If you had polled 100 Inter fans yesterday, I doubt that 5 of them would’ve predicted a win in today’s Derby D’Italia. An Inter side coming off an incredibly poor defeat in the Europa League, lacking in confidence in Serie A, and with a manager that still seemed to be struggling to get his ideas across was taking on a Juventus side that was perfect in Serie A so far. But in a derby match form doesn’t matter, all that counts is a manager’s tactics on the night, the heart and passion of the players, and a smile from Lady Luck. Today with Inter’s past (Diego Milito, Walter Samuel, Cristian Chivu), present (the new Chinese owners) and future (Gabriel Barbosa) watcing from the stands, the football gods smiled upon the home side and all three of those factors went Inter’s way.
Frank De Boer opted to stick with a 4231 formation in this match. Danilo D’Ambrosio and Davide Santon flanked Miranda and Jeison Murillo, while the midfield two was a combination of Gary Medel and Joao Mario. Eder, Ever Banega, and Antonio Candreva supported Juve-slayer Mauro Icardi up top. Surprisingly enough Inter had more Italians in the starting lineup than Juventus (so all the Italy purists who love Juventus as the “standard-bearers of Italy” and trash Inter for not having enough Italians can suck it).
From the start of the match it was clear that things were going to be very different from the EL loss. For starters, Inter was doing some serious pressing. Not like Jurgen Klopp style “Oh my god these players are going to all get injured or die of exhaustion” pressing, but more of a trapping style of pressing. When Juventus would try to play the ball out of the back Icardi, Eder, Banega, and Candreva would swarm the defenders to cause them to play poor balls, and if Juventus managed to get the ball into Inter’s half the midfielders would sit off and allow the forwards to come back to squeeze the pitch enough to where Inter players could pounce and either steal the ball away or force a bad pass to get possession back. This was the first time we could really see what De Boer meant when he said he wanted to implement a smart pressing system into the team, and it worked almost to perfection.
Going forward for the first time all season the passing and movement off the ball was fluid. Joao Mario and Ever Banega swapped seamlessly between the trequartista and regista positions, while Eder cut in from the left flank at will to keep the Juventus defenders from focusing solely on Icardi. I think this was Eder’s best performance to date. His runs were intelligent, his touches and linkup play was pretty good, and he finally looked confident in an Inter jersey. Going forward Eder might start giving Ivan Perisic some serious competition for his starting spot if the Italian attacker continues in this form.
Now that I’ve gone over most of the tactics and individual praises for the match (except for Icardi and De Boer, theirs will come at the end) we can recap the game itself. Things started with the two sides trading periods of possession but neither team able to force the goalkeepers into saves. Sami Khedira was through on goal early in the match but was flagged for offside, before Gary Medel shot over the crossbar. Surprisingly enough Alex Sandro turned out to be Juventus’ most dangerous player on the night, and his first real contribution was a cross that Khedira got a head to but it bounced weakly into the arms of Samir Handanovic. Inter’s best chance of the first half occurred just after when in the 34th minute Icardi showed pure desire to beat Giorgio Chiellini to and off the ball and his curling shot skimmed the post going wide. Eder had a header saved and another shot that went just wide during the half as he had an enjoyable time on the left, especially considering the fact that both Stephan Lichtsteiner and Andrea Barzagli (who had replaced the injured Medhi Benatia) were on yellow cards. Juventus had one other good chance when Dybala cut back for Miralem Pjanic who’s shot left Handanovic rooted to the spot but missed the target. Despite all of Inter’s good work the first half ended 0-0.
There were worries that Inter would take the foot off the gas and turn down the pressure in the second half but those fears were unfounded. Inter seemed to actually crank up the pressing forcing Juventus players into mistake after mistake in the early minutes yet the Nerazzurri were still unable to find the back of the net. Eder sent in a low cross/shot in the 49th minute that Gianluigi Buffon got to just before Mauro Icardi, then Joao Mario found Icardi on the counterattack who swung a cross in for Candreva who’s volley barely flew wide of the goal.
Just as it looked like Inter was the only team that could possibly score, Juventus struck. Alex Sandro beat D’Ambrosio and his cross was tapped home by Lichtsteiner in the 66th minute. That’s what champions do, they find ways to score even when everything seems to be going against them. Once again Frank De Boer’s Inter was losing and there were worries that all of Inter’s good work would be for nothing, but up stepped Mauro Icardi. Literally. Two minutes later Ever Banega sent in a corner and Icardi jumped to beat Mario Mandzukic to the ball and powered home his header to tie the game. The Juve-killer struck again, bringing his tally against the Bianconeri to 7 goals in 8 matches.
The momentum was back with the home side at this point and De Boer sent on Ivan Perisic for Eder in order mix things up on the left hand side and see if the Croatian could return to form and terrorize the Juve back-line. Inter turned up the pressure yet again and the away side could’ve been down a man in the 72th minute when their goalscorer was whistled for a handball but wasn’t shown a second yellow (much to the protests of the home side). The pressure paid dividends in the 78th minute when Kwadwo Asamoah played a poor pass that Candreva picked up and sent to Icardi. The captain avoided the challenge from Buffon and chipped the ball to Perisic who headed the ball home to take the lead and send the San Siro into a frenzy. Youngster Senna Miangue was sent on for Davide Santon as the home side looked to protect the lead. Substitute Gonzalo Higuain flashed a glancing header wide of the post as Inter held on to take all three points despite losing Ever Banega to a second yellow card in the 90th minute.
I have to single out two individuals for extra praise in this match. Mauro Icardi was beyond phenomenal today. Not only did he score and pick up an assist, he was everywhere. He constantly fought with Chielinni and Bonucci and oftentimes was successful against the two defenders. The young striker was also more than willing to hunt down and press the defenders and Buffon often forcing them to make bad passes so Inter could pick up possession again. The captain bought into De Boer’s pressing system and he led by example today, allowing De Boer’s tactics to work wonders.
Finally, a word on Frank De Boer. The new manager has been hounded by the Italian press for not knowing what he is doing and for being totally outclassed in Serie A so far. There were even “reports” that Inter was looking to sack him already. Well he might have made mistakes before but the Dutch tactician got his lineup and instructions perfect today. He outcoached Allegri and beat Juventus, an incredibly hard thing to do. We’ve now seen what De Boer’s Inter can look like and we should be very excited. If what happened today can happen week after week, Serie A better start to look out. This could be a turning point for Inter’s season, let’s hope the good times continue.