I am not one of them.
Sure, Juve suddenly started playing a proactive style of football that hasn’t been seen under Massimiliano Allegri since (**checks notes**) 2017, but at the end of the day, that proved to mean very little. Juventus outshot their rivals 22-5, but only put five of those shots on target, giving a reprieve to a clearly shaky Samir Handanovic. By the end of the game, it was clear Juve wasn’t going to score short of picking the ball up and walking it in.
By contrast, Inter, who had failed to win seven of their last 10 games coming in, capitalized on the glimmer of hope Juve’s dodgy finishing presented them, taking advantage of a soft VAR penalty call, followed by an even softer VAR encroachment call that allowed them to retake the penalty that had been saved, to take the lead into the break. They defended stoutly and resolutely in the second half, rarely ever conceding a truly dangerous scoring chance, and in the end they came away with their first away win against Juve since 2012.
As a result, the Nerazzurri’s title defense received a huge shot in the arm, while Juve failed to take advantage of Atalanta’s loss to Napoli early in the day and allowed Roma to creep within five points in the race for the top four.
Allegri was buoyed by the return of Denis Zakaria to the midfield, although he was relegated to the bench despite reports he could start. What those reports did get right, though, was that Mad Max suddenly made a reappearance. Rather than his usual defensive setups, a real, honest-to-God attacking lineup was sent out in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Wojciech Szczesny backstopped the defense of Danilo, Matthijs de Ligt, Giorgio Chiellini, and Alex Sandro. Manuel Locatelli and Adrien Rabiot formed the double pivot in midfield, while Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala, and Alvaro Morata supported Dusan Vlahovic up front.
Simone Inzaghi countered with his usual 3-5-2 setup and had almost a full compliment available, the lone exception being Stefan De Vrij. Samir Handanovic took his spot in goal, with Danilo D’Ambrosio slotting into the back three from De Vrij alongside Milan Skriniar and Alessandro Bastoni. Denzel Dumfries and Ivan Perisic were the wing-backs, sandwiching the midfield trio of Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, and Hakan Calhanoglu. Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez tipped the spear up top.
The game came out of the blocks hot and quickly got ornery. Vlahovic hit a first-time shot just 42 seconds into the game, and barely 30 seconds later Martinez was lucky to escape with only a yellow card after raising a boot high and kicking Locatelli in the head so hard the midfielder had to be bandaged before his return to the pitch. Vlahovic then turned provider in the fifth minute, hitting a cross that sent Morata to a bit too acute an angle and forcing him to head across the face of goal rather than at it.
Szczesny had to parry a Skriniar header off a corner, but Juve were in firm control of proceedings and were left wondering how the ball hadn’t gone into the net when Handanovic flapped at a cross and popped it straight up into the air. The ball bounced in front of Chiellini, whose barest of touches bounced off the crossbar. Dybala and Cuadrado then both tried their luck from distance, with the former going inches over while Cuadrado forced a sprawling save out of the Slovenian keeper.
All this in the first 11 minutes.
The game took a second to breathe after that, with Juve still in clear control of the match. Dybala jumped a loose ball and charged forward, going it alone when no lane appeared to square to a streaking Vlahovic and forcing another save out of Handanovic. Then, just before the half-hour mark, Cuadrado outran and outjudged Bastoni for a ball near the sideline. Morata cut in from the left and fired two good shots, both of which were blocked.
Juve suffered a major blow when Locatelli pulled up after a tackle in the 30th minute. He sank down to the turf, diagnosed with a strained knee that will keep him out for nearly three weeks, according to Allegri in his post-match press conference. He was replaced by Zakaria.
The removal of Locatelli changed the way the midfield worked, and it allowed Inter to level the game off at least a little bit, until the game’s decisive moment came at the close of the half. Dumfries was trying to work down the right side and was double-teamed by Morata and Sandro. The Spanish striker put a foot in and stepped on Dumfries, who immediately dropped to the turf flopping like a dying fish. Referee Massimiliano Irrati, who had already made some questionable decisions in this game, initially waved the contact off, causing all hell to break loose. Half of the Inter players on the pitch seemed to be in his face at once, and the nature of their protests caused some testy exchanges between Juve players and both their opponents and the referee.
After a few minutes, VAR official Paolo Mazzoleni called Irrati to the monitor. The ref proceeded to carry out one of the shortest reviews in history, viewing but a single angle for no more than 10 seconds before returning to the pitch to award the soft penalty.
Calhanoglu stood over the kick, and for a moment, it looked like fortune was shining on the Bianconeri. Not only did Szczesny make another penalty save when he parried Calhanoglu’s central effort away, Irrati initially called a foul that negated a Rabiot own-goal as Juve tried desperately to clear the ball away. As players from both sides again protested, Mazzoleni again called down to the field, this time to report de Ligt for encroachment, which, despite being the length of about half a toe, caused Irrati to order the kick retaken. Calhanoglu remained on the spot and Szczesny guessed right again — but this time the Turkey international’s shot was just too good, giving Inter the lead.
This whole process took almost the entire five allotted minutes of stoppage time, prompting Irrati to double it, and Vlahovic probably should have pulled Juve level just before the whistle when Morata left him an excellent dummy and he nutmegged Skriniar—who had been knocking the crap out of him all evening — for the shot, but it rolled well wide, and Juve headed into the locker room behind — a situation that they had yet to manage to overturn this season.
And there were precious few opportunities to do so. Juve did have two major penalty shouts, the first coming in the 58th minute, when Zakaria was taken down along the side of the box. The second came with 20 minutes to go, when Morata and D’Ambrosio bot tracked a loose ball. In both instances, VAR failed to call down for some massive and, especially in Zakaria’s case, in which freeze-frames show the Swiss very much inside the box before the call believed him to be outside. The second saw Morata pulled back and unable to go for a lofted ball into the box. Neither time was a review even called for.
Either of those calls could have put desperately needed wind behind Juve’s sails. Their possession became more sterile, and while they held on to the majority of the ball they simply weren’t putting it on frame. Vlahovic had another great chance go begging when he made a wonderful turn after receiving a pass from Rabiot, only to again flash wide. The closest they would come would be an almost-magical effort from Zakaria, who made a solo run through midfield and then shot against the grain, with Handanovic getting the slightest of touches that pushed it onto the post.
But those efforts were fruitless, and when a free kick from a prime spot was sent into the stands without ever dipping by Dybala, it was clear that Juve simply weren’t going to be able to score on this night, handing their dreaded rivals a huge win and allowing the chasing pack a lifeline in the race fo the top four.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 8. Didn’t have much to do, but what he did do was nearly magical. His penalty save that wasn’t could’ve been his fourth this season, and he was strong on crosses in his box all night.
DANILO - 6. Had an early key pass and finished the night with three tackles, effectively matching up with Perisic on that side all night.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6. I can’t ding him for the encroachment call, as it was so marginal as to almost be negligible and certainly didn’t give him an advantage, much like many an offisde call has been. Other than that solid with a good sliding block in the second half that kept Juve in the game.
GIORIO CHIELLINI - 6.5. Solid defensively and added a pair of key passes. Strong perfornamce in what may be his last Derby D’Italia.
ALEX SANDRO - 5.5. Made a key pass to go along with a tackle and two interceptions, but if Morata hadn’t been called for the penalty he might’ve been.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 5. Didn’t have a ton of time to stamp himself before the injury, but the midfield was still different after he left.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6.5. Juve’s best midfielder on the night came from an unlikely source, completing 95.5 percent of his passes while logging two key passes and a couple of clearances .
JUAN CUADRADO - 7. His usual excellent self working higher up the pitch, although he still put in a shift on defense as well, making two tackles and an interception in addition to his pair of key passes.
PAULO DYBALA - 5.5. Any concerns he’d be checked out were unfounded. He very nearly scored with a long-range belter that flew just over, and finished the day with a pair of key passes and almost as many shots as Vlahovic, and with much less of the ball at that.
ALVARO MORATA - 5.5. Had a key pass and took four shots but didn’t hit the target once. His challenge on Dumfries was the minimum contact possible for a penalty, but it looked like he and Sandro had him hemmed in and the tackle attempt wasn’t really necessary.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 5.5. I have some concerns about Vlahovic at this point. He’s not getting his shots on target (only one of seven), and the physical marking of Skriniar effectively neutralized him, much the way Bremer and Merih Demilral did before.
DENIS ZAKARIA - 6. Oh, what might have been on that shot that Handanovic nudged toward the post. He also made two tackles and was active in the midfield all night once he came on. Still, the lack of creativity can have its problems.
MOISE KEAN - 4. Just didn’t have his first touch today, constantly failing to bring the ball under control and often failing to do anything positive on the occasions he did.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6. Had a tackle and a key pass in his 18 minutes of work.
ARTHUR - NR. Frankly should’ve been on a little earlier to give the other mid a chance to attack.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - NR. Touch was poor and he couldn’t help create anything.
For the first time since what seems like the Five Star season of 2017, Max Allegri coached this game proactive. It’s frustrating to think what might’ve been in earlier games had he done so from the outset, but the frustration over that is at least tempered by the fact that he attacked all game long.
Unfortunately, his team let him down and simply couldn’t finish, while his best midfielder had to leave the field. He could have perhaps introduced two of his subs—in particular Arthur—on a little earlier to give him some more time to have an impact. But overall, there’s nothing to gripe about with Allegri’s tactics today—the players simply failed to score.
Juve next take the field on Saturday with a trip to Cagliari, followed by a home date with Bologna the next Saturday.