It’s always a spectacle when bitter rivals Inter and Juventus match up in the Derby of Italy and on Saturday there was no exception. The tempo was high, the football was played at a quality level, there were goals and of course, the game had its fair share of controversies as well. A match that was only stained by an incredibly late tackle by Cambiasso on Giovinco that rightly saw him sent off.
But in the end, Juventus have a happier Easter to celebrate as they came away with three points and the bragging rights. The Bianconeri also levied revenge on Inter, who put a halt to their magnificent 49 game unbeaten run. Something the Juventus players hadn’t forgotten.
The Midfield Battle
They say the midfield can either win you a game or lose you one. Indeed, controlling the midfield can go a long way deciding the outcome of match. Not only are you in authority of the ball but you can dictate proceedings. Owing to absentees in his squad, Stramaccioni deployed a 3-4-1-2 formation. The two men in the middle of the park were Walter Gargano and Matteo Kovacic; While Ricky Alvarez was asked to ‘do a job’ on Pirlo.
Easier said than done, Pirlo’s experience and Alvarez ineptitude allowed Pirlo to dominate and when Pirlo dominates, Juventus dominates. Juventus enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and the early sumptuous strike by Fabio Quagliarella shattered Inter’s confidence. The Bianconeri’s midfield three simply outclassed and outplayed Inter’s duo. Walter Gargano’s early yellow meant he had to curb his enthusiasm and he knew another late tackle would see him receive his marching orders and thus hand his side a massive disadvantage.
This meant Kovacic had to be the one dishing in the tackles but that’s not really in his comfort zone. The young Croat is undoubtedly talented but his game is more adept to creating openings rather than doing the dirty work. These factors played a role in Juventus completely asserting themselves in midfield in the first half and rarely were they troubled by Inter. Marchisio and Vidal made their usual darting runs into the box thus pegging back the Inter defense and midfield, freeing up Pirlo to maneuver.
Going into half time, manager Stramaccioni needed to ring around the changes. Inter have been more of a ‘second half team’ if you will, this season. You don’t have to look too far back with excellent second half performances against Catania and Milan proving they are a different side in the second 45 minutes. Alvarez was woeful in his duty to man mark Pirlo, off he went and in came Fredy Guarin. The Colombian was more physical and energetic in his approach and added another body in midfield for Inter as they tried to gain a foothold.
Strama’s tactics paid off and Inter capitalized on a rare mistake by Andrea Pirlo as Rodrigo Palacio bought parity to the score-line. The goal came from a Cassano pass, who in truth, looked like Inter’s most threatening player. Cassano drifted out wide on both flanks as is instinctive for him and looked to run at the Juventus defenders. Palacio’s burst was untracked and he coolly slotted past Buffon who did brilliantly well to deny him in the first half. But that lead was short lived as Matri restored Juventus’ lead just six minutes later.
Stramaccioni responded by bringing on Cambiasso for Ranocchia and thus shifting to 4-3-1-2 formation. That gave Inter the legs in midfield to deal with Juventus’ trio as they ended up chasing the game. Juventus were happy to allow Inter to come at them but penetrating the Juventus defense is an uphill task which Inter could not find a way past despite their best efforts. Juventus saw out the game in a thoroughly professional manner.
Quagliarella’s goal was a vintage play-station strike we’ve come to expect of him. But it was also a strong statement to his manager to get him more playing time. Clearly, Conte likes to rotate his attackers but should Quagliarella see more action on the field? The shift he put in certainly didn’t hurt his chances. He now remains Juventus’ top-striker in the league and his combination play with Matri is impressive. The two clearly have great chemistry between them as they both played wing-man to each other.
Matri’s dummy created the opening for Quagliarella’s dipping effort while the latter returned the favor to set-up Matri for a tap in. Matri was off the radar the whole game, rarely getting a look in at goal but there were shades of Trezeguet in him as he popped up to net home what eventually would turn out to be winner. The duo, in all probability, might not get a look in against Bayern Munich but they have definitely made enough of a claim to start more regularly in the league.
The victory was a deserved one for Juventus despite Inter managing to crawl themselves back in the game. Juventus now have one hand on the Scudetto and will look to wrap it up as soon as possible. The race to the title had its bumps on the way but when consistency came into the picture, no other team from the peninsula could match Juventus. With this result, the Bianconeri head into the crucial game against Bayern Munich riding high on confidence. Inter are a scalp any team would be proud to claim and morale will be reaching new heights.
For Inter, a Champions League spot is surely out of reach now. With Milan steamrolling any Serie A team in sight and Napoli slowly finding their feet again, Inter have a herculean mission ahead of them. Now in 7th place and 10 points off the pace, a miracle is what will get Inter into the crème-de-la-crème of Europe next season.