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BWRAO Roundtable: Just how important is this Derby d’Italia?

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Inter’s ahead of Juventus in the standings for the first time in a long time. Does that mean there’s added significance to Sunday’s derby in Milan?

2019 International Champions Cup - Juventus v FC Internazionale Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images

Over the next 36-48 hours, the hype in Italy is about to be real.

There will be slow-motion highlights being shown with dramatic music. There will be player interviews. There will be hot takes being fired off right and left from the folks at Sky Sport Italia, RAI and pretty much every sports television network in between.

It’s just the kind of game that brings that kind of stuff out.

And when Juventus heads to Milan to face Inter at the San Siro on Sunday night, it will be the main course during which plenty of pre-game analysis has gone down. But why? It’s simple, really: For the first time in a good amount of time, the Derby d’Italia is going to be played between arguably the two best clubs in Serie A. Juventus has the eight straight league titles, but Inter enters the final weekend before the October international break with the two-point lead atop the Serie A table.

That means Sunday’s derby is truly a top-of-the-table clash.

And with the added element of the man who started Juventus on this current Scudetto run now being the guy tasked with trying to end that streak while on the Inter sideline, it makes for one heck of a game to talk about in the days leading up to it.

That makes for a perfect time for the BWRAO roundtable to get back together for the first time in weeks and to discuss the first Juve-Inter matchup of the season (that actually counts for something in the standings).

Knowing all of these factors, the question to the five-person roundtable we have here is a rather simple one: Just how important is the first edition of the Derby d’Italia this weekend?

There were answers.

Let’s see if you agree with them.

SAM LOPRESTI

Normally you don’t think that the seventh game of the season would be all that huge, regardless of who’s playing and where they are on the table. But I think the impact of this game, specifically on the psychological end. could be really big.

The effects of a Juventus win, both on Inter and the rest of the league, could be significant. When Inter took sole possession of first place after Round 3, it was the first time in 560 days that Juve hadn’t had at least a share of the league lead. If they were to take it back on Sunday, I can imagine a sense of foreboding coming upon the rest of the league.

Juve still aren’t in the full fledge of Sarrismo, but there are signs that they’re starting to get there, and in Tuesday’s game against Bayer Leverkusen — a game that most tipped as a tricky assignment — they barely needed more than second gear even though they lost the possession battle. If Juve manage to vault back into first so soon when things are still under construction, not only would it likely elicit a “not again” from the rest of the league, opponents could start to think about how difficult it would be to dislodge them when the system is in full gear. Inter, in particular, would be served the double-whammy of their midweek disappointment in Barcelona and then losing their perfect start to the season against their bitter rivals.

On the other hand, if Inter win the calculus of the league changes a bit. Juventus would need the Nerazzurri to drop points two to three times in order to catch them, and given that Inter is on its best start to the Serie A season since 1966-67 when the legendary Helenio Herrera was its manager, it’s difficult to predict when Antonio Conte’s side might finally fail to win. Inter’s next games after the derby are Sassuolo, Parma, Brescia, Bologna, Torino, and SPAL. They will be favored in all of those games, many of them heavily. If they manage to build up a head of steam, it’s not hard to see them still on top — perhaps by multiple games — when the return comes around. We know firsthand how Conte can cause initial success like this to turn from a trickle to an avalanche.

Of course, there are a lot of variables here. If Inter prove not to have the mental fortitude Conte’s Juve did, some adverse results in the Champions League could affect their domestic performance. Sarrismo may not fully take with Juve’s current personnel. Players on both sides could get hurt. Napoli aren’t dead and could make it a three-horse race. But the mental effects of a victory for either side, even this early, could set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

Oh, one last note. That 1966-67 season that Inter just matched the start of? They lost the final game of that season to end up finishing second — to Juventus.

MANU C.

As the best hot take artists in the biz say, when these two teams meet you can throw out the record books, folks. They sure don’t like each other!

All sportscaster clichés aside, let’s actually look at the record book for a second. Going back to 2010, Inter Milan and Juventus have played 19 times in Serie A. The head to head record is a startling 10 wins for Juventus, with 6 ties and only three losses. Also, this:

Still, this edition of the Derby d’Italia feels slightly different that previous years.

First of all, there’s Juventus looking to catch up in the table with a scorching hot Inter holding an early two-point lead. The men led by Antonio Conte have racked up an impressive six wins out of six in the young season and look like a serious threat to unseat Juventus’ eight-year reign as Serie A champions. With Juventus displaying flashes, but still not fully settled down under the reigns of new manager Maurizio Sarri, you could argue that Inter should be the favorite in Sunday’s derby.

Someone could also argue that Inter ain’t played nobody, with that scorching start being against a murderers row of teams that are either in the relegation mix (Lecce, Sampdoria, Udinese) mid-table teams at best (Cagliari, Lazio) and teams that are very rich (AC Milan).

It is me, I am arguing that.

They also had two very Conte-y disappointing European performances, in a 1-1 home draw to powerhouse Slavia Praha and then saw Barcelona come back to win 2-1 midweek, which brought back PTSD flashbacks to Juventus’ European football circa 2012-2013. With that midweek fixture at Barcelona and now Juve visiting on Sunday, we will finally get a good look at the new look Inter and figure out if they are for real or not.

If Inter is, indeed, one of the most serious competitors in Serie A, this game might end up being huge in the title race. If Inter are frauds, it’s not that important in the long term.

Recent history suggests that Inter are frauds, and until they prove otherwise I will continue to call Inter frauds.

BIG POPPA CHUKS

Honestly, this is one of those games that people love to say is a title-decider, season-changing, mind-bending, gravity-defying — OK, I think I’ve made my point — game that will alter the course of history.

I hate to go against the popular narrative — actually, that’s a blatant lie, I love doing that — but this game is not any of that. Look, the truth is that this is merely Matchday 7 of the 2019-20 season. Win, lose, or draw, there will still be a whopping 31 games remaining to recover from the “catastrophe” of losing the Derby d’Italia.

In fact, I love having massive games like these as early as possible in the season. Yes, give me Napoli, Inter, Milan, Roma, and all those teams in the first five matchdays of the season. Why? Because if we lose those games, we still have the entire season to recover from them. (I’m obviously aware that we play each team twice.) It’s similar to conceding goals early rather than later in the game; in the former case, you’ll have much more time to recover and mount a comeback than in the latter case.

Winning, losing, or drawing such massive games that come so early in the season is merely symbolic, if you ask me. The press loves a colorful narrative though, so we’re probably going to hear all about how this game is going to be a title decider and all of that sensationalist stuff.

You want a colorful narrative? Here’s one: Inter are such a spectacularly atrocious club that they need both Juve’s sporting director AND manager to become halfway decent.

Ah yes, these are the times of provocation.

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” Walter Lippmann

CALVIN

In the long term, this first edition of the derby is no more important than the second derby or any of the 36 other games Juve play this season.

However, there is an element of mental tension that will come into play this weekend. Inter have been deservedly starved of any success in the last few years, watching like a lame rabid hyena as Juventus have marched on into greatness that they can only dream of as their club sinks into the morass of mismanaged teams with stars in their eyes and glory hunters for a fanbase.

For the Bianconeri, this game is the climax of the first scene of the play of ultimate betrayal. Diehard hero turned villain Antonio Conte, who bled black and white for us as a player, and then spit blood for us as a manager, has switched over to the dark (black and blue) side, and this will be the first time he manages a team against Juve. In the colours of our most hated enemy. Hard to get over that.

There are three points to be played for, and with Inter sitting at the top of the table, this can be called a six-pointer. A Juve win dishes out a heaping serving of humility to the San Siro. An Inter win and we’ll never hear the end of the crowing from the pazzo. Juve have faced bigger tests than Inter early this season, but haven’t come through with flying colours either so it’s really all to play for.

NATHAN VELARDI

The first installment of the Derby d’Italia is bound to be an interesting one. There are almost too many angles going into this matchup: Antonio Conte’s first game against Juventus, the top two teams in the league, arguably the two best defenses in Italy, and on top of it all, the age-old rivalry between the clubs. These are all valid reasons to get excited about Sunday’s derby, but the most important of them all is the title race.

A title race that’s bound to be a close one if the first six match days of the season are any indication of what’s to come. One way Sarri’s blossoming Juventus can ensure they have a shot at winning the Scudetto is if they get a win against Inter Milan this Sunday at the San Siro. Although this seems like a tall task for the Bianconeri, it won’t come any easier for Juve’s rivals who played a tough match against FC Barcelona at the midweek.

Yes, it’s the first week in October, but the title race started in late August and the Nerazzurri are a whole foot in front of the Old Lady, and by foot I mean point, Inter are one point ahead in the table. And the stage is set for this tie to be the one that fans will be thinking about in April, trying to pinpoint when exactly dreams were crushed or history was made. Maybe I’m being a tad dramatic, but don’t forget that there can’t be a Serie A derby without its fair share of drama.

So yes, not only is the Derby d’Italia the most important game of this young season, but it’s shaping up to be the match that’ll be talked about for the rest of the campaign.