Inter Milan welcome Juventus on Sunday night in a highly-anticipated clash which already has all the credentials of a Serie A title contender.
Hosts Inter, revitalised by coach Antonio Conte, have made a perfect start to their domestic campaign with six wins from six games but the reigning Serie A champions remain unbeaten this season under Maurizio Sarri.
Dubbed the ‘Derby d’Italia’, the clash between the two Italian powerhouses is one of the most eagerly awaited and bitterly contested games in the Serie A footballing calendar, as well as the most frequent one with over 230 precedents in history.
So what can we expect on Sunday night? We find out here…
Sarri-ball or Conte-ball?
This season more than any other, Inter Milan against Juventus is a match-up between two different football ideologists: Conte and Sarri. The two managers preceding Frank Lampard at Chelsea now find themselves at the forefront of one of the biggest rivalries in their home country – with the same man who ushered in Juventus’ eight-year title-winning cycle now vowing to end it.
Sarri’s dynamic and possession-based football marks a break in tradition at Juventus. Just like at Chelsea, his start to the season did not produce overly exciting football, but brought many wins on the board – and that is what everybody cares about in Turin. After a couple of underwhelming performances, Juventus remain unbeaten after eight games, preserving their aura as the top of the class.
Inter have Conte’s tactical discipline and defensive rigidity to thank as their first six domestic fixtures marked an evident evolution and improvement in performance. They boast the best defensive record so far with only two goals conceded – and despite a more-than-convincing display at the Nou Camp on Wednesday when they lost 2-1 to Barcelona, Conte highlighted how under no circumstances a big team shall be content with a loss on the night.
Sky in Italy pundit Paolo Condò compared Sarri and Conte to two historic Italian managers such as Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello. Sarri – just like AC Milan great Sacchi – failed to have a significant playing career and focuses on transmitting his ideas to his players. Meanwhile, Conte and Capello have learned a lot from their playing experience and made man-management their prime skill.
Ronaldo and Lukaku, the poster men
When Conte was given the keys to the Inter training centre, he was given carte blanche to act as he pleased, especially in the transfer market. His pursuit – and capture – of Romelu Lukaku, two years after his attempts to sign him at Chelsea, caught nobody by surprise. He had finally gotten the forward that he had been dreaming of.
Fast forward to two months later, and Lukaku is becoming the emblem of the new-style Inter. When he plays well, Inter win, and vice-versa. His goal-scoring record is respectful – with three goals in six league games albeit against sides in the bottom half of the table – but what Conte signed him for is his ability to play with the team, attract defensive marking and feed in midfielders. It’s no wonder he shares top scorer honours with Stefano Sensi – a revelation since joining from Sassuolo.
On the other side of the coin, Cristiano Ronaldo is yet to be enchanted by Sarri’s tactics, but the league’s most valuable player has found in Gonzalo Higuain a functioning strike partner. Empowered by Sarri to go and be the match winner this season, the Portugal captain always turns up in the big games and he will have sensed that Inter are going all out to put an end to his dominance.
After the win at Brescia two matchdays ago, Sarri reiterated that he expects Ronaldo to take advantage of his past as a left-winger by starting on the left-side of a two-man attack, shouldered by either Higuain or Paulo Dybala. The chance of seeing the three together are slim, as admitted by the coach himself – but as proven time and time again, Ronaldo does not need any partners. His two goals in two games at the San Siro are a good omen for Juventus fans.
The history of the “Derby d’Italia”
The term ‘Derby d’Italia’ was coined by journalist Gianni Brera in 1967 to explain the grudge between two teams who without being based in the same city share a deep antagonism through trophies won, geographical location, sporting tradition, fan-base size and ownership – the Moratti and Agnelli families, two of the most important economic dynasties in 1960s Italy.
After endless title battles, most notably in the early noughties with a prime Ronaldo at Inter, what really made the tensions between the two clubs explode was the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006, that saw Juventus relegated to Serie B and stripped of their Serie A title, then given to third-placed Inter.
The affair remains an open wound for Juventus, and only last week they lodged yet another appeal to the Italian FA just to have that 2006 title revoked altogether. Following Juve’s relegation, Inter ransacked their rivals’ squad, signing stars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Patrick Vieira in cut-price deals. They went on to claim 14 domestic titles in four years, effectively building their success on Juve’s misfortunes.
View from the changing room: Inter
Sky in Italy reporter Matteo Barzaghi: “Inter are very angry after the loss to Barcelona – they played well but didn’t manage to take home the points. The feeling in the changing room right now is a mixture of disappointment and anger – but they have the perfect chance to put that right against Juventus.
“There are little doubts about the line-up. Lukaku should be fit to play after shrugging off a muscular injury that kept him out of the Barcelona game. His link-up with Conte has started off fantastically – it looks like Conte is controlling him with a remote from the bench, he does whatever he asks him!
“He holds up the play, presses deep, gets in the danger zone, on repeat. For Conte’s gameplay, it’s very important that the striker makes this sort of contribution. Lukaku guarantees that sort of work. He said it himself: Conte is the perfect coach for me at this point in my career, I need someone who trusts me like he does. And Conte trusts him a lot, he’s paramount for his style of play.
“He settled down in Italy very well, he already speaks fluent Italian and even understands tactical instructions in Italian. He is doing very well.”
View from the changing room: Juventus
Sky in Italy reporter Francesco Cosatti: “Juventus come into this fixture in good shape, both physically and mentally. They played on Tuesday night, so they had one more rest day than Inter.
“On Thursday they opened their training session to club members, something which happens three or four times per season – but I can’t remember it ever happening before such a big game.
“My understanding is that Sarri should make no changes to the starting eleven and will field a 4-3-1-2 formation with Aaron Ramsey behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain, who is very tough to relegate to the bench right now – he is being a perfect strike partner to Cristiano.