The Derby d’Italia was the standout fixture in Serie A last weekend as champions Juventus visited the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza to face Inter. The Old Lady of Turin were heavy favourites coming into the match with a 100 percent record in their opening three league matches.
Meanwhile Inter coach Frank de Boer was under pressure following an inauspicious start to his tenure having replaced Roberto Mancini. The Nerazzurri lost their first league match to Chievo, following that up with a disappointing draw at home to Palermo. Despite picking up their first win, away to Pescara, defeat to Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the Europa League prompted speculation that de Boer’s job may be on the line already should he lose to Juventus.
Teams and formations
De Boer has insisted on a return to a 4-2-3-1 for Inter, a formation which plays more like 4-4-2 when defending and springs into 4-3-3 on the counter attack.
Inter: Handanović, Miranda, Santon, Murillo, D’Ambrosio, Banega, Medel, João Mário, Candreva, Éder, Icardi
It was a familiar 3-5-2 for Juventus following their hard fought 0-0 Europa League draw with holders Sevilla. Mario Mandžukić was preferred to €90 million man Gonzalo Higuaín, despite the former Napoli and Real Madrid man’s three goals from his opening three league matches. Coach Massimiliano Allegri’s reasoning for this choice was that he was expecting a “physical game”. It was the more mobile Croat who was therefore given the nod to partner the exciting Paulo Dybala up front, the 22-year-old having enjoyed a fantastic first season for Juve with 19 goals last term.
Juve: Buffon, Lichsteiner, Bonucci, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro, Khedira, Pjanić, Asamoah, Mandžukić, Dybala
The match began in cagey fashion with no great possession or pattern emerging in the opening 10 minutes. The first half chance of the game fell to the Nerazzurri when Banega swung a free-kick in from the right. Inter captain and talisman Mauro Icardi was able to make contact but the ball drifted harmlessly wide. The game at this stage was largely bypassing both
The game at this stage was largely bypassing both midfields as the sides traded corners that came to nothing. Gary Medel was next to threaten for the hosts on 15 minutes but it was a speculative effort from fully 35 yards as Juve protected their box with numbers, and the Chilean was unable to test Buffon, his shot flying high and wide.
The game was at least beginning to open up and become a little more stretched. Dybala had a shot blocked and Inter were able to show some attacking intent on the counter but an Éder cross was well defended by Chiellini. It was all pretty scrappy stuff, punctuated by fouls, as the sides battled for midfield supremacy.
Eder, who had been as lively as anyone in the opening quarter of the match, then picked up the ball from João Mário 30 yards from goal and was past Benatia with the drop of a shoulder but dragged his shot wide. Benatia went down holding his groin and that was the end of his afternoon. He was replaced by 35-year-old Andrea Barzagli who had played the full 90 minutes in midweek against Sevilla. This caused the first major change as Juventus dropped noticeably deeper to compensate for the veteran’s lack of pace, as a result inviting Inter to break them down.
Meanwhile, Inter were narrow in a 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2) set up with Juve in possession.
The Bianconeri’s width was provided by the two wing backs, Stephan Lichsteiner on the right and Alex Sandro on the left, and Inter appeared content to allow them to receive the ball and to deal with the threat from wide areas rather than through the middle.
Juventus exposed this set up on 33 minutes, however, as they got midfield runners in between lines and, more importantly, got Dybala on the ball.
It was his switch of play that found Alex Sandro in acres of space on the left flank and he was able to pick out Sami Khedira who should have done better with a free header from eight yards.
Inter were relying on the counter-attack and Icardi came close to opening the scoring from the resulting break. Handanović’s distribution was fast and accurate and, when Banega was fouled just inside his own half, it was his quick thinking to direct the free-kick up towards Icardi. With Éder in support, Icardi first held off Bonucci, then Chiellini, before clipping the outside of the post with a curling shot past the full stretch Buffon. It was a frequently used tactic by Inter, to isolate Juve’s back three as Icardi was bullying and harassing them with his strength and skill.
Juventus had another chance shortly after, and it came once again from the fact that they were finding it far too easy to play around the opposition press from Inter’s 4-4-2 defensive shape. As illustrated below, with just Éder and Icardi to pressure the ball, the defender has three easy passing outlets to get around the press.
On this occasion, it was Lichsteiner who was the recipient, and his ball released Dybala to get to the byline behind the defence. Juventus had four attacking players in the box awaiting a cross, but Dybala instead pulled the ball back to Miralem Pjanić, whose shot from 20 yards flew just wide, with Handanović rooted to the spot.
The difference when Inter opted for a higher press out of their attacking 4-3-3 couldn’t have been clearer and is shown below.
With backup from the midfield, Juventus now found their ability to play around the press severely limited and were forced to go long, which allowed Inter to regain possession much more comfortably. Their quick and direct counter-attack could then come into effect as was the case after 39 minutes when Icardi again found himself up against two defenders.
Icardi was happy to take his chances against two isolated defenders. With no-one else within 30 yards, he opted for an early shot, which was blocked and came to nothing, but the pattern of play had again been clear.
Inter were relying on the counter-attack, going direct to Icardi and Éder who were causing the back three of Juventus considerable problems. Juve, on the other hand, were much more considered in their build up, playing out from defence through vertical passing channels, looking for Pjanić or utilising the width provided by the two wing banks to cause Inter problems from wide areas. It remained finely poised and goalless at the break after an intriguing first half of contrasting styles with both sides having chances.
The sides emerged unchanged for the second half and it was Inter that started strongest. João Mário had taken up a more advanced position and was linking attacking phases well. In fact, Inter’s whole approach was far more assertive as de Boer’s men began on the front foot, showing their own attacking ambition rather than relying solely on the counter. This came from them employing a much higher defensive line than in the first half as they sought to win back possession with a cohesive and co-ordinated press deep in the opposition half.
Gary Medel was at his destructive best when, 10 minutes into the second half, he won the ball from the ponderous Khedira in the centre circle and prodded the ball forward to Icardi. He linked with Banega and when the ball broke to Éder, his deflected shot wrong-footed Buffon who reflected with a knowing smile as the ball bounced wide.
It was an excellent start from Inter though and their high pressing was beginning to pay dividends as it was forcing Juve into mistakes. It was sloppy play from Chiellini giving the ball away, thanks in no small part to the proximity of Candreva and João Mário that led to Inter’s next chance.
The image above shows the high press, and with Danilo D’Ambrosio stepping out to get tight on Kwadwo Asamoah, Chiellini suddenly had no vertical passing channels to hit and his subsequent indecision led to him tamely surrendering possession to Candreva. The Italian fed João Mário who powered through the midfield before releasing Icardi.
The Argentine’s angled cross was met by Candreva, whose forward run had continued, with a sweet far post volley back across goal. The bounce beat Buffon but, unfortunately for Inter, the effort flew just wide. It was a swift and decisive move which deserved a goal, but it did serve to underline Inter’s early second half dominance.
Typically, and completely against the run of play, Juventus showed why they are champions as Lichsteiner, the unlikeliest of goal scorers, popped up to stun the stadium into silence. It was a poor goal for Inter to concede and was a lesson in the futility of any defensive system in the face of individual errors. Two Inter players, namely Candreva and Santon, were guilty of momentary lapses that rendered Inter’s intensive pressing null and void.
It was strong play from Asamoah, who was able to turn and roll the ball out to Alex Sandro on the left touchline, despite the close attention of D’Ambrosio. The Inter right-back was dogged in his pursuit, continuing to pressure Sandro on the ball. However, the image below shows he wasn’t helped by Candreva, who should have covered in to assist his full-back and block the cross, but instead stood and watched as Sandro muscled his way into a dangerous position.
Sandro must take credit for the cross as he shaped a superb ball between the goalkeeper and defence to give Lichsteiner a tap-in. It was Lichsteiner’s movement that got him into position to take advantage of the quality of service, while Santon was guilty of switching off.
Lichsteiner made a darting run from deep, the right wing-back taking up the position of centre-forward with Mandžukić marked. His opposing full-back, Santon, was sleeping and completely unaware of Lichsteiner’s presence, reacting far too late to his clever movement from the blind side to leave the Swiss international with the simplest of finishes. It was clinical from Juve but Inter’s pressing was badly let down by a few players.
Inter’s response was immediate. From the kick-off they kept possession well with some neat intricate passing and won a corner on the left. Banega took the kick and Icardi was on hand to rise above Juve’s zonal defence and head the ball home. It was no less than Inter and Icardi deserved, and it was very much game on.
As the Inter fans celebrated, de Boer sent Ivan Perišić on in place of the tiring Éder. Higuaín would have to wait until the 75th minute for his introduction. Juve had become limited to tossing hopeful crosses into the area. Inter’s midfield dominance had only been briefly interrupted by Lichsteiner’s goal and as such there was no support for Juve’s front two who were now being comfortably marshalled by the Inter defence.
A quick throw out by Handanović from one such cross had Inter on the move again as Juve were becoming increasingly stretched.
The above image illustrates the space that Perišić had on the left, having been played in via a good link-up between Banega and Icardi. The substitute cut inside on this occasion and turned into trouble and Juve were able to clear, but would concede a free-kick on the left side in their attempts to do so.
With Juve’s defence still sitting deep, João Mário took the ball from Felipe Melo – who had come on for Medel. His searching cross-field ball was intercepted but Candreva was sharp to pounce on Asamoah’s mistake and chip the ball into Icardi’s path. The striker’s first touch forced him wide but he maintained his composure to pick out Perišić with a delightful cross with the outside of his right boot. Juve’s defence were all at sea and both Banega and Perišić were well placed to finish. It was the Croat, however, who was able to plant a header across Buffon and send the Nerazzurri support wild.
Banega was well placed for Icardi’s cross as Perišić (circled) again attacked space from the left to score. Juventus had been warned.
Allegri was stung into action by Inter’s second goal and shuffled his pack for the final 10 minutes. Chiellini, who had endured a torrid time at the hands of Icardi, was withdrawn as Marko Pjaca entered the fray. It was an attacking change as Dybala went wide left and Pjaca wide right with Higuaín through the middle as Allegri switched to a 4-3-3 to try and rescue a point.
That he had to do so was testament to the organisation of de Boer’s set up and indeed the discipline of his players in carrying out his game plan to perfection, especially in the second half.
Juve moved to a back four and midfield three, by which time Inter had gone 4-5-1 to protect their lead.
It almost worked for the champions, who had chances, notably through Higuaín’s header and then from a Pjanić free-kick that went just over as they continued to press for the equaliser. Inter had dropped deep and were content to pick Juventus off on the break with the boundless energy of João Mário and Éver Banega now supported by Perišić.
They would be forced to do so with 10 men, however, after Banega was dismissed for a second bookable offence in the 90th minute. It was harsh on Banega, captured on a free transfer from Sevilla in the summer, as he had been one of Inter’s standout performers. And it was further compounded with the fourth official’s board flashing up four minutes of injury time as the Argentine trudged past him and headed down the tunnel.
Juve threw everything at Inter and claimed for a penalty as Handanović and Khedira collided. But the referee gave a free-kick in the goalkeeper’s favour allowing the Nerazzurri to run the clock down further. Paolo Dybala had two final opportunities to salvage something for Allegri’s side but was wasteful with a cross and then snatched at a shot under pressure in the dying seconds.
Inter held on for a famous victory in the Derby d’Italia and Frank de Boer lives to fight another day.
By Graeme Ellis. Follow @3ll15_