When: Sunday, February 5th 2:45pm ET/ 8:45pm CET
Where: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy.
So then, this is it. The match we've all been waiting for. It's Derby d'Italia time! (I'm using an exclamation mark there in an attempt to portray my terror as excitement.)
Rarely in the last few years has a Juventus-Inter match been as keenly anticipated as this one, and not just by the two sets of supporters directly involved. For the delight of neutrals, both teams arrive at this match in the best shape they have been in all season and harbour legitimate reasons to be confident of winning, which should make for a fascinating spectacle in what many are describing as a fundamental game to determine how the rest of the Serie A season will pan out.
In terms of the league table, it's important to emphasise that this is not a decisive match for us, as defeat would merely return things to how they were last weekend and would not put the 80-point target that we'll need to hit to finish in the top three out of reach*. However emotionally speaking this could have very significant ramifications on the next three months for us.. Winning at the Gobbi Stadium would give the players an enormous injection of adrenaline and confidence and set us up for a thrilling final third of the season, removing all possible doubt about our credentials for Champions League qualification under Pioli; losing, and in particular losing heavily, could have exactly the opposite effect, definitively shattering the momentum we had built up before Tuesday's Coppa Italia elimination and completely changing the mood both inside and outside the dressing room. I sincerely hope the second doesn't happen, but you can't really rule it out.
On the one hand this seems like an impossible task. Juventus are in their best form of the season and have won every single one of their last 27 home league games, with Lazio the latest team to crumble inside the first twenty minutes a fortnight ago as Max Allegri's men bulldozed their way to a comfortable victory. They have scored twice in the first half-hour in each of their last three games and it's something they have done very often at home this season, so if we want to take a result home with us we will have to be uber-concentrated and disciplined at the start to avoid suffering the same fate as so many others - for sure, a repeat of our first-half performance against Lazio in midweek will have us 3-0 down in no time.
As well as the habit they've developed for blistering starts though there's also the physical aspect to consider, as that has been the key to their recent upturn of form and what makes their new super-attacking line-up workable. Any team that wishes to beat Juve at the moment will have to be ready to win a series of individual duels all over the pitch, as in recent weeks they have simply been overwhelming opponents in this regard, and our second-half performance against Pescara last weekend suggests that we may struggle to keep up a sufficient level of intensity for 90 minutes. So forgive me if I'm a little pessimistic.
But having said that we must try to be confident. Our seven-game winning run in Serie A is still intact after the midweek defeat and we do have the weapons to hurt this Juventus team, which currently possesses precious few weaknesses but can be made to suffer if you have the courage to put them on the defensive. If we can be a match for them physically and athletically then we have players who can be lethal in transitions when the ball is turned over, because several teams have caused the Old Lady problems this season by adapting an ultra-aggressive approach. We'll never be like Napoli for the beauty of our play but we have a lot of centimetres in the team as well as a shed-load of stamina and pace, so it won't be the simplest of nights for Allegri and co. despite their home form and excellent recent results.
We'll need to be perfect to win, but whatever the result is I'll be happy with a bold performance. Pioli has overseen a magnificent revival since the start of December and this is the perfect match in which to confirm all the progress we've made in our run of matches against weaker opponents, giving a definitive demonstration of how much the mentality of the team has improved of late. If they play like an Inter team should then I personally will not have any complaints, because losing away to Juventus would not be a disgrace despite the bitter rivalry that exists between us; all I ask for on this occasion is the performance. Let's approach this Derby d'Italia without fear, because if anyone in Serie A is capable of ending the Bianconeri's stunning home record at this moment in time then it's us. We may even have done something similar already in the past, if my memory serves me correctly. FORZA RAGAZZI!
(Oh, just one more thing - if you have a chance then I encourage you to read the Q&A session we did with our cousins at BWRAO, which can be found here. Tim also answered some Inter-related questions for their site in this article.)
It's very difficult to know what XI Pioli will pick for tomorrow. 7 players would appear to have their starting places secured, but the other 4 are very much up for grabs. Miranda's partner in central defence could either be Murillo or Medel; Nagatomo could replace Ansaldi at left-back given the Argentine's poor form; Kondogbia, Brozovic and Medel could all be selected to play alongside Gagliardini in the midfield two; and the role of trequartista could be filled either by Brozo or Joao Mario. Handanovic, D'Ambrosio, Miranda, Gagliardini, Candreva, Perisic and Icardi should all be present on the team-sheet unless anything strange happens in the next 24 hours, but we'll have to wait and see who joins them.
Juventus' starting XI contains fewer doubts on the eve of the match. Allegri has revitalised the team in recent weeks switching to his ostensibly uber-offensive 4-2-3-1 system which crowbars all of his five star attacks into the side simultaneously, and there's no reason to suggest he'll change things for this match with so many positives coming out of recent performances.
Probable Starting XIs
Juventus (4-2-3-1): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Pjanic, Khedira; Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain
Inter (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; D'Ambrosio, Miranda, Murillo, Nagatomo; Medel, Gagliardini; Candreva, Joao Mario, Perisic; Icardi.
How to Watch
TV: Sky Sport 1 HD, Sky SuperCalcio HD, Sky Calcio 1 HD & PremiumSport HD (Italy); BT Sport 2 HD (UK); RAI International (USA)
Online: SKY Go Italia & Premium Play (Italy); BT Sport Live Streaming (UK); beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA)
(For other countries' streaming and broadcasting options see here)