Paddy Agnew’s Notes From Italy: Juventus Remain Serie A’s Finest After Defeating Inter
In the eyes of many, Juve’s 2-1 win over Inter Milan in Sunday night’s big match at the San Siro was merely the resumption of normal service. As Juventus called a halt to Inter’s six match unbeaten run, in the process resuming their habitual position on top of Serie A, one could only think of that splendid football speak, once used by Roma coach Rudi Garcia after a Rome derby win, namely:
“We have merely put the church back in the centre of the village…”
After an outstanding, high tempo and technically demanding game, it was hard to escape the feeling that, at the end of the day and for now at least, Juventus are still Cock of the Walk, the strongest side in the land. What is more, given that Juve are still imbibing a series of lessons from new coach Maurizio Sarri, lately of Chelsea fame, the awesome prospect is that the Old Lady probably still has a significant margin of improvement.
For once in an Italian “Big Match”, the two protagonists went at it hammer and tongs right from the kick-off through to the finish. Often, in games like this, especially when they come at decisive moments late in the season, fear of losing and defensive considerations gain the upper hand.
Not so on Sunday night when both teams underlined from the start that they were “up for it” and when the battle was still raging hot and furious in injury time. Argentine Paulo Dybala lit the fiesta fuse after just four minutes when he got on the end of a clever pass from his Bosnian colleague, Miralem Pjanic, to hit a sizzler of an opening goal in which a rapidly executed, rocket fast shot caught the Inter defence just a little off guard.
When CR7 Ronaldo slammed a fierce shot against the Inter crossbar just five minutes later, it looked for a moment as if it was going to be a case of Apocalypse Now for Inter. However, this Inter already looks like a side coached by Antonio Conte, that is a side made of stern and resistant stuff.
Inter bounced back and were full value for aN 18th minute penalty equaliser, when Juventus defender, Dutchman Matthijs de Ligt, handled the ball. Argentine Lautaro Martinez, scorer of a terrific goal against Barcelona in their midweek 2-1 Champions League defeat, brilliantly slotted home the spot kick.
From there on, both sides had their chances in an almost evenly balanced game. We say “almost evenly balanced” because whilst Inter were sporadic and sometimes improvised, Juventus looked much more insistent.
Even if Juventus made the running, Inter chased them all the way only disappearing from the game in one short period after halftime. Yet, in the end, logic won out and the “insistent” beat the “sporadic”. To be fair, too, the 80th minute winning goal was a real beauty, knocked away imperiously by Argentine Gonzalo Higuain at the end of a 24 pass attacking movement which suggested that Juventus have already converted to the Sarri school of attacking thought.
Various critics pointed out that, apart from obvious considerations such as experience at this level, a critical difference between the two teams concerned the quality of their substitutes. Whilst Inter brought on such as Uruguyan Matias Vecino (for injured Stefano Sensi) and Matteo Politano (for Martinez), Juve by comparison were able to bring on both German Emre Can (for Dybala) and Higuain (for Federico Bernardeschi).
The 33rd minute injury to the in-form Sensi, the only real playmaking element in this Inter squad, not to mention the suspension of Chilean Alexis Sanchez certainly did not help the Inter cause.
It is ironic, too, to reflect that for much of this summer, Juventus reportedly tried hard to offload both Higuain and Dybala in order to make way for a big signing up front. One suspects that, right now, Maurizio Sarri is happy enough that those efforts failed. Speaking after the match, Conte acknowledge that the better team had won, saying:
“The injury to Sensi cost us a bit and then we started off the second half badly but after that the game was evenly balanced and either side could have scored. Unfortunately, it was them and not us who did score…This game showed just what an experienced team Juventus is, I have no recriminations to make to my lads…”
Maurizio Sarri, inevitably, was much satisfied with the Juventus showing, saying:
“The fact that we have overtaken them in the league table does not matter, it is much more important that we played well, showing character and conviction against a strong team, one which was unbeaten and which was playing in a very hot, home atmosphere…”
For Juventus, this was the second time in five days that they had spectacularly marked the resumption of “normal service”. Last Tuesday, they cruised past Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League in a game in which their Polish goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny was reduced to the role of non-paying spectator. After their 2-2 opening draw against Atletico Madrid, this was a welcome victory.
In contrast, however, Inter’s midweek Champions outing saw them crash out, beaten 2-1 at the Camp Nou by Barcelona. However, when Conte and Inter reflect on their week, they can console themselves with the consideration that at no stage in these twin 2-1 defeats were they steamrollered out of the contest.
They might well have sneaked a draw against Juventus, whilst for the first half against Barcelona, they looked much the better team, full value for their halftime, 1-0 lead. (In the second half at the Camp Nou, the genius of a certain Messi.L , aided by a certain Suarez.L, turned the game on its head). Inter might have been knocked down but they were hit by two of of the most potent high-speed trains in current football circulation.
Don’t forget to follow World Soccer on Facebook and Twitter.