This might bring up some bad memories, but just stick with me for a minute here.
Let’s go back in the past about 10 months. Juventus, with things absolutely chaotic off the field after the board resigned a few weeks earlier, rolled into Naples with a shot to get a signature win and truly get into the Scudetto race against league-leading Napoli. It was very much a measuring stick kind of matchup, with the team that entered that mid-January night in first place eventually ran away with the Serie A title absolutely dismantling second-place Juventus — the kind of result that showed us just how far off the pace Max Allegri’s squad was.
New season, but now the very same kind of situation for Allegri and company.
The added wrinkle coming into the first Derby d’Italia of the 2023-24 season between Juventus and Inter is that it is a matchup of second place hosting first place, making it the kind of top-of-the-table clash that broadcasters and Italian sports media members alike salivate over no matter what part of the year it is. Juventus, on the back of a five-game winning streak that was done nearly on the back of nothing but 1-0 victories, can jump over their arch-rivals from Milan in the Serie A table and stake claim to first place for more than just a few hours. It’s the kind of game in terms of stakes (no matter what time of the season it is) that has eluded Juve over the last couple of years during Allegri’s second tenure outside of the trip to Naples nearly a year ago.
But make no mistake about it, just like facing Napoli 10 months ago, Sunday night’s matchup with Inter will be the GPS-style evaluation to see where Juve is truly at.
Yes, no matter how shorthanded they may be. (Even though context matters!)
Both Juve and Inter have won five of their last six games. They’re easily two of the best defenses in the league and the only two clubs to have their goals allowed tally still be in the single digits through the first 12 fixtures of the 2023-24 campaign. They’re the two clubs who have the highest non-penalty expected goals figures in the league, according to Opta Analyst. They have some common traits like the formation they play, but they are also different in the way approach certain aspects of the game while trying to play on the counter.
Allegri, as was probably expected, played up the fact that Inter are very much the title favorites this season. (Which isn’t exactly going out on a limb with the way Simone Inzaghi’s squad have played through their first 12 games.) “It’s an important game for us and it’s part of our journey to develop,” said Allegri. “It will be nice to play this match. We meet the favorites to win the title. They have said it, too, and it’s no news.”
That is Allegri at his most Allegri-ist during a pre-match press conference. He is, in a way, trying to take the pressure off his team while also shifting said pressure over to an Inter side that has won all five of their away fixtures and outscored their opponents 12-1 over that span. Inter’s away form has included Italian juggernauts like Empoli, Cagliari, Salernitana and Torino, but their most recent win away from San Siro came a week before the November international break when they recorded a 2-1 win over 10-man Atalanta in Bergamo.
Juventus’ form at the Allianz Stadium rivals that of Inter in Milan, with each team recording 16 points, albeit Allegri’s squad doing it in one fewer game. It will be that homefield advantage that Juve truly hopes pays off, with the Allianz sold out and expected to be just about as loud as it has been all season considering who’s in town and what’s at stake.
While it still may be late-November and there’s still two-thirds of the season to go, this is very much the chance to stake claim to being an actual title contender. Beating the title favorite would not only give them first place for at least the next week, but also give them a second notable win over a top four side during a season in which Allegri continues to hammer home that finishing in the top four is the club’s No. 1 goal no matter what others on the outside (translation: the Italian media) may say.
This is the chance for Juventus to make an argument that they’re both on the right track as well as potentially truly in the mix for the Scudetto. Or, along the same lines of what happened in Naples last season, prove that the top four is truly the the ceiling for this year’s roster, especially with who won’t be playing any time soon.
It’s just the trend of what happens coming out of each international break this season. They’ve on the first two big games right out of a break, so here’s to hoping they can make it three in a row.
- The suspended players, Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli, are still suspended.
- Danilo is still out injured. Allegri said Juve’s captain could be back when they face Monza on Friday, Dec. 1.
- Timothy Weah is still out injured.
- Mattia De Sciglio is still out injured.
- Manuel Locatelli’s status for the Derby d’Italia is very much still an unknown as of this being written. During his pre-match conference, Allegri said that he will make a final decision on Locatelli on Sunday when the team goes through their final preparations.
- When it came to figuring out who will play in front of the defense, Allegri said: “Let’s see about Locatelli’s condition and then we will decide.” (Which also, by the way, seems to rule out a change of formation for Sunday night’s matchup.)
- Back from the injured list, however, is Alex Sandro, who returned to full training at the beginning of the week. Sandro last appeared in a game on Aug. 27 when Juve played to a 1-1 draw with Bologna.
- Allegri said that he still has to decide who is starting up front with Federico Chiesa.
- A point of emphasis that Allegri hammered home multiple times during his pre-match press conference: Sunday’s game against Inter will not decide the Serie A title but is just a big step along the way when it comes to the team’s growth.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
When facing arguably the best midfield in the league, it’s pretty easy to figure out what we’re talking about next, right? And with the potential of only half of your regular allotment of midfielders available for various reasons being available, that potentially means somebody is going to be playing in a role they might not be accustomed to.
Like, say, Juve’s lone Frenchman who’s available for selection these days.
At the beginning of the week, it looked as though the man stepping in for Manuel Locatelli would be somebody who hasn’t started a single game this season in Hans Nicolussi Caviglia. But, with Fabio Miretti’s recovery from a back problem that forced him to leave the Italy U-21 camp early, there’s a new player emerging as the potential Locatelli replacement: Adrien Rabiot.
Yeah, that’s right. Adrien freakin’ Rabiot.
The man who, with Danilo out, will back to wearing the captain’s armband. And the man who is rumored to be the one who will step into Locatelli’s shoes as the midfielder who will sit in front of the defense against Inter.
This, obviously, is all dependent on Locatelli’s status for Sunday night — which, as of right now, at least seems like there’s more of a chance that he plays as compared to the beginning of the week. And why Rabiot is the focus of this section is more with an assumption that Locatelli won’t pass his late fitness test Sunday morning, thus leaving the Frenchman as one of the main contenders to play in front of the defense.
Would he be as good as Locatelli in that spot? In some ways yes, other ways no. But it’s not like Allegri has a lot of like-for-like options to go with — especially when you consider just how many players are out and how they could fit into things.
When: Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.
Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy.
Official kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. in Italy and the Central European time zone, 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom, 2:45 p.m. Eastern time, 11:45 a.m. Pacific time.
HOW TO WATCH
Television: TNT Sports 1 (United Kingdom).
Online/Streaming: Paramount+ (United States); fuboTV Canada (Canada); discovery+, discovery+ app (United Kingdom); DAZN Italia, Sky Go Italia (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.