This was a tricky game. Juventus were playing Inter, Juventus were playing their first game after the end of their unbeaten Serie A streak (thanks, Bologna), Juventus were taking on the field after an exhausting Champions League match. At stake was ONLY the chance to stay on top of the Serie A for one more week and put pressure on Napoli. And of course, bragging rights for the Derby d'Itallia winner (or whiner in Inter's case).
Max Allegri lined up his usual 3-5-2 that has been devastating in Italy, with the usual suspects at the back; Stephan Lichtsteiner and Alex Sandro on the wings; Sami Khedira, Hernanes and Paul Pogba in the middle of the park, and Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic up front. With the exception of Hernanes, Juve rolled out arguably their best team.
Juventus started the game very strong, pressing Inter throughout the pitch, suffocating them like Bayern suffocated Juve a few days ago. It was surprising to see Juventus press with so much energy after the grueling match most of these players had a few days ago. The pressure started paying off right away. Hernanes had a shot saved by Samir Handanovic in the first five minutes, and in the next 10 minutes Juventus had at least two more clear chances coming off the feet of Mandzukic and Dybala.
After about 15 minutes of incessant pressure, Juventus understandably took their foot of the gas. But at that point the damage was done. Inter were psychologically distraught and missed most their passes leaving Juventus free and clear to recover the ball. Nothing much of note happened until the last 10 minutes of the match when Giorgio Chiellini came off for Daniele Rugani. If this is a recurrence of his previous injury, I blame Allegri and Chiellini for not taking more precautions.
I knew that this game had goals in it. Juventus are simply too strong to not score a goal against Inter. It was Leonardo Bonucci after only two minutes of play time in the second half to put Juventus in the lead. From a Dybala free kick, Danilo D'Ambrossio had a clear/assist to an unmarked Bonucci, who put the ball in the back of the net with authority.
Juventus dominated the next 10 minutes, but failed to trouble Handanovic. The reason: Inter knew full well that pushing Juventus will most likely result in an embarrassing scoreline against them. After 55 minutes of play, Gary Medel left the field for Adem Ljajic but the game didn't really change. Ivan Perisic was also brought to replace Alex Telles, but again nothing. Allegri responded with Stefano Sturaro and Álvaro Morata for Khedira and an exhausted Dybala. It took two minutes for Morata to earn a penalty, which he converted sending Handanovic the wrong way.
Inter had a few more chances in additional time (six minutes? why?), but Gigi Buffon made sure they didn't ruin his unbeaten Serie A streak.
Buffon 7.0 Up until the 90th minute, Inter had zero shots on target. Yes, that's right, zero. In the last six minutes they had three shots on target. The reason the scoreline was 2-0 is because we have the most dependable keeper in the world.
Chiellini 6.0 Did what was expected of him, but had to leave the field due to injury. Max better not rush him anymore.
Bonucci 7.5 He did everything he always does plus he scored the opener like an experienced striker. His composure on the ball under pressure is world class.
Barzagli 7.0 He played most of the game on the left side to make room for Rugani on the right and didn't put a foot wrong. Usual Barzagli display.
Lichtsteiner 6.5 Missed a few passes during the game, but was solid defensively. Three tackles in the whole match. He ran Telles ragged.
Khedira 6.5 He mixed a good defensive display with some nice passes.
Hernanes 6.5 There were big question marks regarding his ability to reproduce his display against Bayern. He did a good job both offensively and defensively. With 89 percent pass success ratio, he made sure Juve didn't miss Claudio Marchisio too much. With that being said, comparisons to Pirlo are out of place.
Pogba 6.0 Harsh, absolutely. I rank players based on what they bring to the field, but also based on whether they can fulfill their potential. Since the Napoli game, I have been disappointed by the Frenchman. He is very good, but he needs to bring his best qualities to every match. He was dispossessed four times. He needs to choose when it is wise to take on a player and when it is wise to pass.
Sandro 7.5 Two dribbles, four tackles, and four interceptions, plus great possession and passing. I understand Allegri's reasons to play Patrice Evra ahead of Sandro, but against small teams that try to defend Sandro should be the de facto choice. He owned D'Ambrossio all game long.
Dybala 6.5 A bit of a hard match for him. Going forward he didn't do much, however, his contributions in defense did not go unnoticed. He had two tackles in the match, most forwards have zero. I think the Argentinian is tired and needs rest. There is no good reason to start him against Inter this Wednesday. Let's hope he has all week to recover.
Mandzukic 7.5 His defensive contribution was insane. Roberto Mancini started Geoffrey Kondogbia, Medel, and Felipe Melo with the hope of stopping our attackers. Mandzukic had more tackles (4) than any of those three Inter players. With that being said, he had two clear chances that he fail to convert and thus needs to refine his shooting. Against Bayern, he will need to be more accurate than he was today if he stand a chance of going through.
Rugani 7.0 I generally don't rank players that sub-in but Rugani played more minutes than Chiellini. If you look at his statistics he looks terrible, two clearances, zero interceptions, zero tackles. However, there is a lot more than statistics. Over time he is learning the system and positioning himself well.
Allegri 7.0 This was a tricky game and Juventus came out with a win to put pressure on Napoli. Credit to the coach for preparing such an important game in a short period of time. His subs worked well with Sturaro shutting things down and Morata getting us the second goal.
Things I think I think
- Buffon is ageless.
- In the future, Juventus needs more creativity in midfield. Sunday was not a game for Khedira or Sturaro. Don't get me wrong, those players are good, but they don't create much. And when you have a team that is sitting back and defending we need midfielders that can score goals or create more opportunities. Sure, that is Pogba's job but if he is having a bad game then we lose something. This team with a good trequartista would be a very different beast.
- The friendship and camaraderie in this group of players if phenomenal. After Morata scored the goal he went to celebrate with none other than Simone Zaza, a player that is competing with him for a starting spot. Just as important was how Zaza celebrated with Morata, like he meant it. To make things better, Pavel Nedved did a little dance of happiness too. From the president to the water boy, this team works for the group and not the individual. Compare that to Ronaldo's comments that players are not at his level. From a work environment point of view, Morata should have no problem picking Juve over Madrid any day.
- Rugani is starting to learn the defensive systems and is looking every day more like the player he promises to be. Mauro Icardi and Perisic tried to dribble past him and were unable to, the end result was passing the ball back and trying some other way. Can't wait to see him in a year.