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Spoils shared between Juve, Inter in season’s first Derby d’Italia

The top strikers were on point in the first half before an actionless finish.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Serie A TIM Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

In a match like the Derby d’Italia, you usually see a cagey beginning, with the game gradually opening up as legs became tired and one or the other team needed goals.

This year’s first Derby of the 2023-24 season produced the opposite effect.

With first place in Serie A on the line Sunday night, Juventus and Inter started out like gangbusters, pushing each other and trading chances. Halfway through the first half, both teams’ top strikers reared their heads. First Dusan Vlahovic and then Lauraro Martinez put the ball into the back of the net at the end of quick-strike moves, putting a jolt into an already passionate match.

But the second half was exactly the opposite of the first. Both coaches — especially Massimiliano Allegri — took their foot off the gas. There was only one shot combined the entire half, which came with 40 minutes left in the game. The intensity picked up in other ways, both on the field, with some increased physicality on the pitch, and in the stands, especially when Juan Cuadrado made his return to the Allianz in the wrong colors.

But the end of the game was unfortunately a damp squib of a thing, and the top of the table stayed just the way it was after a 1-1 draw.

Allegri came into the game in a serious selection crunch in midfield. Between the suspensions of Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli and the fractured rib that forced Manuel Locatelli to start from the bench, Max’s options in the engine room were limited. Exacerbating the situation was the continued absence of Danilo and Tim Weah. Allegri deployed the 3-5-2 that has become his standard his second time around with Juve. Wojciech Szczesny started behind the back three of Federico Gatti, Bremer, and Daniele Rugani. Andrea Cambiaso started at the right wing-back spot to cover for Weah, with Filip Kostic opposite him. With all the absences, Hans Nicolussi Caviglia made his first start in a Juventus shirt, joining Weston McKennie and Adrien Rabiot in midfield. Vlahovic got his first start in a few weeks, partnered by Federico Chiesa up top.

Simone Inzaghi was dealing with his own big absence, as Alessandro Bastoni missed proceedings due to injury, joining Benjamin Pavard and Alexis Sanchez on the treatment table. Inzaghi employed the 3-5-2 he’s been playing his whole career. Yann Sommer got his first taste of the Derby in goal. He was protected by Francesco Acerbi, Matteo Darmian, and Stefan De Vrij. Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco started on the wings, sandwiching the dangerous midfield of Nicolo Barella, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Martinez joined forces with assist machine Marcus Thuram in the strike pair.

Juve had an opportunity seconds into the game when Rabiot kept the ball in bounds and lofted a cross to the back post that was met by Cambiaso, who pulled his volley wide. Inter responded minutes later when Dimarco delivered a good free kick into the box, but Thuram could only skim it into the arms of Szczesny.

Chiesa really should’ve scored a third of the way into the half, when a long throw was headed down and then laid back by Rabiot, but the No. 7 got a little under it and hit it past the top corner. Calhanoglu had a similar miss five minutes later, when he was given far too much space 20 yards from goal and launched from distance, only to have his shot bend wide. A few minutes later Kostic got lucky when a bad clearance put the ball right into Martinez’s lap, only for the Argentine to fire wide.

A goal was coming, it was a question of when and who.

The when was the 28th minute, the who was Vlahovic, whose hard play set up the whole sequence. He took advantage of a poor chest control by Dumfries to gain possession at midfield, then found Chiesa free on the left. Chiesa dashed forward. Barella immediately charged to double team him, leaving Vlahovic completely open in the middle, where Chiesa found him with a perfect low cross. The big Serb showed the lethal finishing that Juventus paid for, opening his body and calmly slotting it into the net with his right foot. It was Vlahovic’s first goal since September, and must have been a massive confidence boost for Juve’s top striker.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Serie A TIM Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/Ciancaphoto Studio/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the lead lasted for all of five minutes.

After Darmian took the ball off of Chiesa — there’s been a lot of chatter about this being a foul, but it’s hard for me to say so, as it looked like Darmian moved in and got position just before the contact — and quickly whipped it around to Sommer and then back out to Dumfries, at which point the Juve defense began a total breakdown. Kostic came in at a bad angle, allowing Dumfries to easily move the ball to Barella, whose one-touch pass evaded a wild sliding challenge from Rugani on its way to Thuram. Bremer then failed to stay in front of his man, allowing the league’s leader in assists to send in an excellent cross along the ground to Martinez, whose movement was perfect, pulling up ever so slightly on his run to give him the room to then scamper in front of Gatti and stroke the ball home to tie the score.

That, unfortunately, was pretty much the last real action the entire game. Martinez and Gatti traded shots that went well wide before the half. Five minutes after the break Thuram found himself on the end of a good interchange between Barella and Mkhitaryan, but he couldn’t get any power on his shot and it was easily saved by Szczesny.

That was it.

That was the last shot of the game.

For the next 40 minutes both teams clammed up, not wanting to be the one that made the mistake that allowed the other team to break and claim the lead. The most notable part of the rest of the game was the entrance of Cuadrado in the 70th minute. The Colombian was loudly jeered every time the ball came anywhere near him. By the end of the game it was clearly getting to his head, and had his foot been a little higher on Kostic the yellow card he got five minutes after he came on might have been a different color.

So the game flopped to its conclusion, and when the last whistle blew, the game ended as one of the strangest draws you’ll ever see.

LE PAGELLE

WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6.5. Commanded his box well and was equal to almost everything Inter threw at him. Unfortunately Lautaro’s goal was unsavable.

FEDERICO GATTI - 5.5. Martinez’s movement was very good, but Gatti was also more than a little toasted on the goal. Played fairly well besides and led the team with five interceptions.

BREMER - 5.5. Letting Thuram get that cross in was a killer. If you can’t stop him, foul him. Like Gatti, played pretty well besides that moment, but the one mistake was a big one.

DANIELE RUGANI - 5.5. Another case of “but for that one moment” when it comes to the goal, in his case the wild sliding challenge that Barella bypassed easily.

ANDREA CAMBIASO - 6. Nothing notable either way in this game. He stood his ground well against a tricky opponent in Dimarco while playing out of position on the right because of the injury crunch. Overall a decent day.

WESTON McKENNIE - 5.5. Led the team in tackles with three, but wasn’t able to help much going forward. He and Cambiaso seemed to swap positions a few times in the early going, but he couldn’t get things going out wide, either.

HANS NICOLUSSI CAVIGLIA - 4. Thrown into the very, VERY deep end with the shortage of bodies in midfield, and he was clearly a step behind everyone else on the field. He made one really nice pass early in the game (it was cleared by some equally good defending), but after that looked hesitant. He wasn’t making his mind up until it was too late to do anything, and his attempts at tackles and/or closing down passing lanes tended to be a little off, and he took the safe lateral pass instead of trying to get it into the box. He’s still probably going to be needed for the next few weeks, so hopefully he can take a breath and use this to move forward.

ADRIEN RABIOT - 6.5. Made a pair of key passes and was solid defensively with two tackles and two clearances. He was the rock the midfield needed with Nicolussi looking so shaky.

FILIP KOSTIC - 5. Had some nice counting stats in the defensive department, but he was the start of the defensive breakdown that led to the goal, and did next to nothing offensively. It was stunning that he was on the field as long as he was.

FEDERICO CHIESA - 6. Didn’t get much to work with. What he did get was a mixed bag, as his big miss early wasn’t great, but his assist was excellent and he was the only player other than Rabiot to record a key pass (he had two).

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Serie A TIM Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6.5. One of the more complete games we’ve seen from him in a while. His goal was expertly taken. Look deeper, you see holdup play that is easily the best he’s had in a while. This was a game that he can build on, and he has to pick it up and run with it.

SUBS

MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Instantly improved the overall midfield play. Attempted more passes in 30 minutes than Nicolussi did in 60 and completed 95.5 percent of them. Here’s hoping that rib heals up soon.

MOISE KEAN - NR. Got hardly any service and was more often back defending.

ARKADIUSZ MILIK - NR. Got even less of the ball than Kean did, touching it only twice in 11 minutes.

ALEX SANDRO - NR. There was no greater sign that Allegri was settling for the draw than the introduction of Sandro into the game. Even in only two minutes plus stoppage time, he managed to look bad, as he let Cuadrado — who can barely dribble past anyone these days — get right past him not long after he arrived on the pitch. He needs to stay far away from the field.

MANAGER ANALYSIS

This game was Allegri’s season in microcosm. Play some more proactive football. Look better. Score. Get punched in the mouth, in this instance in the form of the equalizer. Immediately turtle up and defend deep.

Allegri’s risk aversion has become so extreme that WhoScored has started listing Juve’s starting formation as a 5-3-2. He’s gone so far down the “don’t lose” hole that he’s straight up saying in his post-match press conference that his main objective Sunday night was to avoid defeat. That’s a deeply un-Juventus way of looking at things, and it speaks to the deeper problem with the present-day version of Allegri as a coach.

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-JUVENTUS-INTER Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

The danger of an Inter counterattack is very real, but if you don’t risk, there’s no reward, and in this case the reward would’ve been first place, for the first time in years. It’s worth taking a risk. Why not replace Kostic, who was clearly struggling, with Samuel Iling-Junior, who would have injected a massive dose of pace and creativity into the team. It would’ve especially been interesting to see him match up against Cuadrado, whose declining speed is one of the major reasons Juve let him go this summer. I’d wager he would have burned him multiple times.

A manager who coaches not to lose instead of to win is fundamentally limited. Allegri showed himself to be just that on both the micro and macro scales. Until they’re coached by someone who does go for the victory, they won’t take the next step that’s necessary to compete at the level we all want them to.

LOOKING AHEAD

The schedule gets quirky in the near future, as Juve play their next three games on Fridays. That run starts this week with an away game at Monza, then a home game against defending champions (barf) Napoli, and finally a trip to the Marassi to face Genoa.