As the month of December started, you could be forgiven for looking ahead a little bit. Once Christmas arrived, it had probably already been done, especially considering that Juventus’ schedule was full of teams in the bottom half of the table outside of a matchup against Roma that put one of the final nails in Jose Mourinho’s coffin. And when the calendar flipped to the new year? Oh baby, you better believe that looking over at the horizon was in full force.
Looking ahead, as the fans that we are, is only natural. Everybody is guilty of it. That’s especially true when you’ve got Juve and Inter jostling for position in first and second place like they have for months now.
Guess what? There’s no more reason to look ahead. Mainly because the reason we were looking ahead even as Juve went on a high-scoring January run (minus last weekend) is upon us.
It is most definitely a Sunday night showcase at the San Siro this weekend. And while the Serie A standings don’t look like we hoped they would look like entering last weekend, Juventus’ objective is very much a clear one: to either leave Milan still trailing by a single point or head home knowing that you are once again the league leaders. But Sunday’s task will not be an easy one considering that Inter Milan, the current Serie A leaders, have been the best in the league from the first week of the season until the present day.
Yet, as we head into the second Derby d’Italia of the season, the Scudetto race looks a little something like this:
- Inter — 54 points
- Juventus — 53 points
I’m guessing that’s a surprise to many considering all of the issues that Juventus had the last few years and their simple inability to add much to the roster last summer because of the financial restrictions they were under. Yet, here we are, looking at a Derby d’Italia during the first weekend in February and Juventus is one single point behind the team a lot of people picked to win the league. That’s not nothing! But knowing that Inter have a game in hand and the Serie A lead, this is very much Juve’s only direct chance to get an advantage on their arch rivals from Lombardi.
(Don’t forget this, too: With their comeback win over Frosinone on Saturday, AC Milan is now all of four points behind Juventus in the standings. Things are certainly a lot closer from first place down to third than they were a month or so ago.)
That kind of “this one will decide the Scudetto” theme is something Max Allegri, understandably and predictably, played down during his pre-match press conference. He talked more about the big picture and just how his team has earned this opportunity — one that could see them end the night atop the league table. With there being so much of the schedule left — Juventus will have 15 league games left after Sunday, while Inter will have 16 — there are likely a few more twists and turns ahead. That’s especially true when it comes to the simple fact that Allegri’s squad can focus solely on Serie A for the next couple of months as they see what Inter can do in the Champions League knockout rounds, which gets underway later this month.
But there is no denying that this is the biggest Derby d’Italia that has been played in a couple of years. There’s certainly more stakes attached to it than anything we’ve seen the last couple of years. And when you think about it beyond just Allegri’s second tenure with the club, this is probably the biggest Juventus-Inter matchup since March 2020 when then-manager Maurizio Sarri beat Antonio Conte at an empty Allianz Stadium because Italy was about to go into full-on COVID-19 lockdown. (Like, the very next day, folks.)
That win over Inter, with goals from Aaron Ramsey (!!!) and Paulo Dybala, allowed Juve to remain atop the Serie A table at a time in which we didn’t know when football was coming back into our lives. (We did launch a podcast during the break and that’s gone pretty well, I think.) That was the last time Juve ended the season atop the table. Hell, before taking advantage of Inter’s participation in the Supercoppa mini-tournament, it had been a while since Juve had even ended a matchday in first place.
They can do that again with a win Sunday night.
It’s not going to be an easy one by any means, though.
You’ve got the top two defenses in the league, with both squads defending so well as a team rather than relying solely on the individual matchups. That makes you think that it will lean toward the low-scoring affair with so much on the line. It will be a tall task for a Juventus attack that feasted on relegation battlers for much of the last six weeks when they were one of the highest scoring teams in Europe during the month of January. And even tougher against an Inter side that allows a league-best 10.1 shots per game.
Inter’s also got claim to being the highest scoring team in the league, too. Lautaro Martinez, now Inter’s captain, is the midst of his best season since coming to Milan in 2018. He’s sitting atop the Serie A scoring chart with 19 goals, which is just two short of his 21-goal tally from each of the last seasons. They’ve gone from Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko up front to Marcus Thuram and made the transition about as smooth as can be. Their midfield is still the class of the league, with manager Simone Inzaghi proving that he’s really, really good at this.
Juventus’ task? To slow down an Inter training that somewhat like themselves, isn’t coming off the greatest of performances the last time out but still was able to get three points with a win over Fiorentina and retake first place in Serie A. Juve showed the first time around against Inter they could hang, so now it’s about beating them over 90 minutes and making this Scudetto race even more exciting.
Winning at the San Siro is never easy. That’s going to be even more of the case Sunday night as a sold out crowd will know exactly what is at stake. Juve and Allegri have passed a lot of the big game tests so far this season, but this is the biggest one yet — and will need the kind of performance to match.
- Arek Milik will be serving a one-game suspension this weekend due to the red card he picked up last than 20 minutes into last weekend’s draw with Empoli.
- The other two suspended players are the two who have been suspended for months now, Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli.
- The two players who are out injured aren’t a surprise, either: Mattia De Sciglio and Moise Kean. The good news is that Alegri has told Kean to recover quickly, so that should help speed things up.
- Fret not, Juventini! Both Adrien Rabiot and Federico Chiesa both returned to training with the group earlier this week and are good to go for Sunday’s trip to Milan.
- Also good to go: Weston McKennie, who had to gut it out for the vast majority of last weekend’s draw with Empoli after taking a very early knock.
- Tiago Djaló has been called up for the first time by Allegri, with the veteran manager adding “we’re inserting Tiago Djaló more slowly as he is coming off an injury.”
- Carlos Alcaraz, despite having just one day of training with his new teammates after arriving in Turin on Thursday night, has also been called up by Allegri.
- Allegri said he’s still trying to decide on his starting lineup, with the decision to go with either Chiesa or Kenan Yildiz probably being the biggest decision still out there.
- Unlike in the first Derby d’italia of the season, our old buddy Juan Cuadrado will not be around to take part as he is still out injured after undergoing surgery on his Achilles tendon.
JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH
Oh, you thought I’d go with the guy who has scored more goals than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues in the month of January? Nope, try again.
OK, so what about the guy who will likely be marking Serie A’s top scorer this season? Nope, not that one, either.
Instead, just say it with me now: Max, Juve’s most famous manbun isssssssss back.
That’s right, folks. Everybody’s favorite Frenchman who is actually eligible to play will be back in the starting lineup Sunday night after missing the last couple of weeks due to injury. As much as Fabio Miretti has the capability of doing good things, Juventus’ midfield is one in which Adrien Rabiot is very much needed these days — and especially when you’re playing against arguably the best midfield in the league.
Rabiot has not had the blinder of a season that he had a year ago. Contract Year Rabiot 2.0 hasn’t been as simply great as the first edition was. That’s not to say he has been bad or played a lot like his first few years (sans the first couple of post-lockdown months), but the simple fact of the matter is that him being simply one of Juventus’ best players from opening weekend to now just isn’t like it was last season.
That doesn’t mean Rabiot isn’t any less important to Juventus’ midfield, though.
Inter’s midfield will be at full strength again after dealing with a pair of suspensions last weekend against Fiorentina. Nicolo Barella will be rested. Hakan Çalhanoğlu will be rested, too. They weren’t rehabbing an injury like Rabiot has been over that same time period, but all three will surely be on the field come the opening kickoff Sunday night.
So, yeah. Juventus’ midfield will be back to its best. (Or, the best it can be under the circumstances in which we’ve been under for months now.) Inter’s midfield will be back to its (well-rested) best as well. Does that mean more for Juventus or Inter? Considering Rabiot’s importance and how things have looked with him out of the lineup the last month or so, you could very well say it’s Juve.
For Rabiot, the individual dual between himself and Barella will be crucial considering the Italian is basically the human version of the Energizer Bunny who just keeps running and running and running. And knowing how Allegri could set things up, Rabiot’s height could also be very crucial when it comes dangerous set pieces.
Yes, Rabiot is still an enigma who we might never truly figure out. But I know this: Having Rabiot in Juventus’ midfield is a lot better than him missing out this season. So yeah, he’s pretty damn important, folks.
When: Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.
Where: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, 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+, CBS Sports Golazo (United States); fuboTV Canada (Canada); discovery+, discovery+ app (United Kingdom); DAZN Italy, 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.