It is time for yet another Derby D’Italia in the Serie A and yet another Rival Rendezvous at TheHardTackle, as two Italian authors go head to head for the match of the weekend between Juventus and Inter Milan. Juventus is represented by the veteran Somnath Sengupta whilst not-so veteran Vishwas Shashidhar argues for the Nerazzurri.
Without further ado, let’s go on and see what these two authors have in the store for us. Starting the questionnaire would be Vishwas as Juventus are the home side.
VS : Juve has had a great start to the season, beating most of their rivals. What is the reason behind their sudden dip in form since the latter stages of 2010 and early parts of the new year?
SS : We did have a pretty good start to the season – better than a lot of Juve fans expected. However, despite some good wins it was always clear that the squad was pretty thin. For example, Juve led scoring charts for a large part of the season but every Juve fan knew that there were problems in striking department. An injury to in-form Fabio Quagliarella completely imploded Juve’s form in start of 2011. His injury coupled with Melo’s stupid red card led to losses to Parma and Napoli. Palermo is never an easy place to travel to and it wasn’t a surprise that Juve lost that match. I think the team has turned a corner after the Cagliari game and things will get better from here. Plus players like Iaquinta, De Ceglie are due to return from injuries, they will add strength to the squad.
VS : Juventus made two contrasting signings in Matri and Toni. Toni was injured very early in his Juve career whilst Matri has come well in the last couple of games. Tell us more about this exciting Italian striker and his role in the Juventus setup.
SS : Firstly let me clarify the fact that Juve didn’t have a lot of cash in winter transfer window so it was difficult to sign big names. Delneri’s system needs the presence of a physical centre-forward. Amauri’s awful form and Iaquinta’s injury proneness meant that Juve struggled in that front. Toni maybe old but he is still a better striker than Amauri and is cheaper. He has already scored two headers in two matches (one wrongly chalked off) so I’m not complaining. He has better chance of meeting the crosses delivered by Krasic, De Ceglie or Martinez than Amauri or Iaquinta. I am very excited about Matri, he has all the attributes to be a world class striker and is fairly young. He can play as both prima punta as well as secunda punta and has a degree of unpredictability. If both players are kept next season then the combo between Quagliarella and Matri can be lethal. I am also very impressed with Matri’s work-rate and his positioning; he does need to improve his finishing a bit though.
VS : The Bianconeri are stuck in 7th position in the league currently. With this in mind, what would be the expectations for the season considering the extremely competitive Serie A this season?
SS : Serie A is indeed very competitive this season, reminds you a bit about the seven sister’s rivalry of 1990s, doesn’t it? As it stands now, I expect Milan, Inter and Napoli to finish in UCL spots. The fight for 4th is between the two Roman clubs, Udinese, Palermo and Juve. Palermo has always been erratic, I would say they played better football than Sampdoria last season but the latter made it to 4th because they were more consistent. Right now, I will say Udinese and Roma worry me more. Ranieri may not win titles but his teams always seem to finish in UCL spots while Udinese is probably the most inform team in Italy. I expect Lazio to slowly drop out of top-4 they have somewhat overachieved so far. Even last season the race for 4th place was close, but Delneri’s team sneaked into a UCL spot in the end. I am expecting something similar this season as well.
VS : Personally, I’m a fan of Chiellini, who is a brilliant defender. However, with Samuel Eto’o in such a brilliant form this season and with Inter virtually scoring in all their matches, how could Chiellini and co handle the Inter juggernaut?
SS : Chiellini is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in the world right now but I don’t think he will play as a CB against Inter. He played as a left-back against Cagliari with Bonucci – Barzagli as CBs, Delneri is likely to retain the formation. Zanetti and Maicon are very dangerous while Eto’o also cuts in from the wings. So it’s important that Juve has some defensive cover on the flanks. Chiellini needs to neutralize Maicon if Juve are to get anything out of this match. I am also worried about Nagatomo on the left wing – he has great pace and ability to beat his man. None of the right-backs Juve have are capable of handling a trailblazer like the Japanese wing-back. Another man who will play an important role is Felipe Melo. His man marking on Sneijder and Pirlo in first legs ensured Juve got out of those matches unscathed. Bonucci is more than capable of handling Pazzini – he has already done that twice this season but Melo needs to keep Sneijder quiet so that the supply from midfield is cut-off.
VS : I know this is a hypothetical question, but if you had a chance to snap up one player from Inter, who would it be and why?
SS : Giampaolo Pazzini. I wanted to see Pazzini in Juve badly – he would have perfectly fitted into Delneri’s system. He has all the attributes of a good striker and he already had the experience of working with the current coach. Too bad Juve didn’t have the money to get him in winter itself.
VS : How would you approach this game tactically and who can decide this tie for Juve? Last but not the least, what is your prediction?
SS : Leonardo’s focus, as a coach, has always been to play attacking football. His defensive organization is still not up to the mark. I think Juve have more than a good chance of scoring against Inter – it is the defence which has to play well. Three players will be most important – Chiellini, Melo and Bonucci. None of these players can afford to have an off-day. The right-back remains a constant problem and personally I would prefer Hasan Salihamidzic in that position. He is not as error prone as Motta or Grygera and Sorensen is too inexperienced to play in such a high profile match. Aquilani is another important piece of the puzzle. Inter’s defence will be weakened and Juve needs a player who can take advantage of gaps in their defence and exploit Matri’s good positioning. Aquaman’s passing ability will come in handy in this situation. His form has dropped a bit in last month but he looked in good nick for Italy against Germany.
I think Juve has a good chance of winning this match if players play to their potential.
So, Somnath thinks that if Juve plays to their potential, they have a chance of claiming all three points. Now, let’s hear the other side of the story from Vishwas.
SS : Inter’s form under Benitez was terrible to say the least. What happened in that phase? Was everything Rafa’s fault?
VS : It is difficult to blame Rafa for everything. After all, no manager would be looking to weaken his squad or try not to win. It was a combination of Benitez’s naivety and ego and the fact that Inter were extremely disappointed after the departure of the “The Special One” that led to the disastrous first half of the season. To add to that, most of the players were involved with their national teams in the World Cup which resulted in fatigue, leading to injuries. Motivation was also a factor that led to such a dreadful form, as the same team had won it all the previous season. They were simply not motivated enough to do it all over again.
SS : What has been the main difference between Rafa era and Leonardo era?
VS : Leonardo has been a breath of fresh air in the Inter camp to say the least. The main difference between Rafa and Leonardo has been the way both the managers have handled their players. Whilst Rafa is good at man management, he doesn’t induce the confidence into his players which was apparently the case at Liverpool. On the other hand, Leonardo has let his players be their natural selves and has managed to get them play to their full potential. He has also made some positive signings in January and brought more competition within the squad which unfortunately didn’t happen under Rafa in June. At the same time, Inter have been an entertaining side under Leonardo, scoring goals for fun one can only hope that it continues.
SS : Inter has won matches under Leonardo but they have also leaked goals regularly. Samuel, Lucio and Chivu will miss the Derby D’Italia – don’t you think Inter’s defence will be very weak against the likes of Krasic and Del Piero?
VS : To be honest, this has been alarmingly worrying for Inter fans. When you compare last year’s team with the current setup, they are very contrasting. Mourinho was a master tactician and used Inter’s defensive strengths to win the treble. Leonardo has managed to win virtually all his matches but as you mentioned, this side is conceding far too many goals. Yes, Inter will be up against the tricky Krasic and the evergreen Del Piero, but as long as Inter have the maximum possession, it is tough to see Juventus hurting the Inter backline. But Juventus will pose a threat on the counter attacks, and with Maicon and Nagatomo in the opposition half, Inter will be exposed badly and I again expect them to concede a goal or two whilst trying to outscore the opponent.
SS : AC Milan has been dropping a lot of points recently. Do you think Inter will be able to capture a record breaking 6th back to back Scudetto?
VS : Wouldn’t it be brilliant to see Inter winning the 6th title on a trot? And it would be sweeter if we beat our local rivals to it. Yes, Milan has been poor off late and if we manage to win the games in hand, I’m sure it will be very close in the end. Also, there is the game at the San Siro which was bitter at home for us when we lost our home record. I’m sure the team will be up for revenge in the reverse fixture which could be the deciding factor for the Scudetto.
SS : Inter is infamous for its cosmopolitan squads. For last few seasons Inter teams have been dominated by South American players. This winter Inter bought two Italian players – Rannochia and Pazzini, why the sudden focus shift?
VS : First of all, I would like to disagree with the fact that it is an infamous policy. I would rather call this as the globalization of the football world. Inter were one of the very first teams in Europe to introduce non-European players. This has been happening ever since the inception of the club which in fact happened because of Milan’s policy of not allowing foreign players to play for them in their earlier years. Speaking of Ranochhia and Pazzini, both are sparkling talents and with the possible introduction of “The 6+5 Rule”, Moratti is making sure he can bring the best young Italian talent to the club which could also help the national team in the long term.
SS : Juventus are ahead by a fair distance in head to head records – winning 80 matches while Inter has won 55 times. Inter also hasn’t won in Turin in a long time, do you think that record will change in this match? What will be Leo’s likely strategy?
VS : I wouldn’t deny the fact that Juventus have been the most successful side in the history of Serie A which has led them to have these kinds of records. But the Derby D’Italia matches have almost all the times been close and I expect it to be no different this time. Turin is a tough place to travel for any side let alone for Inter with Juve being their best at home. However, I really think and hope that this Inter side has what it takes to beat Juve at Turin and get the monkey off their back. I’m not saying this because of Juventus’ poor form, but I would like to credit Inter’s rich form and the confidence that they are playing with. Inter will approach this game like any other match, albeit a bit more cautiously. But Leo will know that Juve haven’t been that good off late and will ask his men to pressurize the Juve defense and score an early goal. If that happens, he will know that Juve will have to come at them which would comfort the Nerazzurri to hit the home side on the break.