Juventus and Inter renew their bitter rivalry in a clash that goes way beyond that considering the potentially massive consequences as far as the Serie A table and the rest of the season are concerned.
Serie A Week 13 – Sunday 26 November 2023 – Juventus Stadium | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Juventus find themselves as the last team standing between Inter and the first clear breakaway of the season by process of elimination. Due to the various issues of the other big clubs, which have been mostly self-inflicted, having an airtight defense and pounding the minnows has been enough to surge to the second position and become a credible title contender.
The Bianconeri don’t have as much quality in their XI as La Beneamata, and surely aren’t as deep, as their foes would still be highly competitive with a lineup filled with backups, which is a unicum around the league, but they have other factors working in their favor. The fact that they don’t play in the cups has been beaten into the ground, and, while it’s a true and clear advantage, it’s not the only reason behind their success.
Unlikely other sides, they haven’t let their negative displays fester and become lengthy slumps. That wasn’t the case last season. While they might not be high-end in terms of pure talent, they are extremely determined, mentally strong, and tight as a Roman platoon, which helps not only in the back.
Another improvement compared to the past campaign is that they have been able to replace any starter more than adequately even though they did very little on the transfer, signing just Timothy Weah, who’s not an integral part of their squad, and keeping Andrea Cambiaso after a loan spell. That’s the biggest merit of Massimiliano Allegri. Daniele Rugani and Moise Kean surely aren’t as good as Danilo and Dusan Vlahovic but they have stepped up when called upon and provided performances that weren’t far off from the level of their more renowned teammates.
That means that the boss keeps everybody locked in and on their toes in the locker room and practice and that his system, as old-fashioned as it is, is fully functioning since it yields results bigger than the sum of its parts. One could easily argue that the opposite happened in the last two years.
The encouraging part for Juventus, and those who want a compelling title race as the risk of Inter leaving everybody in the dust is concrete, is that they have decent room for improvement. Not only once they’ll welcome back some injured pieces, but especially up front. Federico Chiesa and Vlahovic have tailed off after a strong start, primarily because they haven’t been 100 percent.
Their style has quickly evolved, or rather devolved, after the early matches, becoming more conservative. While they are never going to go all-out to become a very proactive side, their attackers would benefit if they kept up the level of aggression they use for about half an hour when they put away matches in every contest and for a while longer.
In addition, the right type of signing in January would lift their whole offensive phase, and not just the midfield. While Paul Pobga was a constant ‘Waiting for Godot’ situation, Nicolò Fagioli was a real playmaker in the final third. Fabio Miretti isn’t as consistent, although he should get there eventually, and Weston McKennie, while useful, is a different type of player. Weah makes them pacier and more unpredictable, but he’s more of a complementary piece than a reference point at this stage.
Recent injuries have exacerbated their problems in the midfield and, while the three-man rearguard has worked too well for them to consider ditching it, a slight tweak to 3-4-3 would make all the sense in the world, not only when they are depleted, but also routinely when they need to score. Weah, Samuel Iling-Junior, Moise Kean, and, more simply, Filip Kostic can easily feature as wingers, with Chiesa on the other side of the pitch. However, they have never tested it so far, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll unveil it in this spot.
Allegri would have an interesting call to make if Manuel Locatelli couldn’t play through his rib injury. He has occasionally thrown starlets to the wolves to see how they reacted, and Kenan Yildiz and Hans Nicolussi Caviglia are candidates for that. However, chances are either the former Sassuolo star will play, or he’ll do something boring like using Adrien Rabiot or Miretti as a regista and Cambiaso on the right wing.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Rugani; McKennie, Miretti, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Vlahovic, Chiesa.
Doubts: Locatelli/Cambiaso, Chiesa/Kean, Vlahovic/Milik.
Injury Report: Alex Sandro (thigh strain), McKennie (knee soreness) – Probable; Locatelli (cracked rib) – Questionable; Danilo, Weah (thigh strains), De Sciglio (ACL tear) – OUT
Suspensions: Pogba, Fagioli.
Inter have gone wire-to-wire since the last break, even amending some of the previous minor slip-ups and easily overcoming injury issues in the back and up front. More impressively, they have shown remarkable versatility, as they don’t have just one MO. They have blown away small teams, eked it out against more competitive ones, and have been very patient in fixtures that didn’t seem destined to go their way, eventually coming out on top in those too.
Other than skyrocketing self-confidence, their main advantage over any opponent is that they have a host of difference-makers who can win matches out of the blue with a magnificent play. Napoli are perhaps the only ones that can compete with them in that respect, but they have had other well-known issues.
The scary part for their rivals is that their stars haven’t all been superb. While Lautaro Martinez, Marcus Thuram, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Federico Dimarco have been humming all season long, Denzel Dumfries, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Nicolò Barella have fully showed up only here and there and haven’t been extremely consistent. They still have to unlock their newcomers Davide Frattesi and Carlos Augusto, who had proven to be high-ended contributors in big roles at Sassuolo and Monza. They have taken it slow, which is understandable given the level of their starters. They’ll be particularly useful if, as they hope, they’ll have a deep run in Europe.
It wasn’t tough for them to weather the storm of a pair of absences in the attack since their cornerstones didn’t really need to rest. Instead, their defense will be put to the test with Benjamin Pavard and Alessandro Bastoni ailing at the same time. It should be fine for one or two games, but then the wear and there will make its presence felt on Francesco Acerbi and Stefan De Vrij, as alternating kept them fresh and sharp. They are lucky to have a phenomenal reserve in Matteo Darmian, who holds his own in any position. Still, they’ll be stretched too thin if Juan Cuadrado doesn’t return, but the news on that front is positive. They can focus on Serie A since they already clinched the qualification, but, unless they promote some new youngster, they don’t really have fringe players to deploy in quasi meaningless tilts.
They have thumped Milan and squeaked by Roma and Atalanta in their toughest contests so far. It’ll be interesting to see how they’ll come out in this one. It’s pretty much game over if they score early because they are devastating on counters and their defense doesn’t mind being under pressure.
There have been no signs of the mental problems that occasionally hit them in the past two seasons under Simone Inzaghi, and triumphing with so much regularity helps a ton with that. They have quickly shaken off their only loss, which came in a weird spot against an adversary that’s tricky for any elite team, Sassuolo. At this point, the only thing that could severely hamper them is a major injury to a star, but, all things considered, there aren’t many they can’t substitute for adequately.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Sommer; Darmian, De Vrij, Acerbi; Dumfries, Barella, Calhanoglu, Mkhitaryan, Dimarco; Thuram, Lautaro Martinez.
Injury Report: Cuadrado (patellar tendon soreness), Alexis Sanchez (ankle sprain) – Questionable; Bastoni (calf strain), Pavard (patellar dislocation) – Out
Inter Win – Under 2.5 Goals