Walking into the lair of their most heated (and hated) rivals, for once Juventus had bigger concerns than a meeting with Inter. Thanks to a nine point cushion atop the Serie A table, nobody could blame the Bianconeri if they were looking past the latest installment of the Derby d’Italia saga and thinking about the Champions League Quarter Final against Bayern.
by Adam Digby
The line-up was, as the coach promised in his Friday press conference, very strong. Giorgio Chiellini took his place among the starting eleven despite missing out on Italy duty this past week as Conte looked to improve his match fitness ahead of Tuesday. The M-V-P trio of Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo was also left intact behind a front pairing of Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri.
On the other side, Andrea Stramaccioni went back to the 3-5-2 formation that served Inter well at Juventus Stadium back in November. Walter Samuel returned in the heart of defence, in hope the robust Argentinean could bolster the back line but, throughout the first half, it appeared the young coach had out-thought himself.
Seemingly inspired by a huge banner in the Curva Nord belittling the 2006 relegation, Juventus went at Inter from the opening whistle and, in the unfamiliar shape, the Nerazzurri struggled to contain such a vibrant start. The opening goal was no surprise but the amount of time and space awarded to Quagliarella certainly was. The Neapolitan striker has proven time and time again that given such generous defending he will almost certainly punish opponents as he did here, lashing a superb shot past Samir Handanovic from outside the area.
From there the two sides exchanged ball-to-hand incidents in the box as first Bonucci and then Javier Zanetti were struck by crosses they had no chance of avoiding with referee Nicola Rizzoli shockingly managed to get both calls right in a game which he managed relatively well. Juve than appeared happy to sit and defend, with only Kwadwo Asamoah appearing to struggle as Inter enjoyed some success down his flank.
The second half was something of a stalemate until come great play from Cassano released Rodrigo Palacio to level the scores but Juventus reacted almost immediately as Simone Padoin almost scored from a smart shot. Vidal then sent Quagliarella through and the striker made a huge effort to keep the ball in play, successfully squaring for Matri to smartly restore Juve’s lead.
Inter pressed forward searching for a lead, making some penalty appeals for some typically tough Chiellini tackles. Their tempers frayed and substitute Cambiasso saw a red card right at the final whistle for a tackle on Sebastian Giovinco that can only be described as disgusting.
by Adam Digby
Gianluigi Buffon 7.0 - San Siro marshalls should ask to see his ticket. Best seat in the house and actually got paid to watch the game. *Yawn*Ooops, sorry, that was every other game this season, here Buffon actually had work to do, making some excellent saves from a number of good Inter chances.
Andrea Barzagli 6.5 - Calm, cool and rock solid as ever, Barzagli surprised everyone with an incredible burst of speed in the first half. The defender stepped out to dribble past both Antonio Cassano and Cristian Chivu, thoroughly embarrassing the latter as he left him trailing in his wake.
Leonardo Bonucci 6.0 - With Cassano and Palacio pulling wide he had very little to do other than marshall the defence. He did.
Giorgio Chiellini 6.0 - Seeing him in the starting XI after injury is always a worry, his desire to play often overriding rational thoughts about fitness. He quickly allayed those fears with a typically robust performance that bodes well for Bayern.
Simone Padoin 6.0 - Came in to allow Lichsteiner to rest up and did just what you would expect in a dependable but ultimately limited performance.
Claudio Marchisio 6.5 - A quiet display as both he and Vidal sat deep alongside Pirlo rather making than his usual late forays into the opposition area.
Andrea Pirlo 7.0 - At the heart of everything as ever, he was crucial to controlling the tempo and direction in the calm manner we have come to expect of the Bearded Genius. Unlucky not to score in the first half but otherwise a sharp display.
Arturo Vidal 6.5 - Like Marchisio he abandoned all thoughts of attacking in order to contribute to a sound defensive display.
Kwadwo Asamoah 5.5 - Struggled to stay in front of his man and can fully expect to be replaced by Federico Peluso in the Champions League this week. Still nowhere near the levels we saw from him prior to his African Cup of Nations exploits.
’56 Federico Peluso 6.0 - Given the final thirty minutes which one imagines was preparation for facing Bayern.
Fabio Quagliarella 7.5 - Took his goal as only he can and immediately rushed to celebrate with Nicolas Anelka who has been acting as something of a mentor/guide/coach for the other strikers since his January arrival. Eager Beaver once again rewarded Conte’s faith in him.
’82 Sebastian Giovinco s.v - Came on to play ten minutes as a 5′ 5″ (1.64 m) lone striker. Unsurprisingly made very *ahem* little impact in his *cough* short spell other than be the victim of Cambiasso’s late violent lunge.
Alessandro Matri 7.0 - Held the ball up well but wasted a couple of great chances in the opening 45 minutes. Matri would fully make amends in the second half as he capitalised on some woeful Andrea Ranocchia defending to slot home Juve’s second goal.
’74 Paul Pogba 6.5 - Came on to reinforce an already solid midfield in order to ensure the victory. Job done.
Antonio Conte 7.5 - Made a number of big calls but his choices, tactics and substitutions kept him one step ahead of Stramaccioni throughout the game and will ensure the team heads to Tuesday’s huge game filled with confidence and sharpness.
by Adam Digby
The difference here appeared to be comfort. Juventus, the opening half aside, were rarely at their best but Antonio Conte thoroughly got the better of Andrea Stramaccioni as the two men went head to head. Juve’s familiarity with the 3-5-2 told for the whole game as far too many Inter players simply did not fit into the framework their coach demanded.
Nowhere was this truer than with Ranocchia who, as we saw at both Genoa and Inter under Gian Piero Gasperini, cannot understand the nuances of the system. Constantly out of position and not quick enough to recover, the 25 year old was at fault on both goals and it was no surprise to see him replaced by Esteban Cambiasso midway through the second half.
Antonio Conte: Juventus now go to Munich with great confidence. We are facing a strong Bayern side, but continue to embrace this dream. In Italy we realised that we are on the right track and now we want to measure ourselves against Europe too.
Conte’s plans as the Bianconeri head for the Allianz Arena remain unclear but they undoubtedly need to shore up the wide areas before facing Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. With Lichtsteiner and Peluso surely coming in for Simone Padoin and Asamoah, it would also be no surprise to see them opt for Paul Pogba over one of the two strikers on Tuesday as he did in the final quarter of this match. Conte used the latter part of this match to experiment with a 3-5-1-1 formation with Marchisio just behind Sebastian Giovinco and that shape could well be used against Bayern although Mirko Vucinic would be the most likely candidate for the lone striker role.
Overall a solid performance which maintains the lead over the rest of the pack domestically, Juventus can take some momentum and the memory of good performances with them to Germany. Conte ensured the focus was firmly on this game but will now move on in positive fashion after expending the minimal amount of effort. Andiamo ragazzi!
ANTONIO CONTE IL NOSTRO CAPITANO!