Juventus – Internazionale: Caution and Control In The Derby D’Italia (1-1)
Only two points separated the league leaders from their hosts in second, as Internazionale visited Juventus in a Derby D’Italia that many thought would lay down an early marker in the burgeoning title race. A stalemate was probably what should have been expected from two teams with near-identical records.
Tactical analysis and match report by Nick Hartland.
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Without the distraction of European football, Juventus had recorded only one defeat since the start of the season which had left a growing feeling within their support that this year could be a return to something that for much of the last decade felt inevitable: winning their next Scudetto. However, these thoughts were a bit premature with less than half of the season played and with their familiar rivals in such commanding form.
Despite sporting almost identical records with both teams losing only once (and both against Sassuolo), there has been a clear difference between the teams on the field. Inter have looked far and away the best team in Serie A and worthy league leaders, with the most goals scored and the least conceded. Still, victory away at the Old Lady is never easy, but if they were to win it might just promise a special season.
Massimiliano Allegri lined his Juventus side up in their usual 3-5-2 formation. Wojciech Szczęsny was in goal, behind the back three of Daniele Rugani, Gleison Bremer, and Federico Gatti. The midfield was made up of Adrien Rabiot, Hans Nicolussi coming in for his debut in place of Manuel Locatelli who was on the bench after an injury while representing Italy, and Weston McKennie, with Filip Kostić and Andrea Cambiaso as wingbacks. Finally, Federico Chiesa and Dušan Vlahović were the forwards.
Likewise, Simone Inzaghi sprung no surprises with the 3-5-2 shape. In goal, Yann Sommer with a defense of Francesco Acerbi, Stefan de Vrij, and Matteo Darmian. In midfield, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Nicolò Barella were flanked by wingbacks Federico Dimarco and Denzel Dumfries. In attack, the current lead for Capocannoniere Lautaro Martínez and Marcus Thuram.
Early excitement leads to a deadlock
The first few minutes of the game belied the overall cagey theme of the fixture, as Juventus pressed Inter’s buildup from deep and attempted to force early turnovers which created a dynamic start to the match that rapidly faded into a slower rhythm. The change in pace was brought about by Juventus dropping back into a more passive high block rather than proactively pursuing these transitions.
Instead, Vlahović and Chiesa looked to restrict Inter’s ability to progress the ball from the center-backs into the midfield with the strikers aiming to block the passing lanes into Çalhanoğlu by keeping the midfielder within the cover shadow. This worked well in the early stages of the match to contain Inter as it limited Çalhanoğlu’s involvement unless Inter used positional rotations to get their playmaker on the ball.
Seventeenth minute: Inter build from deep and show the amount of movement and rotation necessitated before being in a position to gain access to Çalhanoğlu.
Inter generally could find a way through the high block given enough time but therein was the problem. It would often take a fair amount of effort for them to create the correct angles and rotations to play through the first line of engagement which often meant that the hosts could recover swiftly into a low block to create a new set of issues that Inter never looked comfortable with overcoming.
However, it was an entirely different story out of possession for Inter as they likewise contained Juventus through a mixture of a pressing system and an eagerness to drop into a rigid shape when their opponents neared the final third. It meant that Juventus could never build out from the back safely and when they more often than not opted to go with a more direct approach they were met with a disciplined and organized defensive presence.
The deadlock is broken and then made anew
The hosts opened the scoring through a passage of play that looked both well thought-out and clumsy as they played the ball around their defensive line encouraging Inter to press higher up the pitch. Inter duly obliged and put sustained pressure on the backline as Juventus were forced into riskier passes before Szczęsny swept the ball up, and kicked it long towards the forwards. The clearance reached Dumfries who lost control of the ball allowing Vlahović to quickly recover possession and release Chiesa. The forward carried the ball into the half-space where he spotted the run of his strike partner, the return pass leaving Vlahović to finish neatly.
Inter was quick to restore the scoreline exploiting a turnover to take advantage of the number of Juventus players that had looked to push forward and join the attack. A rapid progression down the wing meant for the first time in the game Inter could create a meaningful attacking movement because Juventus were unable to form into their defensive shape. Thuram and Martínez were able to attack one-on-one with their defenders and combined to bring Inter level and Martínez another goal in a fruitful season.
It was clear that both teams looked to be at their best in transition when the game was stretched and space suddenly opened up. It was also very evident that neither manager was remotely comfortable with allowing the fixture to resemble anything close to that kind of game, preferring instead to create a more controlled and cautious tie. The result was a tactical stalemate with neither team able to meaningfully enter the final third.
The stalemate solidifies
The second half had a comfortable feel with both teams looking content to hold onto a point and maintain the status quo, mustering only one shot between them.
Juventus retained their high block but with less focus on restricting access into Çalhanoğlu as Chiesa and Vlahović took up positions behind the midfielder allowing the ball to frequently find him with ease. This encouraged Inter to keep possession and build patiently, yet they never took advantage of this change as they recorded 65 percent possession without creating anything further than a single shot.
Both managers made alterations to their team without ever looking to change the composition of the game. Each substitution felt increasingly like the two managers were attempting to shore up any weakness that might occur in their defensive shape rather than introducing those players to provide some attacking inspiration.
The biggest excitement in the second half came with the introduction of former Juventus player Juan Cuadrado for Dumfries. His every touch of the ball brought a raucous state of disapproval from the Juventus support, but even that was not enough to inspire a change in the fate of a tie that had been settled early in the first half.
Despite leading the game and having the opportunity to leapfrog their visitors into first place, it will come as no surprise that Allegri was delighted with the result, with the manager remarking that he was “happy with the table.” And why wouldn’t he be? The team worked hard to nullify the most dangerous attacking side in Serie A, which is a huge sign of progress from where the team was last season. Perhaps, most importantly for Allegri and his side, a draw keeps the belief and fear growing within Italy that Juventus are back.
Similarly, Inter and Inzaghi will feel content with a point away at the Allianz Stadium on a night when they looked far from their best. This was clearly a difficult match and to come away from it with a point and a hold on first place will be exceptionally important to the manager and team, especially when bearing in mind that next week they have another tricky away tie as they visit current title holders Napoli.