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Coppa Italia Preview: Juventus vs. Inter Milan

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We all thought January was going to be a tough month. (And it was.) Well, the first game of February is quite the doozy.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-INTER-JUVENTUS Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

It’s not that difficult to go back into the memory banks and remember the games this season where Juventus has simply laid an absolute clunker of an effort. That’s because, unfortunately for us, there’s been more than just a couple of those instances taking place, with one of them happening quite recently.

Juventus’ trip to the San Siro a little over two weeks ago was deemed as one of the lowest of low points of the 2020-21 season and a loss to Inter that could spell the end to the nine-time defending champions’ reign over Serie A. It was a virtual no-show, with Andrea Pirlo getting taught quite the lesson from the guy who was his coach during his time as a Juventus player, Antonio Conte.

But since that loss, things have been far from as grim as that trip to the San Siro. Dare I say that Juventus, under their first-year manager, look about as stable as they have all season entering a return trip to Milan.

So now, 2 12 weeks later, Juventus and Inter meet again. This time it’s not in Serie A, though. This game, the first of two games against Inter within the next eight days, has do with the chance to potentially play in the Coppa Italia final. The first leg, Tuesday night in Milan, will be the first fixture in a month of February that will, just like January, go a long way in determining just what Juventus’ season will look like when the next four weeks come to an end. Big game after big game, one after another both at home and away from the Allianz Stadium — they’re all there, with all three of the competitions Juventus is currently playing in right there waiting for us.

The first up is the Coppa Italia.

And as much as you rank the Coppa Italia third out of the three competitions Juventus can still possibly win, it is still a trophy, one that Juventus hasn’t won in a couple of years, too.

Since the loss to Inter on Jan. 17, Juventus has responded just how you would want them to respond. There’s been more good moments than bad. They have posted clean sheets in four straight games despite there being plenty of rotation and injuries to deal with. The midfield that we were all pretty critical of after the Inter loss has found its footing and looks about as solid as it has all season.

Hell, Juventus has even won a trophy since the last time they played Inter, which is good!

But, when you look at the fixture list, it’s just one bruising matchup after another. These two Inter games aren’t just the chance to get to the Coppa Italia final, but it’s an opportunity to exercise the demons from the loss to Conte’s squad even though it doesn’t count for anything in the Serie A standings. And even though Inter will be without the services of two of their most important players — Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi — Tuesday night’s game will still be one of the toughest in this incredibly challenging month of February.

Even though it’s been a couple of weeks, Juventus head into this matchup against Inter in better shape than they were the last time these two arch-rivals played one another. Or maybe that’s just some optimistic thinking on my part because these past two weeks have been pretty refreshing as compared to how up and down this season has been.

This will certainly be a test of Juve’s credentials of late. If all goes well, then the thinking that Pirlo’s Juventus is starting to turn a corner will only be cemented that much more.

TEAM NEWS

  • As per unwritten Coppa Italia rules, Gigi Buffon will start in goal. But you knew that already, Pirlo confirmed during his pre-match comments to JTV on Monday.
  • Surprise, surprise! Aaaron Ramsey is hurt again. He picked up a slight muscle injury in training on Sunday, according to Pirlo. Juve’s manager hopes the Welshman can return for the showdown with Roma over the weekend.
  • The only other player on the injury list — feel free to include Coppa Italia Round of 16 hero Hamza Rafia if you want — is Paulo Dybala, who is looking more and more of a case that could come pretty close to sweating out his status for Juve’s Champions League matchup against Porto in a couple of weeks.
  • A surprise to nobody: The projected lineups from the Italian media that Pirlo will use against Inter on Tuesday night don’t involve any Under-23 squad players. It’s the stage of the competition where the big boys of Serie A typically are the last ones standing and that means noticeable squad rotation isn’t exactly a thing to happen anymore.

JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH

I know I don’t usually have the picture at the top of the article match the one that I am about to post, but that’s a pretty good hint for y’all to know who I’m about to talk about.

Enter the Swede.

Juventus v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

While there will be some squad rotation, it obviously won’t be to the same extent as to when Juventus beat SPAL in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals. Barring a couple changes, Juventus’ starting lineup on Tuesday night is going to look a lot like the one from over the weekend against Sampdoria.

One of those changes that the Italian media is pretty much in agreement with — besides Matthijs de Ligt coming in for Giorgio Chiellini because you don’t risk an in-form 36-year-old with a serious and lengthy injury history playing 90 or so minutes for the fifth straight game — is Dejan Kulusevski starting alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. And judging by the fact that Kulusevski was suspended for the win over Sampdoria due to yellow card accumulation, he’s as well rested as any of Juve’s expected starters entering Tuesday night’s trip to the San Siro.

It’s the day after the winter transfer window closed, a period of time where Juventus were linked with signing a backup No. 9 to provide cover for Alvaro Morata but never actually pulled the trigger on a move. You gotta think that some of it had to do with the fact that money is tight these days as a result of the pandemic and finding a deal that made sense was always going to be tough, but it’s also a vote of confidence for Kulusevski’s ability to play as a striker. With the schedule not slowing down at all and Dybala still dealing with injury issues, Pirlo having limited options up top has been a constant theme, but obviously they felt good enough with how Kulusevski has played up front to keep him there.

Say what you want about the competition level in his last appearance, but Kulusevski was one of Juventus’ best players on the field last week against SPAL. Inter’s defense is going to be a tougher nut to crack, sure, but the Kulusevski-as-a-striker experience has been improving as he gets more minutes playing in that kind of role. He’s obviously got the skills for it and is a born attacker no matter if he’s a winger or a striker, but there’s still some learning to be done.

And, so far, he looks to be adapting rather well.

Getting Ronaldo and Kulusevski (and whoever else plays up front in this game) involved early will be crucial based simply on the fact that Juve’s strikers barely got any kind of service in the loss 2 12 weeks ago. Inter’s defense is far from perfect, which means good things could very well happen if Kulusevski is cookin’ in the same way he was last week.

Sounds like a pretty good proposition, doesn’t it?

MATCH INFO

When: Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021

Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy

Official kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time; 11:45 a.m. Pacific Time

HOW TO WATCH

Television: RAI Italia North America (United States); RAI Italia North America (Canada); BT Sport ESPN (United Kingdom); RAI Uno(Italy)

Online/mobile: ESPN+ (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport app (United Kingdom); RAI Play (Italy)

Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.