, while the other is in stunning form and the flavor of the month. Storari, the reserve goalie, has reason to feel left out of all the fun the side has been indulging in but continues to produce stellar performances whenever called upon. Time after time he repelled the Inter strikers, doing his best Gigi impersonation to secure the win, while Morata's winner is just one of numerous critical goals he has scored lately for the Bianconeri. In the end though, an opportunistic Juventus prevailed to win 2-1 in a physical, midfield-bypassing tussle, going into the midweek game against Lazio in the best possible frame of mind.
The Juve starting XI took their time settling down and developing some sort of chemistry. Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli marshaled the defence, with Stephan Lichtsteiner and world-beater Simone Padoin on the wings. The midfield three comprised Stefano Sturaro, Claudio Marchisio with the captain's armband and Romulo out on the right. Roberto Pereyra played the pivot behind the front duo of Alessandro Matri and Morata.
Inter started the stronger side and threatened the Juventus goal early, though Morata had a couple of chances too before Icardi deflected in a shot from Brozovic following a corner in the ninth minute. The home side seemed to gain courage from the early lead and had more opportunities to score. First Lichtsteiner's error left Palacio free but Storari saved brilliantly, then Shaqiri hit the upright and Brozovic fired home the rebound only to see it ruled out for offside. Replays would show that it was a close decision and he was onside marginally.
To add insult to injury, and to the howls of derision from the San Siro crowd, the glacial Vidic hauled down Matri on a breakaway for a penalty just minutes before halftime. Referee Daniele Doveri only produced a yellow card, more probably for his personal safety than from an interpretation of the laws of the game. Marchisio stepped up and dispatched the penalty coolly, sending goalie Handanovic the wrong way.
Morata had two bites at the the goal immediately after halftime, but the second half signaled more of the same attacking intent from the home side. The game had gotten decidedly chippy before halftime with three Inter players seeing yellow cards, and Morata and Lichtsteiner joined them there soon after. The Swiss defender had a pretty awful game all around and had been getting increasingly frustrated before his booking, and it was no surprise that Allegri pulled him off for Angelo Ogbonna. With that, Juve switched to their 3-5-2, Romulo moving to the right wingback position.
Fernando Llorente replaced Matri at the midway point of the half, but Mancini then inexplicably replaced Shaqiri with Nagatomo. Paul Pogba also came on for Pereyra to get some game time under his belt. With just minutes to the end of the game, Morata got up from just getting kicked in the shins to hit a dipping, wobbling shot from outside the box that Handanovic surprisingly let through. The home crowd had seen enough at that point and headed for the exits in silence, let down by their mercurial goalie who let in a howler for the ages.
Within seconds of the goal, Storari in the other goal made a pair of stunning saves that heightened Handanovic's folly - first Storari got a palm to Palacio's shot headed to the far corner, before bouncing up to beat away Icardi's attempt to tuck the ball away.
Overall, it was a shaky performance for Juve, understandable under the circumstances after the week the squad has had, and are lucky to leave with three points. Allegri has the upcoming Cup final to think about, and a derby win for an appetizer never hurts.
Storari - 8 Little he could have to done to prevent the goal, and stellar otherwise. Definitely a game for his Greatest Saves DVD.
Lichtsteiner - 5 Multiple mistakes, misplaced passes, miscommunication abounded in his game today. Is the Swiss Express finally slowing down?
Barzagli - 6.5 It's like he was never injured. The Wall remains solid, day after day.
Bonucci - 6.5 Another positive game for him, active in both boxes.
Padoin - 5.5 His greatness lies in the simplicity of his game.
Romulo - 5 Disappointing game. Maybe RB/RWB is his true calling, though he didn't show much after switching to 3-5-2 either.
Marchisio - 6.5 Reveled in his role as conductor of the troops. Did everything expected of him today.
Sturaro - 6 Decent enough game from him. Not his usual high-energy self in midfield today.
Pereyra - 5.5 He fills in well when he comes in latter stages of the game, but struggles when starting.
Matri - 6 Showed some good decision-making and hold up play.
Morata - 7.5 Of all the chances he had today, he scored from the one least likely to go in. We'll hand him that 'Deal With It' celebration though - that'll be great to needle Interisti with for years to come.
Ogbonna - 6.5 Solid, dependable, consistent. That is all.
Pogba - 6 Some fancy footwork didn't pay off in the end there, unfortunately.
Llorente - N/A
Allegri - 6 We'll give him a free pass today. Might be a game of no consequence to the standings for Juve, but pride still comes first in the Derby D'Italia and we would have liked to see some more tactics in play. We've seen Juve drop points out of complacency earlier in the season, but tonight Lady Luck favored The Old Lady.