Derby d'Italia: 5 Talking points
The sentiment associated the most with the latest instalment of the Derby d’Italia was that of revenge. Forget about the long history and animosity these teams share (both industrial and political), their record of being the only teams never to have been relegated (until Calciopoli took Juventus down),and the fact that these are the two teams that have scored the most goals and won the most games in Serie A history only add to the intensity of this game. The last time these two teams met, Juventus had their 49 game unbeaten streak broken and Inter Milan showed that they had what it takes to challenge for top honours in the Serie A. The gap between both the teams was down to 1 point, and Juventus’ dominance of the Italian league had been questioned. Fast forward almost 5 months, and the gap between Juventus and Inter Milan after their captivating encounter last night is now 21 points. Juventus have well and truly shown that they belong at the top of the Italian league, and that they are too well-oiled a machine to let the setback of a derby loss throw them off course. Juventus won the game 2-1, but the Nerazzuri had a lot of positives to take out of the encounter and probably deserved to win the game in terms of chances created. The talking points of the game follow:
Despite both teams going in with identical 3-5-2 formations, the presence of Vidal in the Juventus midfield made a world of difference to their game. His ability to ghost into the opposition box unmarked, be in the right positions at the right times and the willingness to run back and get the tackle in make him a very versatile player. His effective and purposeful running helps offer another body going forward and is one of the main reasons why Juventus have been successful domestically without having a truly top-notch striker. Vidal has an engine that is probably the best in world football, both in terms of his attacking verve and his defensive tenacity; it is this versatility, coupled with his understanding with Marchisio, that allows Pirlo to play as a deep-seated playmaker, pulling the strings while all the dirty work is taken care of by Vidal.
Although Juventus do not possess an out-and-out 25 goal striker, they have a collection of forwards with different strengths, and so far they have been just able to keep Juventus afloat and contending in all competitions. The scoring load is shared pretty evenly among the 4 principal forwards, with each of them contributing around 15 goals. However, a common trait between all the Juventus forwards is that they are clinical in front of goal and they bank on their precision to make their dominance count. Quagliarella is famous for scoring from improbable angles and positions, and that is exactly what he did last night. Matri is clever, a good link up player, and makes the right kind of runs, as was seen for the winner. On the other hand, Internazionale have a pretty talented and eccentric forward line up, with Cassano and Palacio doing both the majority of the grunt work. Milito is the best finisher, and as seen by some of the chances wasted by Inter last night, he was sorely missed. Palacio and Cassano are both very creative and full of purposeful running, but they aren’t the best of finishers and that was very visible.
Juventus have historically been a very compact and solid team (remember the Lippi days anyone?). The last few seasons though, they lost some of that defensive structure and organization. Antonio Conte has restored the structure and organization to the Juventus defence and is the most important reason for their defensive stinginess. Against Inter, the three central defenders – Bonucci, Chiellini and Barzagli – were at their best, scrambling around making last ditch tackles and crucial interceptions to ensure their team hung onto their lead. The use of slightly defensive wing backs (Padoin and later Peluso for Asamoah) also helped cut down the threat posed by Pereira and Palacio. Although Inter produced a good display of attacking football, it was the due to the efforts of the Juventus backline that they managed to escape with the victory. Yes, they were lucky to dodge two probable penalty calls (both will be given more often that not), but they rode their luck and helped see their team across the finish line. Also, Gianluigi Buffon still makes logic-defying saves.
The loss of Sneijder and Coutinho in the winter transfer window looked to have taken away a lot of the attacking impetus and invention from the Internazionale midfield. However, as the new players bed in well, the attacking play has improved drastically, with the newcomer Kovacic being particularly impressive. His ability to dribble with the ball, run the channels and press the opposition quickly are all facets that are currently very rare in this Inter line-up. The link-up play between Cassano and Palacio was lovely, with their quick one touch passing and their purposeful running keeping the Juventus defence on their toes. The introduction of Guarin helped add some drive to the Inter attack. However, Ricardo Alvarez still drifts out of large phases of the game and is unable to impose his authority on the team enough.
Starting with a 3-5-2 was a surprising move, considering he used this formation in the earlier game as a surprise element to challenge Juventus’ own 3-5-2 and throw them off guard. Although the 3-5-2 has worked well this season, it needs a proper ball-winning box-to-box midfielder (defensive) and also central defenders who are mobile and positionally sound. Samuel and Chivu are two of the better defenders in Serie A, but they were too slow in closing down Quagliarella for the first goal. Similarly, for the second goal, Chivu should have closed down Quagliarella better, and Ranocchia just let Matri waltz past him as he was caught ball watching. These mistakes ruined an otherwise good defensive performance. What aided the Juventus team, especially in the first half, was that the lack of a true ball-winning defensive midfielder saw Inter being overrun in the centre of midfield. Gargano and Cambiasso both could not exert any influence on the game, and they would be disappointed with their play. Stramaccioni needs to balance the attacking combinations with a couple of good defensive additions and adjust his tactics accordingly. In the second half, he switched the 3-5-2 to a flat back 4 and that went a long way in balancing the attacking play, giving Inter control of the match. His tactical flexibility is well-known, but he needs to get more of these decisions right from the beginning of the match, rather than at the beginning of the 2nd half.
All in all, a pulsating encounter between the two bitter rivals saw Juventus coming away with the three points and opening up a 12-point advantage over their nearest challengers. They have really stepped it up a notch or two since their loss to Inter in November, and now it looks like they will retain their title comfortably.Published 01 Apr 2013, 00:36 IST