Now that the second half of the season is here, we get to talk about rematches. And when it comes to the rematch between Juventus and Inter Milan, it’s all about the former not letting what happened against the latter repeat itself once again.
Sunday night’s match at Juventus Stadium has all the makings of a big-time, drama-filled Derby d’Italia. Juventus are in good form and playing good football since Max Allegri switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Inter, under the direction of Stefano Pioli have rebounded from a terrible start under Frank de Boer to rise up to fourth in the Serie A table entering the weekend’s slate of games.
Because of this derby having such a big-time feel to it in the build-up, we’ve teamed up with SB Nation’s Inter blog, Serpents of Madonnina, and somebody who is behind a lot of their writings, Tim Kraus. Per usual it’s part of a packaged deal, and you can read the question and answer session I did with Mr. Kraus RIGHT HERE.
Now, as is the case with a lot of the big games Juventus play in Italy — as well as if there’s a fellow blog on SB Nation about the upcoming opponent — here’s our latest rival Q&A.
BWRAO: Tim, greetings from the black and white side of the world. I won’t drop any “LOL INTER” statements until game day, I promise. Here’s the first question: Inter weren't very good under Frank de Boer. They seem to be better under Stefano Pioli. What's changed?
SoM: Before I get too critical of Frank de Boer, looking back, he walked into an extremely difficult situation. What could possibly go wrong when a relatively unproven manager (with no Serie A experience) takes over one of Italy’s biggest clubs just two weeks before the start of season? Yeah. Not a great idea.
That aside, de Boer didn’t do much to help his cause. He was often tactically inflexible, and failed to make meaningful changes when matches weren’t going Inter’s way. Despite the victory against Juventus (which was a serious shock to most Inter fans) De Boer’s time with the club was an unmitigated disaster. Inter showed no consistency in Serie A, and crashed out of a Europa League group that many expected the club to easily top.
Since taking over, Stefano Pioli has done an excellent job of righting the ship. I’d say the consistency, his ability to recognize and solve problems mid-match, and deploying players in positions best suited to their skillsets have been the biggest changes.
BWRAO: Kinda like when Max Allegri took over at Juventus, Pioli wasn't an overwhelmingly popular choice. How has he done to right the ship at Inter and actually have the club win a decent amount of games in a row?
SoM: While Pioli wasn’t the manager Inter fans expected or wanted to lead the club, I can’t stress enough how well he’s done since taking over. If you isolate the league since Pioli’s arrival, Inter would be top of the Serie A table, and despite the midweek loss to Lazio, the team is fresh off of a nine match-winning streak in all competitions.
Pioli has brought a level of professionalism and consistency to Inter, which was sorely lacking under de Boer. His ability to adjust and make match-changing substitutions has really helped the club on this run or form. There’s a reason why Inter lead Serie A in late-match goals.
BWRAO: Juventus signed Mattia Caldara, but not Roberto Gagliardini during the January transfer widnow. How happy are you that Juventus couldn't sign all of Atalanta's young Italians? And how has Gagliardini done since arriving at Inter?
SoM: So happy! In my opinion, Inter signing Roberto Gagliardini was by far the best piece of business the club did in the January Transfer Window. That’s a huge compliment considering Inter were finally able to get rid of Stevan Jovetic and Andrea Ranocchia.
Gagliardini has been a revelation since joining Inter. Despite being just 22-years-old, he looks like he’s been playing for the club for years, and his movement and passing have been superb. Inter fans everywhere are very excited about his future for both club and country.
With Geoffrey Kondogbia starting and finishing the Coppa Italia match on Tuesday, I expect Gagliardini to line-up next to Marcelo Brozovic in the pivot on Sunday.
BWRAO: Inter getting dumped out of the Coppa Italia — good thing? Bad thing? Meh thing?
SoM: It’s certainly disappointing, as the Coppa Italia represented the last chance for Inter to win a trophy this season. As I mentioned above, the club embarrassingly crashed out of the Europa League, and — despite what some Juve players are saying — Inter are not challenging for the Scudetto this year.
That being said, Inter didn’t play poorly on Tuesday. On another day, with better finishing, and without Miranda seeing a controversial red card, Inter would’ve won. So, while the loss is disappointing, it’s not the end of the world. The club making a strong push for a Champions League spot was always the main focus anyway.
BWRAO: Maruo Icardi seems to score EVERY SINGLE TIME he plays against Juventus. Why must he continue to make Juve fans sweat like they've just seen the Boogyman or something? Also, do you think Icardi is entering this second game against Juventus playing some of his best football of the season?
SoM: Well, keep in mind that Mauro Icardi is a very talented player that always seems to show up for the biggest matches. So I’m not surprised that he preforms well and scores in the Derby D’Italia. Considering the level of success Juventus have had in recent seasons, I’m glad to hear there are still some things that make you nervous!
I do think Icardi is playing some of his best football of the season. While he isn’t scoring as many goals as he was earlier in the campaign, he’s constantly involved in the build-up play. Icardi’s runs and passing have allowed him to seamlessly link-up with the wingers, and the he’s helped create several goals this month.
BWRAO: How would you grade Antonio Candreva's first season with Inter so far?
SoM: When SoM did a first half review during the winter break, we unanimously voted Candreva as the best summer signing. That distinction has only recently been put in doubt by a string of outstanding performances from Joao Mario.
Candreva has added much needed width to the squad, and has developed a lethal relationship with Icardi. He’s a player that almost always seems to be in the right place in the right time, and his movement and crossing from the wing are irreplaceable at the moment. Many Inter fans are disappointed with the lack of playing time given to Gabriel Barbosa, but that has mainly been the result of Candreva consistently playing at a high level this season.
BWRAO: You made me give a prediction. So now you must make a prediction. Go!
SoM: I’m cautiously optimistic about Sunday. Yes, facing Juventus in Turin is a nearly impossible task, but Inter are one of the most in-form teams in Europe at the moment. I’m going to go with a 1-1 draw, with Icardi scoring an equalizer in the last 15 minutes of the match.