Ah, the Derby D’Italia. There’s really little introduction needed for a game of such historical magnitude. Juventus were looking to stretch their barely-believable home record of 27 consecutive victories even further while their bitter rivals came into the game on the back of seven league wins on the bounce. Nevertheless, we all know that form goes out the window for massive games like these, so both teams had their eyes firmly set on the match at hand. It was a game well worthy of the lofty reputation it holds as it was full of end-to-end play, big chances for both sides, and entertaining football for the fans. A Juan Cuadrado wondergoal on the stroke of halftime won the game in Juventus’ favor, thus extending the Bianconeri’s phenomenal home record to 28 consecutive games and securing the 1-0 victory at the Juventus Stadium.
The intensity of the game matched the amazing atmosphere in the stadium as Paulo Dybala almost opened the scoring within three minutes of play. A Stephan Lichtsteiner cross resulted in a looping ball dropping to the Argentine, who lashed a bicycle kick at goal but Samir Handanovic produced an outstanding save to prevent the goal. The opening stages of the game continued at an electrifying pace and lived up to the billing of being one of the best fixtures in the league. There was little time to breath as that little wonderkid Dybala was in the thick of things again: Pjanic played a ball slightly behind the striker but that didn’t stop him from curling an extraordinary left-footed strike off the top of the crossbar with Handanovic beaten. Inter weren’t going to let the game pass them by, though. and retaliated with a chance of their own. A corner created havoc (and two decent penalty shouts) in the Juventus box and the loose ball dropped to the recently-signed Roberto Gagliardini, whose shot went just inches over the target.
João Mário joined the feast of near-misses a few minutes later as an Inter counter-attack led to a shot that skimmed the base of the post, giving Gigi Buffon a mighty scare. Stefano Pioli’s men were growing in the ascendancy after weathering that early storm of Juventus pressure. The visitors produced another big chance through an Ivan Perisic header that Buffon matched with a smart save to play the ball out for the corner kick despite another penalty shout for Inter after Mario Mandzukic’s risky tackle on Icardi from the rebound.
I could barely keep up with my notes — and, coincidentally, my internet apparently had the same problems — as the chances kept flying in from both sides: Mandzukic and Icardi going close with decent shots from range. The very busy Handanovic then palmed a fantastic Pjanic free-kick onto the crossbar a few minutes later. It was remarkable that neither side had found the back of the net yet up to this point, so Cuadrado took matters into his own hands to change this fact. A loose ball from the corner kick bounced into the Colombian’s path and, while many of us probably cursed the fact that he, of all people, got a chance like that fall to him, he proved all of us wrong by unleashing a thunderbolt of a shot crashing into the back of the net, beating Handanovic with sheer velocity alone: 1-0!
The second half picked up right where both teams left us: intensity, strong battles, and end-to-end football. Juventus almost scored the second goal quickly after the restart through Pjanic. After some good work by magic-man Cuadrado, the ball came to Higuaín who played a perfectly-weighted through ball for the onrushing Pjanic. The Bosnian, however, couldn’t quite make clean contact with the sliding strike, which allowed Handanovic to make the save at the near post for the corner kick.
Juventus had a strong grip on the game now as Inter struggled to get some momentum going in the second half. As the clock went ticking, Inter threw more and more men forward and tried to test the Juventus defense with this offensive pressure, but the Bianconeri weren’t flustered by the threat. The latter stages of the game were as fascinating as they were tense as a Mandzukic header forced another extraordinary save from Handanovic after a sharp Alex Sandro cross.
Despite some serious pressure from Inter in the last 10 minutes — and a peculiar sending off for Perisic — Juventus held on to secure a hard-fought three points in front of a boisterous home crowd in Sunday’s blockbuster match!
BUFFON 6.5 – Didn’t have too much too do as most of Inter’s big chances were off target. Another clean sheet, though!
SANDRO 6.5 – He was surprisingly nervous and subdued all game, with a few unforced errors that thankfully went unpunished. He didn’t really have much to do defensively though, because almost all the action came from the other side.
BONUCCI 7.5 – Elegant game by Bonucci. Aside from one or two mistakes, he kept the center of defense slam-shut.
CHIELLINI 8 – Big game, big occasion, and an even bigger performance tonight. Icardi was a complete non-presence all night thanks to the ever-improving central defensive partnership between Chiellini and Bonucci. Phenomenal performance.
LICHTSTEINER 7.5 – Once again showed how his relationship with Cuadrado continues to improve game by game. João Mário and Perisic were overloading his flank but he stood his ground very well.
KHEDIRA 7 – Solid performance, but man his first touch is heavier than a ton of bricks sometimes. Got out of jail most of the time that his touch deserted him though, but definitely me a few unpleasant scares!
PJANIC 7.5 – Quiet but assured performance by Pjanic. Lofted a few cheeky balls over the top for the attacking quartet and protected the back four well.
CUADRADO 8 – Wondergoal for the wonderman. He’s in a fantastic run of form and, after scoring the game clinching goal and busting some groovy moves, he continues to solidify an integral part in Allegri’s starting XI.
MANDZUKIC 7.5 – Crunching game for the Croatian hardman. Had one big opportunity to nick a goal after a difficult, but well-executed header in the first half. Overall, he stood his ground and outmuscled Candreva on the left wing.
HIGUAÍN 7 – A bit quieter than usual as he had to fend off three central defenders to make space for his colleagues. Nevertheless, a selfless and hard-fought performance by the Argentine.
DYBALA 7.5 – Busy performance and is probably left wondering how on earth he didn’t get a goal tonight. Hit the crossbar on one occasion and almost scored a golazo on the bicycle kick on another chance. Played very well though.
MARCHISIO 6.5 – A solid 20-minute substitute appearance. Nice haircut too. It makes him look so… ominous.
ALVES N/A – Good to see him back from injury, especially given that Lichtsteiner hasn’t had much of a rest for the last few weeks.
RUGANI N/A – A short cameo to shut up shop at the end of the game.
ALLEGRI 8 – Another day for the tactical experiment to bear dividends for the side. The main threat to deal with was João Mário’s movement across the pitch and the Portuguese midfielder was largely dealt with throughout the match. The battle of the game was down the right wing and it seems like Allegri’s men won that fight while also being flexible enough to maintain a threat on the counter attack.
Tactical Analysis – Hybrid
Usually, Juventus versus Inter means that there’s only one man everybody thinks about: Mauro Icardi. Sunday’s game, however, wasn’t about the
morally-questionable superstar striker. The most interesting tactical snippet of the game came from his teammate in midfield: João Mário.
The Portuguese midfielder played a curious role: on paper, it was a right wing role, but in practice it was a hybrid trequartista/winger role. Without the ball, he would stay relatively centrally and leave the entire right flank to Candreva but in attack he would shuttle to the right side in a relatively wide position. Or so I thought...
Once in a while, João Mário chose to navigate the left wing with Perisic too, thus neglecting his duties on the right side. Just look at how much space the upcoming Candreva has on the far side of the above picture. This hybrid, roaming role meant that his marking duties were often passed on between Khedira, Pjanic, and the wide players depending on whose zone he was occupying. Cuadrado, for instance, had to play a bit more centrally in defense to mitigate the occasional overload in central zones. This was a potentially tricky situation but the lads communicated well and contained the danger excellently.
This roaming did isolate Candreva and D’Ambrosio on the wings though, forcing Miranda and Murillo to occasionally step forward out of defense to help their teammates with the double-trouble threat down the wings from Sandro-Mandzukic and Lichtsteiner-Cuadrado. In principle this wasn’t too bad because they had a spare man or two in defense given that Dybala often dropped deep and out of their zone.
Inter’s front three were clearly very fluid as Ivan Perisic also roamed the pitch in order to link up with Icardi and João Mário. Clearly, the primary purpose of this roaming was to encourage quick passing exchanges between the aforementioned trio and, to be fair, it did produce some danger throughout the match. It was difficult for me to keep track of where the attacking trio was at various points during the game but it did tend to leave space in midfield on the counter attack. Curiously, this made for a reasonably subdued Antonio Candreva, who couldn’t really show off his offensive flair due to his defensive obligations. Sacrifice for the team, right Antonio?
Living up to expectations
Nowadays, the majority of the “mouthwatering” clashes in European end up being dull and uninspiring affairs. Sunday’s Derby D’Italia at the Juventus Stadium, however, was an absolutely terrific game to watch and full of entertainment for the full 90 minutes. Chances at both ends, a fantastic winning goal, a wonderful flow to the game, and impressive performances by both sides. This really, really was a phenomenal game of football and credit to both sides for their respective displays on the night. It just goes to show that you don’t need a ludicrous avalanche of goals (insert Napoli link) for a game to be entertaining.
I expect to see some rotation for the midweek game against Crotone given the upcoming crunch fixtures in the Champions League and Coppa Italia, so there is a chance that the formation will be rejigged a little. Nevertheless, the players are enjoying themselves and playing for each other and the team is thus in a swaggering run of form lately: long may it continue!