Nobody said it was going to be easy. But for Inter Milan to prove themselves as potential Scudetto contenders, they will have their first big challenge Friday as they head to Turin to face league-leading Juventus in the first installment of this season’s Derby d’Italia.
The Nerazzurri are coming off a somewhat disappointing 2-2 draw at Roma where they held control throughout most of the match. The Old Lady, on the other hand, knocked off Fiorentina, 3-0 last weekend.
Juventus sits atop Serie A on 40 points, eight points ahead of Napoli and 11 up on Inter -- who sit third in the league, four points ahead of fourth-place AC Milan.
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While Mauro Icardi is coming off winning Player of the Year in Italy, he will be without one of his key feeders as midfielder Radja Nainggolan is out with a nagging thigh injury.
What happened last weekend in Rome likely stung the Nerazzurri after giving up a lead twice only to pick up a point against a struggling Roma squad hampered with injuries.
However, the late resurgence of Keita Balde could prove to be a factor as Inter try to crack through a stingy Juventus defense that features former Inter player Joao Cancelo, Giorgio Chiellini, Mattia De Sciglio and Leonardo Bonucci.
By not having Nainggolan in the lineup Friday, Inter will be at a slight disadvantage in the midfield as Juventus continues to dominate the middle of the field in Serie A.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the strength of Juventus’ attacking arm of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala. They will come up against one of the toughest defenses in Serie A -- second to Juventus -- that has remained somewhat healthy most of the season despite the fact that their performance in the capital left little to be desired.
It is still unclear as to whether Luciano Spalletti will feature winger Ivan Perisic for two reasons: one, because his play of late has been suspect and, two, because of Keita. Either way, a match-up between either of them against Cancelo will be one to watch.
Additionally, Inter will have to find a way to get the ball into Icardi if they have any hope of pulling off an upset. This certainly won’t be an easy task, but if Matteo Politano, Matias Vecino or Borja Valero can give Icardi some room to maneuver up front with solid ball placement, Icardi could be dangerous to Juventus’ defense.
Possible lineup: Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Skriniar, DeVrij, Asamoah; Vecino, Brozovic; Politano, Valero, Keita; Icardi
The Old Lady is suffering a bit as defender Alex Sandro and midfielder Sami Khedira are out, but that means very little with players like De Sciglio and Rodrigo Bentacur will likely step up and take their places, respectively.
Juventus is averaging 2.21 goals per game -- surprisingly enough, they score more on the road than they do at home -- and that means a big challenge for Inter’s defensive front. Coming off allowing two tying goals at Roma means Inter’s defense will have to get over that quickly.
Miralem Pjanic could face a big challenge with Marcelo Brozovic, if Epic Brozo brings his “A” game. Pjanic has struggled this season, which leaves a door open for Inter to gain some control in the midfield. However, Brozovic will have to contain Pjanic from getting open and feeding the ball up front.
Mandzukic has flourished this season and Max Allegri has called upon him to be a more active part of the offense. Skriniar will have to dominate aerial battles in the area to keep Mandzukic from being a threat to Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
But, perhaps the biggest threat to Inter will be Ronaldo. Not just because the Portuguese international has seemed to find form, but because it is likely he will be challenged by Danilo D’Ambrosio on the right. Because Sime Vrsaljko is still questionable, it will be up to D’Ambrosio to contain Ronaldo. Similar to Brozovic, if D’Ambrosio is on his game, it could be an interesting match-up. If not, Ronaldo will be able to move virtually at will against Inter on the right.
Possible lineup: Szczensy; Cancelo, Bonucci, Chiellini, De Sciglio; Bentancur, Pjanic, Matuidi; Dybala, Mandzukic, Ronaldo.
Time and date: 6:30 p.m. local (2:30 p.m. EST), Friday, December 7
Where: Allianz Stadium (Turin)
How to watch: In the United States, you can watch the match live on ESPN2 and on Rai Italia America. If you are in the United Kingdom, the match will be broadcast on Eleven Sports 1 UK. In Italy, you can see the match on Sky Supermercato HD, Sky Go Italia and Sky Sport Serie A.
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