It’s been a really long time since Juventus was so thoroughly destroyed in the Derby d’Italia. I quite literally can’t remember it. Even the last time Inter managed to win this fixture in 2016, Juve took the lead and blew it.
But on Sunday, the nine-time defending champions looked like empty shells of the team that took to the same field at the San Siro 11 days ago and turned in a sparkling performance to beat AC Milan and reinsert themselves into the title discussion. This time they played themselves right back out of it. Antonio Conte, the man who started the Juventus dynasty, picked up his first victory against his old team, outcoaching his old player Andrea Pirlo as comprehensively as his players outplayed Juventus. Hardly anyone actually showed up to perform. Inter scored the first goal early and then retreated into a shell, daring a Juventus team completely devoid of creativity to break them down while piling up chance after chance after chance on the counterattack. Had the hosts been anywhere close to clinical, this game would have been over by halftime.
The 2-0 final score certainly wasn’t indicative of the actual flow of the game. It should have been a lot more, and it leaves Juve with a lot of questions — questions that will need answering quickly as the first trophy of the season comes into play on Wednesday in the Supercoppa Italiana.
Pirlo was still missing four huge players going into the game. Alex Sandro, Juan Cuadrado, and Matthijs de Ligt are all still in COVID-19 protocols, while Paulo Dybala won’t be back until the beginning of February with a knee sprain. That left Pirlo’s options somewhat limited when he put together his 4-4-2/3-5-2 hybrid system. Wojciech Szczesny took back the starting gloves in goal, with Danilo, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini making up the defense. Federico Chiesa and Gianluca Frabotta were the wingbacks around the midfield of Adrien Rabiot, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Aaron Ramsey. Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata made up the strike pair.
There is no hybridization in Conte’s 3-5-2 formation. Inter’s old war horse Samir Handanovic was the man between the sticks, with Milan Skriniar, Stefan De Vrij, and Alessandro Bastoni shielding him in defense. The hyper-in-form Achraf Hakimi joined Ashley Young as the wing-backs, bookending Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, and Arturo Vidal, who was playing his first game against Juve in the shirt of another Italian team. The dangerous duo of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez started up front.
The opening phases were cagey, but there were already some alarm bells. Hakimi managed to pass Frabotta with ease pretty much from the off, and he didn’t have many more problems when Ramesy came over to help. Both teams played some probing crosses early, and in the 10th minute Juve had the ball in the back of the net when Rabiot forced a good near-post save out of Handanovic. His parry rolled straight to Chiesa, whose cross was perfect for Ronaldo to side-foot home, but it was all for nothing when the assistant’s flag correctly went up on Chiesa, who was clearly offside when Rabiot took his shot.
A minute later Inter were ahead. The move started with Hakimi, who once again breezed down the right side and passed it off to Vidal, who sent it back to the right side to Barella and immediately began a run toward the far post. Barella cut back against a flat-footed Frabotta and met that run with an excellent cross, and Vidal leaped in front of Danilo to head it into the top corner. To his credit, he didn’t celebrate, but it was almost too appropriate that he would be the one to score his first Serie A goal since May of 2015, when he was still wearing Juve colors.
It was completely clear that Inter were on top of things. Vidal had a chance to double his tally just four minutes, skying over after a Martinez whiff turned into an unintentional dummy. Szczesny did well to hold a shot by Brozovic after a short corner with Inter players lined up to tap in a rebound, then dove to stop a strong Lukaku shot on the counter, with Martinez ballooning the rebound when he really should have potted it to make the score 2-0.
Martinez had several chances to put the game away early but missed the target each time, Lukaku was again denied by Szczesny after Barella got away from a terrible tackle attempt by Rabiot, while all Juve could muster were some frustrated, long-range efforts by Ronaldo. The midfield had zero creativity, the passing was slow and inaccurate, and despite eventually finishing the first half with more possession, they completely failed to create any kind of danger.
It was clear that something drastic needed to change at halftime, but Pirlo decided to keep the team the same coming out of the locker room. There was the tiniest glimmer of life early on when Danilo floated a good ball into the channels that no one managed to latch on to, but the lid was slammed firmly shut seven minutes into the period, when Bastoni hit an exquisite long pass that found Barella running socially distant through the Juventus half. Chiellini was never catching up, and a completely stranded Szczesny did everything he could before watching the Italy international slam the ball into the roof of the net.
Pirlo finally reacted five minutes later, sending on the triple sub of Weston McKennie, Dejan Kulusevski, and Federico Bernardeschi for Ramsey, Rabiot, and Frabotta, who limped off with an apparent injury sustained trying to catch Barella. McKennie immediately made his presence felt, putting a header on target from a corner, but the team continued to struggle to do anything out of open play. On the other end, Martinez got yet another chance to score, twisting and turning in the left channel until he finally beat Chiellini, but his shot for the far post didn’t bend and flew past the upright.
The later phases of the game followed an incredibly predictable pattern, with Juve trying to push forward but eventually playing an incredibly sloppy pass and have to chase the counter the other way. Bentancur had an opportunity to load up from just outside the box after McKennie held the ball up and dropped it back to him, but De Vrij stepped in front to block the shot. Three minutes from time they created their best opportunity to score when Bentancur put McKennie into the left channel and he laid it off for Chiesa, who hit a powerful shot that Handanovic parried away with one hand, denying Juve a goal that would have set up a grandstand finish despite Juve deserving nothing of the sort.
After five minutes of stoppage time the Bianconeri were finally put their misery, with the future as uncertain as it ever was.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 8. Not at fault for either goal and without him the score would’ve looked a lot worse a lot earlier. He might’ve been the only guy on the team that actually came to play.
DANILO - 5. Badly beaten in the air by Vidal for the opener, and was generally off the level he’s set this season all night long. Far too many plays got behind him.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. Not his worst night, but shared the entire unit’s problems with letting counterattacks get far too much space. Did block two shots.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 6. Waged a physical war with Lukaku all night long. He won some and he lost some — which might be the first time that’s ever been said in relation to Lukaku, who Chiellini has dominated over the course of their previous meetings — but was tenacious all night long. His problems came when he had to chase down counterattacks, which he simply can’t do anymore.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 5. He had the potential to create as many problems on the Juve right against Ashley Young as Hakimi did against Frabotta, but it just didn’t come together for him. He was denied by Handanovic late, but simply couldn’t create any danger from his wide spot on the right. A flop when he needed another game like he had against Milan.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 4.5. Forced a save out of Handanovic early but wasn’t anywhere close to his usual self defensively, and his passing was hopeless. Not the type of game that we’ve gotten used to seeing out of him since last season’s restart.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 3.5. This has to be the nadir of a lost season for him. His pass completion was a dismal 86.8 percent, and he wasn’t much use defensively either, not winning the ball or disrupting any passing lanes. The player we saw last year is in there somewhere, but he’s just in a bad place right now. He edges out Ramsey because of a pair of blocked shots.
AARON RAMSEY - 3. This dude is becoming more and more useless by the day. Didn’t create anything, didn’t contribute defensively, and should’ve been hauled off at halftime. Why he keeps on starting big games is beyond comprehension.
GIANLUCA FRABOTTA - 4.5. He actually led the team with two tackles and three interceptions, but he was completely outclassed by Hakimi on his flank. Time and time again he got himself turned around and watched the wing-back fly on past him.
ALVARO MORATA - 4. Got hardly any service but didn’t do much with anything he did manage to get a foot to. Looked exhausted after going the distance against Genoa midweek.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 4. Same as Morata — not a lot of service but did bupkis with what did come his way. His passes in particular looked pretty horrific. For a guy like him it’s a blip — but one that can’t be repeated if Juve are to get back on track.
WESTON McKENNIE - 6. Immediately injected some sort of life into a midfield unit that looked like a George Romero movie up to that point. Made a pair of key passes in a little more than half an hour and set up Chiesa for that late shot.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - 5.5. He was trying to make something happen, but by that point everyone else around him was cooked.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 5.5. Led the team with three key passes in 33 minutes, but also had trouble containing Hakimi and Barella on his side and made some pretty wonky passes outside of that.
Pirlo looked very much the rookie coach in this one. For all of Antonio Conte’s foibles—specifically, his inability (unwillingness) to evolve and learn from his mistakes—the man is still an excellent coach, and he knew exactly how to play his own strengths against Pirlo’s weaknesses. Specifically, that meant his midfield, a far more dynamic and cohesive unit than the one Pirlo put out, and Hakimi going against Frabotta.
There were certain limitations to what Pirlo could do because of player availability and, in the case of the midfield, the negligence of the front office. But there were still moves that Pirlo could have made within those limitations that he either made too late or didn’t make at all. Ramsey and Frabotta should’ve been off at halftime. The fact that Arthur never saw the field at all given the struggles of Bentancur is a little baffling. Pirlo has, on the balance of the season, been fairly good at reading and reacting in-game, but on Sunday he was too slow and reacted when it was too late. Granted, given the way the players went out, it might not have mattered, but this must be a game that Pirlo learns from.
The grind continues on Wednesday, when Juve head to the Mapei Stadium to face Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana. Then they head back to Turin to face Bologna in the last game of the andata.