Inter traveled to Turin today hoping to keep their Serie A winning streak alive. Standing in their way was an in-form Juventus team that would love nothing more than to beat their rivals, breaking their winning streak and ensuring their home ground remained a fortress. The away side knew that perfection would be required to take points back to the city of Milan, and despite putting up a fight they came up short and return home empty handed.
Stefano Pioli changed things up for this game, opting to use a back 3 in a 3-4-2-1. Samir Handanovic had Jeison Murillo, Gary Medel, and Miranda protecting him. Out wide were Danilo D’Ambrosio and Antonio Candreva, with Marcelo Brozovic and Roberto Gagliardini in the center of the pitch. Joao Mario and Ivan Perisic supported Mauro Icardi up top. This formation seemed to be Pioli’s attempt to find a solution to the fullback problem; Cristian Ansaldi has turned in horror shows in his last few performances and most coaches wouldn’t trust Yuto Nagatomo in the starting lineup of the Derby D’Italia. The switch had its positives, allowing the defense to have more control in possession with Gary Medel dictating play out of the back. It also had its drawbacks, Candreva was quite isolated throughout the match in the wingback role and wasn’t as influential as he usually is, plus Perisic and D’Ambrosio’s linkup play left much to be desired at times.
The game started in an open fashion. The first two chances fell to Juventus and specifically Paulo Dybala; the first chance occured in the second minute when Stephan Lichtsteiner got past Brozovic, crossed to Mario Mandzukic and his header fell to Dybala but his volley was saved. Ten minutes later the Argentine shot from outside the box and his attempted crashed off the crossbar. Inter had the next few opportunities; Gagliardini had two good chances but his first header went over the bar and the second was straight at Gianluigi Buffon, and in-between those Icardi held the ball up and then laid it off to Joao Mario but his shot went just wide.
The first 45 minutes saw the attacking pendulum swinging back and forth. Gonzalo Higuain and Mandzukic went close while an Icardi flick went just wide and Perisic forced a (relatively simple) save out of Buffon. In the 44th minute Handanovic had to be quick to save from a Miralem Pjanic free kick but the home side took the lead from the resulting corner. The clearing header out saw the ball land at the feet of Juan Cuadrado and he rifled an unstoppable shot from outside of the box past the keeper. That was the last chance of the half and the players departed to a roaring J-Stadium.
Neither side made any changes at the interval and the Bianconeri stormed out of the gates eager to kill of the match as soon as possible. Medel had to be smart (and strong) to deny Higuain and Sami Khedira. After Handanovic had to make a save denying Higuain Pioli went to his bench, pulling Brozovic and Candreva for Geoffrey Kondigbia and Eder. It was a good move, the two of them hadn’t had their best matches and their replacements (especially Eder) clearly came on eager to make an impact. Gagliardini sent another header over the bar as Inter began pushing again for an equalizer, the youngster really needs to work on putting the ball into the back of the net since he seems to find himself in scoring positions so often. Inter were forcing Juventus to defend deeper and foul more and more and as a result the home side began to rack up the yellow cards. Some Inter fans might’ve hoped that there might be a red card in the near future considering all the tackles flying in and there was one, but not to the team we expected (but we’ll get to that later).
Inter kept pushing for the equalizing goal but they couldn’t get their shots on target and after a while Juve became comfortable sitting back and trying to hit the Nerazzurri on the counter through Mandzukic and substitute Dani Alves. In the final moments of the match Inter got a corner and everybody (including Handanovic) went up. A foul was called in Juve’s favor and Handanovic was booked for protests and Perisic was shown a straight red for his. All that happened after that was the final whistle.
Alright now let’s talk about specific performances. I think taken in isolation, the M&M&M defense can work against stronger opposition. It really negates the fullback problem, allows all of Inter’s top defenders to be on the pitch, and allows a true ball-playing defender to have time and space to spray passes. The problem is that today’s version handicaps Candreva at wingback since he doesn’t have somebody to help with defensive duties out wide. His ability to draw out defenders and threaten from distance was negated today. Besides some decent holdup play and layoffs to Joao Mario, I think Icardi was fairly nonexistent today.
Finally let’s talk about Rizzoli. On the one hand, I think his handing out of yellow cards was fairly consistent-if not slightly in favor of Inter considering the fact that Gagliardini escaped a yellow card after a few hard tackles. On the other hand, he let Chiellini get away with a lot including (but not limited to) taking down Icardi in the box as well as a pretty blatant dive after winning possession late in the match. Finally, there’s the red card. I really want to know what Perisic said to get sent off, I really hope it gets released because it is incredibly rare for a player to get a straight red card for dissent. I’m not going to go so far as to claim any biases by the referee, I just found that decision to be...interesting.
I think the team played well and did enough to force Juventus to work really hard for their win. I also think the team could’ve played better. I think that while the change in formation helped at the back, it also hurt the team going forward. I think that problem could be fixed by the team playing with this formation a little more so they can get used to it. I think the players should hold their heads high despite the loss and go into the next game against Empoli full of confidence to restart the winning streak. I think this recap is really long so I’m going to end it now.