Inter’s surge up the table since the beginning of 2011 has been something of a phenomenon. Last weekend’s win against Roma only furthered the belief that Inter do indeed have what it takes to claw back towards their crosstown cousins.
However, with all that said, this is probably the most important week in Inter’s Serie A season. The weekend sees them play their old foe Juventus, and during the mid-week they go down to Florence to play Fiorentina in their make-up game.
Two good results would see them move to within at least two points of Milan, and with a bit of luck even closer. A poor result, however, will knock the wind out of them a little bit.
Thus it seems only fitting that Inter have to get past their traditional rival in Juventus in one of their most important weeks of the season.
A game of this intensity and emotion usually sees form go right out of the window. Thus, I would not look too much at Inter’s and Juve’s contrasting fortunes as of late. I would be very surprised if one team completely steamrolls the other.
Let us go over some of the key individual battles that might come up during the game
Juve’s primary threat will come in the shape of pacy winger Milos Krasic. With Chivu out, Leonardo has the option of playing either Zanetti or Nagatomo at left-back. He went with the more experienced Zanetti against Roma and brought on Nagatomo only when the game was "seemingly" won. Zanetti’s supposed lack of pace might be a source for concern against Krasic. However, his bags of experience will surely help him snuff out many of the young winger’s tricks and flicks.
One also saw the downside of having a relentless attacking winger when Nagatomo came on as Cambiasso had to constantly fill in as a temporary left-back. One possibility could be playing Zanetti and Nagtomo on the same side of the pitch, so that they can swap roles and yet not look like a square peg in a round hole like Cambiasso did the other night.
One thing is for certain, the outcome of the Krasic vs. Inter battle will have a major bearing on the game’s result.
Wesley Sneijder is getting back to his 2010 form with every passing game. Three goals in as many games, including the screamer for Holland in mid-week ,means he is an additional goal threat. Of course, Sneijder’s importance to Inter is beyond only the goals he scores. His vision and passing is second to none.
With Sneijder in the side and playing well, the attack seems to be at a completely different level. He can bring in other players into the game, see a pass that Cambiasso and Motta never could and conjure something from nothing.
Felipe Melo is one man in the Juve midfield who can do a man marking role on Sneijder. The fear for Juve would be Melo getting carried away and picking a yellow card too early in the game. This would lead to the very high possibility of them finishing the game with 10 men.
If Melo can stifle Sneijder and prevent him any space in behind the front two, then Juventus would have won a major battle in their effort to win the war, so to speak. On the contrary, Sneijder has the ability to get himself unmarked and find space between the defense and midfield like few other players, an intriguing battle indeed.
Inter’s defense didn’t cover itself in glory in the game against Roma. There was indecision and lack of organization particularly on set pieces. With the injuries piling up at the back, it seems as though Ranocchia and Cordoba will form the defensive pair against Juventus.
In theory, the two of them should form the perfect combination. Ranocchia is good on the ball and rushes out to stop the attack, oftentimes coming to the halfway line in his efforts. Cordoba stays back and has pace to counter any forward. Both are good in the air, so there is no real excuse for any further lapses this week.
They will come up against Juve’s on-loan winter signing Alessandro Matri, who had an excellent debut against his old side Cagliari, scoring two goals. He will have veteran Luca Toni for company. Seeing the trouble Boriello was able to cause the centerback pairing, Matri and Toni will be hoping to cause their own share of damage.
One gets a feeling that Inter’s ability to defend set pieces, particularly against Toni, will have a telling effect on the efficiency of Juve’s attack.
Eto’o and Pazzini are fast becoming one of the best attacking partnerships in the league. Juventus have a leaky defense and an in-form Eto could mean plenty of goals for the Cameroonian striker.
Pazzini has already shown his fantastic aerial ability and with potential passes swung in from Maicon, he might well have a very productive afternoon.
Standing in their way though is a former Inter youth product in Lenoardo Bonucci. The young Italian defender had a splendid start to his Juve career, but somewhat symptomatic of the entire team’s performances, he has tailed off a bit in recent weeks.
Andrea Barzagli has allowed Chiellini to fill in as an emergency full-back and due to Juve’s injury crisis in the left-back area, he will be expected to partner Bonucci in defense. Barzagli will have his sternest test yet, when he comes up against Eto’o and Co.
Chiellini at left back will also have an important role in stopping the marauding Maicon. Chiellini is not a natural in that position, however, which means that Inter’s Brazilian full-back might have a field day on the right flank.
Like all games, one expects the midfield battle to have the biggest impact on who wins the Derby of Italy.
Aquilani and Marchisio have performed very well for Juventus in their engine room with six goals and six assists between them for the season.
However, when compared to Inter’s midfield, those stats seem a little weak. Inter’s real strength this season has been their ability to come up with goals from all over the park, and in particular their midfield has been extremely productive.
Motta and Cambiasso combined have scored more than 10 goals this season. Both scored in last week’s crucial win against Roma to further underline this point. In tight games such as this, it is often a midfielder that scores the winner—Sulley Munatri anyone?
Cambiasso is most effective when he plays the central role in midfield, and Leonardo prefers playing Motta as the deeper central midfielder with Cambiasso or Kharja ahead of him. In a game of this magnitude, the drive that Cambiasso provides from his central role is paramount, and perhaps playing Motta slightly wider may be the best option for Leonardo.
All in all, we can expect a brilliant game full of thrills and spills. Inter under Leonardo score a lot of goals and concede plenty as well. Juventus haven’t been water-tight in defense either, so we can expect a few goals in this game.
Above all else, the two teams should put on a spectacle like Inter and Roma did last week that shows the world what Italian football is really about.
I look forward to your comments and opinion regarding this fierce contest and predictions about the winner.