It’s always lovely to beat Inter.
Beating Inter twice in one season? Doubly nice.
For the first time since 2019-20, Juventus has done the double over their most hated rivals. Like that season, Juve turned in close to two of their best, if not the two best performances of the season in their victories.
Inter barely threatened all game long. After two good opportunities that saw Nicolo Barella force saves out of Wojciech Szczesny, they went completely silent. Juve played their usual defensive game, but like the first game against Inter, they did so in a proactive way that helped their counterattack get going. Despite Inter dominating possession to the tune of 69.4 percent, it was Juventus that were in control of the match.
Even though Inter outshot Juventus by an 18-7 clip, the teams were level with three each on target. It proved enough for the Bianconeri, whose winner came via an excellent counterattack, albeit one that produced no small amount of controversy thanks to a long VAR check that failed to determine whether there was clear evidence that Adrien Rabiot handled the ball in the buildup. The hosts’ outrage was palpable, but ultimately futile, and Sunday night’s 1-0 victory vaulted Juve to within four points of the European places.
Massimiliano Allegri came into this Derby d’Italia with a selection headache on his hands. Moise Kean was serving the second of his two game suspension. Arkadiusz Milik and Kaio Jorge were still injured, while Federico Cheisa and Angel Di Maria were both only fit for the bench. Paul Pogba and Fabio Miretti were also out, as was Alex Sandro, while Leonardo Bonucci was likewise on the bench. Allegri deployed his usual 3-5-1-1, with Szczesny behind the back three of Federico Gatti, Bremer, and Danilo. Mattia De Sciglio joined Filip Kostic on the wings, sandwiching Nicolo Fagioli, Manuel Locatelli, and Rabiot. Matias Soule was given the start in Di Maria’s role behind Dusan Vlahvoic up front.
Simone Inzaghi also had some key absences coming in, mainly in defense, where Alessandro Bastoni, Milan Skriniar, and Roben Gosens all missed out. Andre Onana started in goal for the team, with Stefan De Vrij, Francesco Acerbi, and Matteo Darmian in front of him. Denzel Dumfries and Federico Dimarco bracketed the midfield of Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, and Hakan Calhanoglu. Laurtaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku formed the strike pair.
Inter threatened within the first two minutes of the match when Barella took a pass from Calhanoglu and took advantage of some spotty positioning by Rabiot to unleash a 20-yard shot that Szczesny dove to parry behind.
The two teams traded probing attacks for the next 15 minutes. Inter took the lion’s share of the possession but were constantly harassed by Juve’s midfielders and forwards, who pressed well when the ball was near them to make trying to pass through them an unpleasant affair. It wasn’t until 18 minutes that either keeper was called upon in earnest. Barella was again the man going for goal, this time after an excellent sequence of exchanges with Lukaku that set him up in the left channel. Szczesny made himself big, but Barella ended up hitting a powerful shot right into his midriff, keeping the Inter midfielder from another goal against Juve and keeping the score level.
The significance of that save was stark five minutes later, when Rabiot took down a long ball from Gatti. He exchanged passes with Vlahovic, including a dink over a defender’s head, and then found a completely unmarked Kostic inside the box. The Serbian wing-back had all kinds of time in the box, and as Darmian finally closed him he fired through the defender’s legs. Onana was completely unsighted by Dumfries and didn’t even move as Kostic unleashing a worm-burner shot that sped into the far side of the goal.
There was a long VAR check as there were once again questions as to whether or not Rabiot controlled his arm with the ball, but it was determined that there was no camera angle that made it definitive, and referee Daniele Chiffi eventually confirmed the validity of the strike.
Kostic came close to turning provider within two minutes, but his pullback was a little behind Soule. With five minutes to go in the half he nearly had a brace in his pocket when Fagioli put an excellent ground cross his way, but Barella made a last-ditch tackle to deny him the service.
It had been 28 games since Juve had lost a game after scoring first, and they showed no sign of letting that stat change. Inter came at the Juve goal early and often in the second half, but they were denied the opportunity to test Szczesny every time. Sometimes a move was stopped with a simple intervention, while others, like a huge sliding block by Locatelli after Calhanoglu made a heavy touch receiving a pass in the box, were far more eye-catching.
Juve continued to respond on the counter, and came agonizingly close on a few occasions to stretching their lead. A great low cross from Vlahovic was destined for a tap-in before a last-ditch slide by Darmian put it behind. In the 58th minute Vlahovic went himself and was denied easily by Onana when he had Fagioli all alone to his right, then Soule hesitated in the box on a potential shooting chance, eventually pulling back to Locatelli who fizzed one on frame from outside the box that Onana needed two opportunities to control.
Inzaghi was the first to change things just after the hour, bringing on Henrikh Mkhytarian and Danilele D’Ambrosio, the latter of whom for an injured Dimarco and the former surprisingly taking the place of Barella, who had been one of Inter’s most consistently threatening player. Allegri responded by sending on Federico Chiesa for Soule,
As the game ticked on, Juve’s press started faltering. allowing Inter to push them a little further back at times, but Inter seemed to be running out of ideas as they attacked. The only time they hit the target in the second half came on a long-distance free kick that Calhanoglu tried to bounce in front of Szczesny, only for the Poland international to secure it easily.
With 15 minutes left, Dumfries nearly had a great assist with a low cross into the 6-yard box, but Gatti read it perfectly and beat Lukaku to the spot. Kostic was then denied a brace again when his shot from the center of the box was deflected just wide by Mkhitaryan. An excellent tackle by Locatelli started a 3-on-2 break, but Onana got his fingertips to Chiesa’s cross back to the midfielder and redirected it away from him.
That sequence proved costly, as Chiesa started looking uncomfortable and was withdrawn for Leandro Paredes with eight minutes to go. Juve took the blow in stride and continued to see the game out. The only dangerous moments they saw came from long range, one a free kick from Calhanoglu in the last minute of regular time that hit the wall, and then a sweet volley from Mkhitaryan off a defensive header that flew just over. Juve milked the clock for all it was worth when they were in possession, and once they had secured the victory the combination of animosity and frustration came out to the fore, and D’Ambrosio and Paredes were both shown red cards after the final whistle as jawing turned into a fully fledged fight at the end of another ill-tempered derby.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 8. Totally commanded his box. If a cross did manage to get by his defense, it was in his hands. His twin stops on Barella in the first half were both excellent and prevented what would have been a game-altering opener.
FEDERICO GATTI - 8. He’s picked an incredible week to play the two best games he’s played in his life. Early in the season it looked like the top flight was going too fast for him, but things have clearly slowed down, and he turned in a fantastic performance today. He racked up three tackles, three interceptions, six clearances, and a blocked shot, and simply looked like he belonged at this level.
BREMER - 8. Imperious. A whopping 10 clearances, and he never let anything remotely within reach get past him. The entire Inter front line was in his pocket.
DANILO - 7. Steady as always. Two tackles, four clearances, three interceptions, and the leadership out of the back that we’ve come to expect from him.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 6.5. Had a key pass and was the only Juve player to place an accurate cross, while on the defensive end he had five clearances. Ran himself into the ground, as he was absolutely gassed when he came off.
NICOLO FAGIOLI - 7.5. His counting stats weren’t anything to write home about, but Fagioli was simply everywhere Sunday night. Find a big moment, and he was close to it. Released a couple of counters with long passes, and frankly would’ve had a goal had teammates found him on the counter a few times. He has consolidated this starting spot.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 7. Another immense defensive performance. Tied for second on the team with six clearances, and defended doggedly the entire night.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 7. Arm? No arm? Doesn’t really matter in the end, because the goal was given and Rabiot had yet another excellent match. His assist for Kostic — and indeed that whole sequence — was excellent, and he had another key pass as well. Contributed on the defensive end with four clearances and a pair of tackles and interceptions.
FILIP KOSTIC - 7. Gorgeously taken goal, and was flying up and down the left wing all night. Hopefully he isn’t worked too hard on national team duty, because he deserves a rest.
MATIAS SOULE - 6. There were at least two moments where he should have gotten more selfish and taken a shot on himself, but he played very well, finishing with a key pass and a team-high three dribbles. He didn’t look out of place despite his tender age.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6. Didn’t get his goal but worked his ass off holding the ball up and bombing downfield on the counter. If he keeps working like this the goals will come.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 6. Posed a threat on the counterattack, and made two tackles in the brief time he was on the pitch before he was withdrawn, reportedly due to tendonitis.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Helped lock down the right flank after De Sciglio was spent.
LEANDRO PAREDES - NR. Only touched the ball once in eight minutes, got himself booked for time wasting, and then a post-game red card. This feels like his season at Juve in microcosm.
Allegri’s defensive tactics have grated on me for a while since his return, but that’s been because they have so often be reactive, sitting back and letting the pressure come and hopefully getting through for a counterattack once the opponent is done trying to do their thing.
But defending can be proactive, and it’s then that Allegri’s tactics can be excellent. Juve’s best games have been when defend proactively, with a higher press that pushes for the ball further up the field, giving them shorter fields with which to counter while simultaneously making it harder for the opponent to get the ball into the positions they want it to be in.
Ironically, one of the games up to this point that Juve had done this the best in was the reverse fixture against Inter at the Allianz, when the Nerazzurri were completely smothered and Juve won 2-0 just before the World Cup break. They did basically the same thing at the San Siro on Sunday night. Inter were never comfortable attacking, and only once did they get the ball through the defense into a truly dangerous spot.
If Allegri is going to have success with the kind of football he wants to play, it has to be this — a proactive defense that presses the opponent into mistakes and clamps down on their attack before it gets to the penalty area. If they slip back into a reactive pose, then the incredibly difficult April ahead could turn ugly.
It’s time for the international break, scattering the team to their respective national sides for the next two weeks.
Hopefully the players manage to get a modicum of rest over the break, international duty or not, because April is going to be hellacious. They will play nine games over the 30 days of the month, starting with a home game against Hellas Verona on April Fool’s Day.