“Juventus won eight Serie A titles in a row, often winning hands down.” Antonio Conte continued that he was glad to have 18 points out of 18 as Inter’s impressive start was the best they have managed since 1966-67. The Nerazzurri are certainly throwing their hat into the ring and the ex-Bianconeri boss is definitely calling out his old team. There is a title challenge, that is for sure, but that is a brave thing to do. The Old Lady are veterans at this cat and mouse game, so Inter should be wary, history is always a good guide in situations like this and they also face each other next Sunday.
Helenio Herrera won his opening seven rounds in 1966. Foggia, Vicenza, Atalanta, SPAL, Lecco, Brescia and Torino all fell to an Inter side that had the likes of Mario Corso, Jair, Sandro Mazzola and Luis Suarez, just to name a few. This team were devastating and were taking on a Juventus side who they believed they were superior to.
Despite all the promise, the crushing Derby Della Madonnina win and the mixture of defensive collectiveness and individual brilliance, it would be a man called Beniamo Di Giacomo to break their hearts, as Mantova beat them 1-0 on the final day of the campaign. Juve’s win against Lazio sealed the Scudetto.
Whilst the world and football has changed light years from then, the lesson is still the same. Don’t write off Juventus. In 2015-16 I interviewed Roberto Mancini about his incredible start to the campaign. He talked about this rigid discipline and focus and how the team should not take their eye off the ball. They had beaten Atalanta, Carpi, won the Derby and then saw off both Hellas Verona and Chievo. What happened next was a disaster, as the day after this interview, I sat and watched Fiorentina tear Inter apart 4-1 at San Siro. They went on to draw their next three and inevitably, Juventus won the Scudetto.
Once again, this season there is hope. Conte has his team playing with aggression, style and a dogged determination that hasn’t been seen in Milan for some years. Talk of comparisons with Herrera or Jose Mourinho seem to echo from every Piazza in the city, especially since the Nerazzurri have stopped doing ‘pazza’ things. Antonio’s message was clear, Inter need to drop the ‘pazza’ tag. It was his request that the song C’e Solo L'Inter would replace Pazza Inter Amala when the teams walk out. There isn’t to be any symbol of the old crazy.
When Inter, 2-0 up away to Sampdoria saw Alexis Sanchez run into the box looking certain to get a third, many would have looked to the heavens and thanked the Lord for this new Coach. Moments later, when the Chilean walked off the pitch for being booked (for the second time) for diving, many would have changed their prayers. When Sampdoria then scored, these same people would have started to shake their fists at the sky, as it would have seemed that no matter what, Inter were going to throw this away.
This was Fiorentina all over again, this was that Mantova moment, this was so many games everyone had seen before, but it wasn’t. Inter came back with 10 men to win 3-1 and in turn lay down the gauntlet to Juventus. This was a spirited display with Conte banging the drum after the game saying that this group was good enough to battle back and that the difficulties made them stronger. This isn’t the Nerazzurri of old, something has started to feel different.
When Gigi Buffon admitted that Inter and Juventus are going head to head for the Scudetto and that they are wary of Conte and company, the battle lines seemed embedded. In that same interview however, the veteran goalkeeper talked of how Juventus were starting to enjoy their football under Maurizio Sarri although they were building brick by brick. It certainly seems that in Turin, ‘The Old Lady’ are starting to become what their Coach wants them to be, even if their expansive play hasn’t quite managed to dig deep into their DNA just yet. The danger for Inter is that if it does, it could be mind-blowing.
The Derby D’Italia is next and it is at San Siro. This is an opportunity for the Nerazzurri and Conte to deal a hammer blow to the champions elect. The would be more than three points, as the clubs are both in the process of changing the fabric of their being. Juventus are wanting to entertain, whilst Inter just want to win. The game will not just give an idea of how close the title race could be, it could also signal a changing of the guard.