Inter Milan took one point from perhaps the most difficult fixture in all of Italian football on Saturday. No, the performance wasn’t stellar, but keeping a clean sheet against Juventus at the Allianz Stadium is never a poor result.
Here are takeaways from the goalless Derby D’Italia draw:
A disappointing performance, but a positive result
Inter may not have played that well on Saturday, and the team certainly struggled to create chances, but it’s important to keep this match in context. The Nerazzurri were facing an objectively superior Juventus team that’s won the Scudetto seven years in a row, in one of Europe’s most difficult grounds for opponents to play in.
This is Juve’s eighth season at the Allianz Stadium, and since it opened in 2011, they’ve lost just four Serie A matches at home. With one of those losses already occurring this season (thanks, Lazio!), any opponent, including Inter, taking all three points from this fixture would’ve been a surprise.
No, this season’s iteration of Juventus may not seem as ruthless as the teams in recent years, but they’re still unquestionably one of the best sides in Europe. Let’s not forget, Juve nearly won the treble in 2016/17, while Inter finished seventh. Despite a somewhat disappointing performance, especially in attack, Inter taking anything from this match is a positive result. Saturday’s result was a point won, not two points lost.
You can’t win if you don’t score, and you can’t score if you don’t shoot
As mentioned above, there’s no question Inter struggled to create chances on Saturday. The Nerazzurri’s first shot didn’t come until the 52nd minute and they only mustered six attempts on the night, with just one on target.
Simply put, that’s not good enough. You’re not going to win against one of the league’s best teams with only one shot on target.
While it was by no means exclusively his fault, Mauro Icardi received virtually no service on Saturday, and was almost invisible as a result. With Perisic having to drop back to help provide cover against Cuadrado (more on that below) and Candreva closely marked by either Asamoah or Matuidi, it became clear early in the first half that it would be a difficult night for Inter’s attack. Thankfully, the defense did enough to frustrate Juventus too, and a lackluster attack didn’t prove fatal to Inter on the night.
Inter’s fullbacks were overmatched
Perhaps the most glaring discrepancy on display in Saturday’s match was the gulf in class between Juve’s wingers and Inter’s fullbacks. This is not a slight on the overall performances we’ve seen from Davide Santon and Danilo D'Ambrosio this season; they’ve been mostly excellent, but there’s no question the Italian fullback duo were second best in their match-ups on the wings against Juve.
Juan Cuadrado particularly gave Inter fits on Saturday. Santon struggled to cover the Colombian all match long, which resulted in Perisic having to drop back and defend more than we would’ve liked to have seen... Dalbert wasn’t able to do much better in his near half hour of action, either.
On the right, Mario Mandzukic’s height advantage over D’Ambrosio was nearly a match-winning difference for Juve, as their best chance came in the 44th minute, when the Croatian got on the end of a Cuadrado cross and headed the shot off of Inter’s crossbar.
Inter committed 21 fouls in the match with a whopping 11 coming against either Cuadrado or Mandzukic. Juventus’ wingers were dangerous all game, and that’s something that Luciano Spalletti will need to keep in mind when the Bianconeri make the return trip to the San Siro in late April.
A seemingly vulnerable Juve
Saturday’s Derby D’Italia draw means that Juventus have already failed to win at home twice this season. Couple that with a loss to Sampdoria and a draw to Atalanta, and Juve seem to lack the killer instinct we’ve seen in recent seasons.
Now it’s dangerous to get too ahead of ourselves here. Of course, Juventus started out poorly in 2015/16, only to storm back into the title race with a 15-match winning streak, and clinching the Scudetto with a second 10-match streak in the second half of the season. There’s obviously a lot of football to be played, but I can’t help but feel Saturday’s match would’ve been one that the Juventus of recent years would’ve found a way to win.
While we can certainly debate if Inter should truly be viewed as contenders, there seems to be a legitimate title race on the cards this season. I still think Juve are the favorites, but something doesn’t quiet seem right with the Old Lady... Could the reign of terror finally come to an end in May? We’ll see, but there’s a much better chance of it happening this season than there has been in years past.
Most importantly, Inter remain unbeaten and their three most difficult fixtures are in the books
Despite all of what’s said above this… the only thing that really matters from Saturday’s match is that Inter remained undefeated on the season. The fact that we’re now 16 matches into the Serie A campaign and Inter have yet to lose is beyond the wildest dreams of most supporters.
It’s also worth noting that Inter’s unbeaten run includes arguably the three most difficult fixtures in Italian football; Juventus, Napoli, and AS Roma away. Not only have Inter taken five points from those three matches, but they’ve also conceded just one goal… That’s simply phenomenal given how disappointing and mentally fragile the club have been in recent seasons.
As fans, we may not be thrilled with the performance Inter showed against Juventus in Saturday’s Derby D’Italia — Luciano Spalletti most certainly won’t be — but at the end of the day, Inter remain undefeated well into December. That’s more than every other team in Italy can say.