Juventus v Inter
Serie A Week 26 – Sunday, 1st March – 14:00 GMT – Juventus Stadium
It turns out that football was way too optimistic about the coronavirus epidemy and now it is laughable to think that they wanted to play this game last Monday or the Wednesday’s Coppa one with Milan with fans on the stands. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen for a while and Juventus will have to deal with this disadvantageous situation versus Inter and against Lyon and likely longer. Football with no supporters is absolutely terrible, but it is still a bit better than no football at all.
The weird thing is that the situation at the club has seemingly gotten gloomier even without any match happening, because of Andrea Agnelli’s questionable words on Atalanta and in general on meritocracy in football and the sniping between the parts for the recent postponements. This bout looks more and more as the one that will make or break the season and the sensations go in the wrong direction, so it will be up to the players and the coach to quash the doubts on the pitch.
Giorgio Chiellini is healthier compared to Wednesday and therefore he has a chance to play over Matthijs De Ligt, but risking him does not make much sense, also because the Dutch starlet’s level of performance has not been an issue at all. If anything, in order to launch an aggressive signal, the captain would have to substitute Leonardo Bonucci, but that would bring a lot of problems in the build-up of the action.
The question marks regarding the lineup remain the same, so either Adrien Rabiot or Blaise Matuidi on the left-hand side and then either Juan Cuadrado or Gonzalo Higuain in the front-line and the second decision might influence the first too. There is no perfect scenario because Rabiot, even in his off days, serves a precious secondary ball-handler, on the other hand trotting out a more energetic player makes a lot of sense in this tilt, but Matuidi has visible technical limitations. Paulo Dybala as false-nine might be engulfed by their giant centre-backs and Gonzalo Higuain is better suited to go toe-to-toe with them, but Cuadrado makes the formation wider, which comes in handy in the passive phase too.
Some whispers suggest Aaron Ramsey could be picked over Bentancur and Dybala kept as a weapon off the bench, but that would be very surprising and the attack in particular would struggle creatively with neither La Joya or Douglas Costa out there slinging the ball around. If anything, it should perhaps be considered having the ex-Arsenal man join Bentancur and Pjanic, even though one of the two box-to-box would have to feature on his less preferred side of the pitch, but I do not think it would be that big of a problem.
4-3-3: Szczesny; Danilo, Bonucci, De Ligt, Sandro; Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi; Cuadrado, Dybala, Ronaldo.
The question mark hanging all over the clash is whether there is more pressure on them, as they lost to Lazio in the most recent Serie A game and another pivotal loss would be brutal for their title hopes, or on Juventus, for the aforementioned reason and the general malaise that is going through the club.
Antonio Conte gets mad when they say that Inter are a team that sit back and counter, but that does not make it untrue and Romelu Lukaku is particular has been devastating in those situations. However, it is a very reductive description and they would have not been able to rack up this many points relying just on that gambit, which is rarely applicable against the minnows. They have peaks of smothering intensity that can overwhelm any opponent and, even if at times they do play possum, it never feels like they are out of the game, as they can comeback in a hurry with their salvoes and they are always ready to pounce on mistakes. They are extremely resilient, as evidenced by the recent Derby.
The Nerazzurri took the Premier League route to bolster the squad in January, which is rare for an Italian team and underlines the kind of reputation Conte built for himself despite the messy divorce from Chelsea. Signing Christian Eriksen for cheap was a coup and, while he has not been fully unleashed yet, he is set to raise the bar for years to come. The grittier Matias Vecino is more likely to get the nod than him, and he should be guarded closely because he has put his stamp in a crunch game or two with his sneaky cuts and headers, but the Danish star can make an impact even in few minutes off the bench. They needed some class because Stefano Sensi disappeared due to injuries after a very promising start.
They then added Ashley Young, who quickly proved to be a better option than Cristiano Biraghi on the left flank and provided a bigger-than-expected contribution in the final third, and Victor Moses has not unseated Antonio Candreva, but they needed another option there, and they were lacking in terms of subs that could potentially make an impact. With Eriksen, Moses and Alexis Sanchez now being healthy, they are well stocked.
A few spots were improved, but the overall plan has not changed and relies on elite defending, and Stefan De Vrij is having a career year, a well-assorted midfield where Marcelo Brozovic has become a very consistent playmaker, and the insane connection between the two strikers, which makes them very tough to stymie. Lukaku is a great hub and Lautaro Martinez can be electrifying.
Samir Handanovic missed few games with a pinkie injury but unfortunately he is on track to play. The other doubt involves the back-line, where Alessandro Bastoni and Diego Godin alternate, because the veteran can not play too many times in a row and the youngster has been extremely reliable and appears more at ease in a three-man line and also allows them to move Milan Skriniar to his stronger side.
The Bianconeri should have the opportunity to keep the lion’s share of possession in this one, but will have to deal with a team whose fortes match all too well with their weaknesses, as the Beneamata are supremely suited to take advantage on dips of energy and pace and silly mistakes.
UPDATE: The only change compared to last week is that Moses picked up a thigh ailment and is likely to be unavailable. He would not have started anyway, but could have been a useful sub. As for the XI, Danilo D’Ambrosio is a bit of a wildcard as he could be inserted either in the back or for Candreva on the right wing.
3-5-2: Handanovic; Godin, De Vrij, Skriniar; Candreva, Barella, Brozovic, Vecino, Young; Lukaku, Martinez.