Inter v Juventus
Serie A Week 4 – Sunday, 18th September – 17:00 GMT – Stadio San Siro
The result against Sevilla was not that bad in the context of the group stage, but certainly the performance was frustrating, especially after that scintillating half against Sassuolo. There must be some kind of mental block, because in Champions League Juventus are rarely as imposing as in Serie A, usually coming out of the gates really slowly and often too tentative. The Spanish side was very attentive and organized and crowded the spaces really well, but we face numerous teams like that in Italy, and usually there are no issues: we keep pounding until the wall cracks. But in Europe we do not seem able to mount repeated attacks with the usual fury we see in the domestic league. That being said, the squad deserved to win the game because the second half was pretty good, with plenty of chances to score, but the sluggish starts will need to be assessed because they could be costly in the future.
Juventus will now face their historical enemy and the bout arrives at an ideal time because of where Inter are in their team-building process. Massimiliano Allegri will have to deal with the difficult task of managing energies in a busy time of the year and also keeping everybody happy from the playing time standpoint. The next game is at home against Cagliari, so there will probably be a little more rotation there, but the physical condition after this quick turnaround will be the main factor in some choices.
For instance, it was announced that Dani Alves has a bruised thigh: nothing too serious, no strains or tears, but it could be enough to keep him sidelined for this one. Stephan Lichsteiner would be the first in line to replace him, but after all, we acquired Juan Cuadrado for a reason and this might be his time to shine.
As for the XI, there are basically doubts at any level. In the defence, Leonardo Bonucci missed time because of family reasons, while Andrea Barzagli was spared against Sassuolo: could it be Giorgio Chiellini’s time to rest now? Medhi Benatia would take his place if that happened. Alex Sandro will most likely start as left wing back.
The trickiest situation is in the midfield: against Sassuolo, Allegri put on hold his “Miralem Pjanic as deep-lying playmaker experiment”, choosing Mario Lemina in that position. He then benched the Bosnian ace in Champions League, a decision that make many scratch their heads, in favour of Kwadwo Asamoah. Lemina did not have a great game on Tuesday and the midfield struggled to move the ball, especially considering that Paulo Dybala, who now likes to come back to initiate the action, was always trapped by two or three opponents. Whatever the position, I think Pjanic is sorely needed to have better and quicker distribution.
Sami Khedira has been outstanding so far, but we know that he has a giant “handle with care” advice all over him: the coaching staff only once fielded him thrice in a week last season. He was pulled early against Sassuolo, but with Stefano Sturaro and Claudio Marchisio both out with injuries, there isn’t a natural replacement for him. In that occasion, Hernanes entered the game and Lemina moved to the right-hand. I do not think it is appropriate to start Hernanes in a game of this magnitude, but I would not be shocked to see a Lemina-Pjanic-Asamoah midfield in this one, or in the next. Of course the easy fix would be to try Pjanic on the right-hand: I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play there, but it should not be a great adjustment from his usual position.
Gonzalo Higuain and Dybala are set to start again: we will see how long we can go before Mario Mandzukic’s lack of playing time becomes an issue. However, it is clear what the best duo is and, thanks to his skills, Marko Pjaca could really be a very nice weapon off the bench.
3-5-2: Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichsteiner, Khedira, Lemina, Pjanic, Sandro; Higuain, Dybala.
Marchisio (knee), Sturaro (knee), Mandragora (foot)
Inter have undergone as many changes as you could go in one summer: the new Suning ownership took over, new coach in the middle of August, many new players. However, other than ten fiery minutes against Pescara, things have not been much better compared to last season, but that is to be expected considering the massive task that is putting together a team after the season has already started, without the benefit of the stress-free environment of the preseason.
I think that the additions of Joao Mario, Ever Banega, Antonio Candreva, Gabriel Barbosa and Cristian Ansaldi will eventually be all rated from good to excellent, but I am not quite sure all the pieces fit together. For instance, Frank De Boer is now going with a tactic that excludes Geoffrey Kondogbia, while Marcelo Brozovic is essentially a forgotten man: that seems ungenerous to me, considering not only their obvious talent but also how much they either paid or could have gotten if they sold those players. For starters, one issue they definitely have is that they have too many players from the waist up and I do not think you could just ask some off them to play well once in two weeks in the Europa League, where many of their good ones are excluded because of Financial Fair Play restrictions. Continuity and familiarity are necessary to perform at high level as a team.
Furthermore, more should have been done to improve the defence: Miranda and Jeison Murillo are reliable, yet over-hyped, but there is no depth; Andrea Ranocchia and Marco Andreolli are the backups, and their fullbacks are just meh. Danilo D’Ambrosio and Yuto Nagatomo are JAGs, Davide Santon actually failed three medicals this summer: the newcomer Cristian Ansaldi was awesome at Genoa last season, but suffered a knee sprain that has not allowed him to debut this season. He could return and take Nagatomo’s spot this week, just like Santon could displace D’Ambrosio, but there is not much difference there.
On the pitch, they are disjointed, weak in the back, toothless upfront. The main concern is that they do not play with much energy or pride, as the collapse against Hapoel Beer Sheva has shown, and they appear to be mentally fragile when things do not go well. So far they have been beaten by Chievo Verona, they have drawn at home against Palermo and they have defeated Pescara thanks to a late game surge.
De Boer is tinkering with the schemes: he is likely to field a 4-2-3-1 with Banega as attacking midfielder, Mario and Gary Medel in front of the defence. I am not convinced this is the best use of the Portuguese starlet, whom I think could give a lot offensively in a different position, maybe in a three-man midfield. Ivan Perisic missed practice time and the Europa League game because of muscle fatigue: he will be a game-time decision, if he is out Eder is the favourite to take his spot in the lineup, with Rodrigo Palacio and Stevan Jovetic as the other not so appealing options.
Or maybe De Boer will change everything once again: after all he is the one who opted for a very strange and unnatural 3-4-1-2 against Chievo Verona. They have the versatility to play multiple formations, but that is probably not a plus for them at this time.
4-2-3-1: Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Miranda, Murillo, Nagatomo; Mario, Medel; Candreva, Banega, Eder; Icardi.