Facing the Scudetto favorite on their home field was always going to be a challenging affair for Juventus on Sunday night. That means a repeat of a performance like we saw in the first Derby d’Italia or even last weekend from Max Allegri’s squad wasn’t going to bode well.
That’s why the hope was that Juve, coming off a very impressive month of January before they dropped points against Empoli in Turin, could seriously try and give Inter a run for their money.
Turns out, that those hopes ... yeah, they were dashed rather quickly.
Allegri did his damndest to corto muso it up in what proved to be a very cagey kind of first half, one in which Juventus couldn’t do much going forward. Even things opening up much more in the second half couldn’t equal any sort of success against one of the toughest defenses in Europe to score against. That meant the one time that the ball did find the back of the net, a Federico Gatti own goal late in the first half, proved to be the difference in Inter’s 1-0 win over Juventus at the San Siro that now gives the current Serie A leaders plenty of breathing room at the top of the table — and the chance for even more knowing that they have a game in hand.
The performance that Juventus laid out there did not match the one of their opponent, and Inter certainly could have added onto their lead in the second half if not for a pair of world-class saves from Wojciech Szczesny on two of the Nerazzurri’s best scoring chances of the night.
It was a different story in attack for Juventus, who struggled in the final third to both connect passes from the very first minute until the last. And when they did actually connect in the final third, it’s not like they were peppering the Inter goal whatsoever, giving Yann Sommer quite the quiet night after being one of his team’s heroes last weekend.
Juve finished with one shot on target. One. It came in the 72nd minute. And that one was a slow dribbler off the left foot of Dusan Vlahovic from just outside the box. The xG of that shot? 0.07. That’s not great.
Yet that kinda summed up Juventus’ night going forward. For every Gatti shot that whizzed just wide of the Inter goal, there’s a whole lot of crosses from a handful of Juve players that resulted in absolutely nothing. Or a handful of flicks and combination attempts that didn’t connect. Or dribble attempts that ran right into an Inter player or two.
Once Juventus fell behind by a goal eight minutes before halftime, they needed to suddenly ramp things up after Allegri set things quite deep to begin the game. The second half was much more open — Juve actually outshot Inter 10-6 — but again, it’s not like Sommer was called into action time and time again.
Instead, we saw Inter manager Simone Inzaghi set things up to see the game out as the second half went on and his players executed it perfectly. As much as Juventus needed some sort of breakthrough, they just couldn’t find it. That’s in part their own fault, but it’s also simply down to the fact that Inter — especially when playing with the lead in the second half — were defending pretty damn well, too.
Allegri set this up for a 1-0 win over a draw and got burned by it. That was certainly a big decision when you’re playing against the highest-scoring team in the league that just so happens to have two of the most in-form strikers that Serie A has to offer.
There’s so much of the season left that you can’t officially declare the Scudetto race over. But when you consider the fact that the deficit is now four points and Inter have a game in hand, a loss to your direct rival for the title just makes it feel that way.
Simply put, even getting back to the top of the table won’t be easy now. It was never going to be easy, per se. Now, though, it’s going to take both Juve being near-perfect the rest of the way and some major help along the way.
And just the way things have gone the last eight days makes it all the worse.
Juventus could have gone into Sunday night’s game with the Serie A lead. Instead, thanks in large part to Arek Milik getting sent off and putting his team behind the 8 ball for well over an hour, Juve dropped points against Empoli, a team that hadn’t done much of anything right for the previous three months. They followed it up with this kind of performance against the best team in the league — which, no matter how you slice it, is going to be a tough ask even when Inter aren’t at their high-flying best.
But this loss now makes the chances of seriously giving Inter a run for their money into the spring is even more of an uphill battle. Maybe they get back into a very close race, I dunno, but this just feels like a major punch to the gut on a night where Juve could have announced themselves as a big-time threat to the team everybody expects to win the title.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- All of that being said — and this will hurt to say — but Inter are the better team overall and they were the better team on the night. This two things are simply the truth and there’s going to be no conspiracy theories thrown out there to try and tell you otherwise.
- Maybe this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but here goes nothin’: I’m not sure that Gatti could have done a whole lot more against Marcus Thuram on what proved to be the only goal of the night. Could he have been a little closer to Thuram? Maybe, but then you’re also risking him throwing himself to the turf with even more contact as Gatti’s going for the ball. (And we all know how refs have been with Inter PKs this season!) So, yeah, it’s hard to say because you’re suddenly going from trying to anticipate where the ball will go as Benjamin Pavard flies through the air to trying to fend off Thuram and clear the ball. Just a brutal thing to try and defend.
- In more positive defensive opinions, I sure am happy Juventus swooped in and signed Bremer from under Inter’s nose because damn is that guy good.
- Ten minutes in and this is what the possession numbers looked like: Inter 80%, Juventus 20%. At times it felt even more than that.
- Juve nearly doubled that total by the end of the first half with 39% possession. But there was one very noticeable thing outside of the score at halftime: Juve had no shots on goal.
- The big one, of course, was Dusan Vlahovic’s touch letting him down after a simply great run from midfield by Weston McKennie. It’s the most obvious of obvious statements, but Vlahovic has to do better there. It just gets magnified even more with how few chances Juve had in the opening half.
- Something else about the first half that needs to be said: Both of those yellows on Vlahovic and Danilo were total BS. Danilo’s was even worse than the one Vlahovic got. Like, what are we even doing here, man? There are plenty of reasons why Serie A refereeing has been terrible for years now, and it’s stuff like those two instances that don’t help matters at all.
- Wojciech Szczesny’s best save of the night occurred in the 69th minute. Nice.
- Please note that the previous bullet point was written in the 70th minute and well before the save Szczesny made about 17 minutes later that was even better than the first one.
- If Szczesny didn’t make either of those saves, this could have been an extremely ugly night and the theme of this thread would be a whole lot more grumpy than it is now.
- But that is also something that sums up Juve’s night: If it hadn’t been for Szczesny ... yikes!
- This was a night in which Kenan Yildiz looked very much like the inexperienced 18-year-old that he is. That’s obviously not a shot at him because he’s never played in this kind of game before outside of when he started Turkey’s game against Germany a few months back, so it’s totally understandable. But, you know, let’s not kill the guy.
- Also, this was about as quiet of a night for Andrea Cambiaso as we’ve seen since he became a regular starter a few months ago. I don’t know how much that had to do with him trying to deal with Federico Dimarco down the wing, but I’m guessing it played a decent role. (Plus the whole thing with Juve barely being on the ball for much of the first half.)
- Why is Alex Sandro being thrown on when you need a goal? Somebody answer that for me.
- Outside of when Federico Chiesa and Timothy Weah came on, Allegri’s timing on the subs just didn’t make much sense. They just came way too late for my liking knowing what the score was and how the second half was going.
- Charly! We got to see Charly Alcaraz!
- One day of training and you’re thrown in as a late sub in the Derby d’Italia. What a time.
- I feel like Weston McKennie’s performance was one of the few bright spots to take out of this one. He played very well.
- Personally, I feel like napping the rest of the day after that. I’m guessing I’m not alone. Nobody outside of Inter fans actually want to see Inter celebrating nice things. (Then again, the same can certainly be said about Juventus, so sometimes you just gotta sleep through it all.)