Juventus v Inter Milan
Serie A Week 16 – Saturday, 9th December – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
Juventus are coming off two very satisfying games against Napoli and Olympiacos. The first win allowed them to cut into the lead and obviously averted a disaster scenario which would have seen them go seven points behind from the top of the table, while the second one clinched the access to the next phase of the Champions League, as expected.
The Bianconeri pulled off a big-time performance in Napoli: like against Barcelona, they were all willing to sacrifice to defend and it showed. Napoli put constant pressure on the defence, but created no clear-cut chance to equalize. The cherry on top was the sweet Gonzalo Higuain goal in the early going: with that kind of tactic, we would have probably been content with a tie, but the score did us a huge solid and set the perfect stage for the remainder of the game. The back-line resisted and helped us gain a massive result.
The midweek game was much easier and the position in the group was all in all pretty cozy, but you still have the get the job done and this time it was Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi who answered the call. We are getting excellent performances from all wingers as of late, Douglas Costa in particular has been tremendous, and this has helped us a lot considering Paulo Dybala’s poor form and Mario Mandzukic’s absence.
Massimiliano Allegri used a 4-4-2 with Douglas Costa and Blaise Matuidi wide in Naples, a 4-2-3-1 in Athens. The scheme is likely a week-to-week proposition and there is no grand philosophical take to draw from it, even though the 3-4-2-1 against the lowly Crotone was indeed a little weird. Probably at times he likes to mirror the opponent, trusting that his men will come out on top thanks to their superior quality, and who can blame him for that thinking.
The gauntlet continues with the Inter game on Sunday night and Juventus will have the opportunity to take down another contender. Busy times at the Juventus medical center: Medhi Benatia and Andrea Barzagli suffered small injuries in the last game, the Italian centre-back was even subbed off, but they are expected to be good to go. Giorgio Chiellini caught a stomach bug, but he should be ready and start, alongside probably the Moroccan defender, whose resurgence has been both surprising and very beneficial. Gianluigi Buffon has a pulled calf and there is pessimism about his recovery, so Wojciech Szczesny could have a big opportunity to show his skills after a couple of excellent saves against Olympiacos. Mario Mandzukic and Miralem Pjanic are banged up but available. Stephan Lichtsteiner is out with a hamstring issue.
In a fixture with enormous title race implications, the coach is expected to deploy his A-team. However, there are a few questions about who is in it at this point. Kwadwo Asamoah has fared better than Alex Sandro this season, Blaise Matuidi’s energy at times is more useful than Sami Khedira’s skills and the same goes for Douglas Costa’s quickness compared to Mario Mandzukic’s physicality and grit. Allegri has many options at his disposal to shape the game plan in any way he desires.
The coach played coy about the lineup in the pre-game presser, hinting that Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic could be benched because they are not in top shape. With Douglas Costa, Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi all balling, the squad can sustain La Joya being out, anyway it would probably be a three-man midfield if he was out.
4-3-3: Buffon; De Sciglio, Benatia, Chiellini, Asamoah; Khedira, Pjanic, Matuidi; Cuadrado, Higuain, Mandzukic.
Buffon (calf), Howedes (quad), Lichtsteiner (hamstring).
Inter have been flat-out outstanding so far this season: they have yet to lose and have dropped points only three times. They brought in only a couple of reinforcements in the summer, so a lot of the credit goes to Luciano Spalletti, who has laid down the law in a locker room that is probably not the easiest to deal with and has always been a tactical master.
He is maximizing Mauro Icardi’s talent similar to how he did with Edin Dzeko a year ago, which is by putting a slew of refined assist men at his disposal. Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perisic are among the league leaders in that category and Borja Valero’s passing abilities and IQ are exquisite. As a result, the striker is enjoying his finest season yet, with 16 goals in 15 matches and he is simply terrorizing defences.
It really did not take the coach very long to find the right scheme and streamline the hierarchies. Dalbert and Joao Cancelo have been quickly discarded because of their defensive deficiencies, while Milan Skriniar and Matias Vecino have immediately become centrepieces of the formation. The defender showed some promising stuff at Sampdoria, but his growth has been faster than even his biggest fan could have anticipated. Davide Santon has put together a strong string of games that has allowed him to leapfrog Yuto Nagatomo in the pecking order, giving their backline even more muscularity. The brilliance of Samir Handanovic has never been in question. They are tied with Roma and Napoli as the defence that has conceded the least goals.
After a little tinkering, they have settled on a 4-2-3-1 with Borja Valero in the hole, who has managed to beat out Marcelo Brozovic and Joao Mario in that position. At this point in his career, it is probably the most suitable role for him, so he does not have to waste energies chasing opponents in the defensive half and can freely use his genius to set up his teammates. Vecino and Roberto Gagliardini form the duo of holding midfielders and they have both complete players. Brozovic is good off the bench, as he can cover multiple positions and brings an offensive sparkle.
You would be hard-pressed to find a better pair of wingers in Serie A than Candreva and Perisic. The Italian forward has given up on all his pointless attempts from distance to focus on assisting. The Croatian, after a summer where he pushed to leave, has ascended to top echelon as he combines crossing and finishing skills.
Even though their formation look svery offensive-minded, they are not ashamed of sitting back and countering, something Candreva, Perisic and Icardi all excel at. They are extremely physical and very dangerous on set pieces. Mauro Icardi is a notorious Juventus killer. Considering their position in the standings, this will be their biggest game in years and they have a chance to make a real statement in the Scudetto race, so it will be very interesting to see whether they will rise up to the challenge.
4-2-3-1: Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, Miranda, Santon; Vecino, Gagliardini; Candreva, Valero, Perisic; Icardi.
Great team performance shame the boys couldn’t get the goal they deserved. Confused and frustrated with taking Pjanic off and not giving Costa a chance to run at that tired Inter defense. Mario was rusty and for all his hard work just a little more quality in the final third towards the end of the game could have made all the difference. Another clean sheet and in second place for the time being. On-wards and upwards.