Even with Mauro Icardi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch, somehow you always knew it had to be him. He may not be flashy or entertaining, but Mario Mandzukic always comes up trumps in the big matches.
Juventus had been on the ropes for at least the first half of the Derby d’Italia, with Inter spurning a number of presentable chances. That none of those fell to Icardi was largely thanks to the imperious Giorgio Chiellini, who never let the Argentinian out of his sight. The centre-back will never be adored in the way Franco Baresi, Fabio Cannavaro or Alessandro Nesta were, but he deserves his place among the pantheon of great Italian defenders.
Indeed, Chiellini would have had a claim to being the best player on the pitch, were it not for the presence of Marcelo Brozovic in the Nerazzurri midfield. The 26-year-old utterly dominated the midfield in the first half, snapping into challenges, starting attacks and hurling his body in the way of any Juve shots.
Rodrigo Bentancur shot for the corner, with Samir Handanovic beaten. Brozovic was there. Joao Cancelo laid one inside for Ronaldo. Brozovic was there. One half expected him to turn up in the studio at half-time to analyse his own first-half performance, so ever-present was the Nerazzurri midfielder.
Having weathered the Inter storm, Juventus began to take a foothold in the match, albeit partly due to an error by Nerazzurri Coach Luciano Spalletti.
The Tuscan withdrew Matteo Politano just before the hour mark, replacing him with Borja Valero. Perhaps the intention was to establish greater control over the midfield, but this was never a match for the Spaniard.
A game already being played at 100km/h completely passed him by, and without the threat of Politano on the right flank, Joao Cancelo had even more freedom to break forward. The Portuguese was playing on the wrong side and is hopelessly one-footed, but barely eight minutes after that fateful substitution he managed to shift the ball onto his right.
Cancelo sent a teasing ball to the far post, where Kwadwo Asamoah was on the wrong side of a mismatch with Mandzukic.
Strikers are often said to lurk at the back post, but the Juventus man operates in far less zoological terms. Mandzukic lies dormant at the back post, an immovable volcano who can spring to life at any moment and vaporise all before him. Inevitably he muscled his former teammate out of the way to head home the winner.
The 32-year-old may not be the most prolific striker on the planet, but he must be the most clutch. Just this summer he scored in the World Cup semi-final and final, while he has found the back of the net in each of his two Champions League finals. Mandzukic got two goals away at Real Madrid in the Champions League last season, and the winner against Valencia not two weeks ago. If it’s a big game, Mario will step up.
At the final whistle, the match could be neatly summed up in the performance of the two Croats. Brozovic and Inter had been bold, brave and could take plenty of positives going forward. Mandzukic and Juventus took their chance and tightened their grip on the Scudetto.