“The perfect match would end 0-0,” wrote legendary Italian journalist Gianni Brera.
Brera, whose football ideology shaped the way Italians thought about the game throughout the 20th Century, believed a goalless draw was the ideal blend of defensive and attacking strength without any errors (and thus no goals).
Brera might well have been pleased with the outcome of the latest Derby d’Italia, then. The game won’t go down as one of the best Juventus v Inter duels, but it did offer some insight into where both teams lie at this stage of the season.
Whilst last night’s encounter wasn’t the grudge match that it morphed into post-Calciopoli, it simmered without ever exploding into life. In recent years the fizz had been lost somewhat from this clash, as their fortunes went in opposite directions over the course of the decade. Juve have coasted past Inter in this fixture with relative ease. Indeed, Inter had only taken one point away at Juventus in over five years.
Max Allegri surprised everyone by leaving Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa and Alex Sandro on the bench, showing the frightening level of squad depth the Bianconeri now possess. Inter lined up pretty much as expected, with Luciano Spalletti’s men having no European football to contend with, they had a week to prepare for the game.
Yet, it didn’t really correlate to their performance on the pitch. Inter’s front four pinned Juventus back in the opening stages, but consequently also nullified their own potency. Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva scarcely kicked the ball throughout the evening. The pair had delivered more crosses than any other player in Serie A this season, yet were futile here, brilliantly locked down by Blaise Matuidi, Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado.
With Allegri utilising three players in the middle of the pitch, the central areas became congested. Mauro Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain were for large parts of the game reduced to bystanders as the ball ping-ponged around in midfield.
Samir Handanovic has long been an underrated goalkeeper, and Spalletti’s men owe a huge slice of gratitude to the tall Slovenian. Handanovic was equal to everything Juve could throw at him, and he also was granted some luck as Mandzukic hit the crossbar with a header on the stroke of half time.
Despite being the fresher of the two sides, Inter didn’t register a single shot on goal in the first half, a feat they hadn’t achieved since the Milan derby in May 2014.
In the second half Juve turned the screw and peppered Handanovic’s goal with shots, with Mandzukic particularly guilty of wasting some promising opportunities; Allegri’s tactic of raining in crosses from Cuadrado and Kwadwo Asamoah on either flank working well, with the big Croatian towering over Danilo D’Ambrosio. Inter offered nothing in response.
As Paolo Valeri blew for full time, Spalletti can feel the more relieved of the two Coaches. Inter proved that they will be right up there at the business end of the season, showing a resilience that has been absent at the club since the Jose Mourinho era. They dug deep in the cauldron that is the Allianz Juventus Arena, with Spalletti’s team becoming the first side to walk away from a game in said stadium with a clean sheet since Udinese managed a 1-0 win in August 2015.
After the game, Borja Valero stated that Inter had come to Turin to win, yet it’s clear that wasn’t the case. However, Inter remain the only unbeaten team left in Serie A.
It’s another clean sheet for a Juve team that - with a defence at the beginning of the season that was in total disarray - has now managed clean sheets in their last five consecutive games. Allegri switching to a three-man midfield has added a better balance and a defensive solidity that had been previously lacking.
In the end, it was a clash that would’ve had Brera gushing today.