Juventus v Inter Milan
Serie A Week 15 – Friday, 7th December – 19:30 GMT – Juventus Stadium
The three-nothing was very generous in Florence and it is peculiar that Juventus got one of their largest results in one of the matches where the opponents had the most chances to score. However, the Bianconeri were very opportunistic, bagged a pair of random goals and brought home their 13th win in a season. A little luck does not hurt here and there. Hopefully, it is a sign for things to come, because generally in the past we have never been too capable of winning ugly.
Massimiliano Allegri recently demanded some goals by midfielders and defenders to help Cristiano Ronaldo and Mario Mandzukic, who have done most of the scoring so far in Serie A, and they promptly arrived against Fiorentina.
On top of doing a masterful job leading a weird midfield in his own way, Rodrigo Bentancur netted a fantastic goal, as his transformation into an all-around player is basically complete.
The Uruguayan youngster can fill in for Miralem Pjanic when needed, as it was the case last week, but those opportunities will be rare. The road map for him to be a regular even after the return of Sami Khedira and Emre Can will be consistent offensively: at that point it will be hard to keep him out of the XI. The coach will obviously use everybody, but a steadier line-up is clearly forming in the past month and Bentancur has been a vital element.
Bentancur picked up a back problem in the last couple of days and he faces a late fitness test, which poses some problems since Khedira will not return this week from his ankle sprain, which has been harder to shake off than expected. Can has a full week of practice, but inserting him in the XI is probably a big ask. The coach mentioned that as an option if Bentancur could not play, but probably Juan Cuadrado has more of a chance. Or it could easily be 4-4-2, which would make room for another winger.
The run of fierce competitors continues this week with Inter. The next match against Young Boys is meaningful, because we need to win to secure the top spot, but the opponents will not be super competitive as they are already out of the running So we will likely see a reserve-filled formation on Wednesday and all the studs will be out there against Inter.
Alex Sandro is still ailing and unlikely to play, so Mattia De Sciglio is set to get another chance. Joao Cancelo was used on the left in Florence to get him out of the burden of guarding Federico Chiesa, and De Sciglio stepped up there. While much maligned at first, and with good reason, the ex-Milan right back has found his dimension as back-up this year and, while limited offensively, he is no longer somebody you have to worry about in the back. Inter’s wingers are pretty much even in terms of dangerous-ness, so we will see what the choice will be here.
The only other doubt seems to be the usual one: the third man in the trident alongside Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo. Paulo Dybala has been the answer most of the times, but Douglas Costa is coming on strong and Federico Bernardeschi is available, so there could be some tinkering going forward, as Allegri will try to manage energies and surprise the opponents. Andrea Barzagli has suffered a quad injury and is expected to miss significant time.
4-3-3: Szczesny; Cancelo, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Mandzukic, Ronaldo.
Khedira (ankle), Sandro (thigh), Barzagli (quad).
Inter have been able to string together seven wins in a row, which is always an accomplishment in Serie A no matter who the opponents are, and they topped Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina in that streak. However, they slowed down a little and dropped points in their last two road games, as they no-showed in Bergamo against Atalanta and then were held to a 2-2 draw by Roma last week. They have asserted themselves as the clear third force in the League, which is an improvement compared to last season, when they sneaked into the top four in the final stages.
The step forward has mostly been a product of continuity and gradual growth, then the summer additions increased their quality, especially up front. Luciano Spalletti is certainly a capable coach and can lead them to some good results before he eventually starts rubbing people the wrong way.
Mauro Icardi is a well-known Juventus killer, actually he is an assassin of any team and he is having yet another strong season, having already scored eight goals in the domestic league and three in Europe. They added two pawns to their quest of finding a reliable second fiddle: Matteo Politano is solid, maybe not super flashy but he gets the job done and can provide a good amount of scoring and assists, while Balde Keita is quite the opposite, since he can have incredible peaks, but also disappear and be a little annoying when he is not feeling it. Unfortunately for Juventus, the Senegalese winger is in a stellar moment with three goals in his last two starts and that mitigates the fact that Ivan Perisic has not scored in ages. Perhaps the coach will opt to have Keita as super sub, but right he now he is much more effective than the Croatian attacker, who is going through one of his usual down moments.
They completed the puzzle with the kind of trequartista they were missing, Radja Nainggolan, and, while he has a great track record under Spalletti, he has been banged up for the better part of the season. He will not play on Friday, which constitutes one fewer problem for the Old Lady. Joao Mario and Borja Valero have actually done a decent job filling in, but it is clear that they are not players of the same caliber. The midfield looks more like a three-man line than a triangle without Nainggolan. They have benefited greatly from the fact that Marcelo Brozovic is turning into a serviceable deep-lying playmaker, something similar to what Pjanic did in his first and second year at Juventus.
The other doubt about the line-up is on the right defensive flank, where the starter Sime Vrsaljko has recovered from his thigh injury, but Danilo D’Ambrosio has been solid, so he could stick in the XI. Bringing in both Stefan De Vrij and Kwadwo Asamoah for nothing was brilliant and, before the bad loss in Bergamo, they had the best statistical defence in the League.
We can expect an experienced, physical and well-drilled team on Friday, which have perfected the supply line to Mauro Icardi and could have an extra oomph with Keita running wild. They are also menacing on set pieces, which have been a problem for us this year. Their front office has already been able of pulling off some clever moves and the upcoming arrival of Giuseppe Marotta, combined with the conspicuous Suning resources, makes them a threatening foe for future.
4-2-3-1: Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, De Vrij, Asamoah; Vecino, Brozovic; Politano, Valero, Keita; Icardi.
Nainggolan (thigh), Dalbert (calf).
Juventus and Inter Performance Statistics
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