By Mark Doyle
Inter versus Juventus is always a game of the utmost significance but the latest instalment of one of the great rivalries in world football feels even more important than usual.
For the Nerazzurri, it is a game that they dare not lose. After eight rounds of action, they currently languish 16th in standings, eight points adrift of Juve, the league leaders.
However, while Saturday night’s visitors to San Siro are riding high under new coach Antonio Conte, they still look far from the finished article and it will be fascinating to see how they fare in their first real test away from their imposing new home in Turin.
Below, we take a look at the five key areas likely to decide the Derby d’Italia.
Earlier this month, Christian Chivu, frustrated at having been consistently used at left-back since joining Inter four years ago, declared: “I am a centre-back.” His recent travails, defensively, suggest that his stock in that position is not currently high.
Indeed, as previously pointed out, the Romanian defender, having been deployed in his preferred position against Atalanta in midweek, proved a liability and his hesitancy and poor positional play would have cost Inter the game had Luca Castellazzi not saved the late penalty which Chivu had given away.
The problem for coach Claudio Ranieri is that, with Walter Samuel and Andrea Ranocchia still sidelined through injury, the Roman has very little room for manoeuvre and will most likely have to continue with Chivu alongside Lucio against Juve. Ominous.
Of course, just as Inter’s defensive frailty cannot solely be blamed on Chivu, nor can their woeful ill-discipline this term be attributed to refereeing incompetence.
Inter have conceded five penalties this term, more than any other side in Serie A. However, both Ranieri and club president Massimo Moratti have suggested that Inter have been unfairly treated by match officials and while one could argue the legitimacy of a couple of the decisions which have gone against Inter so far this season, there can be no denying that the unusually high penalty count is a consequence of the organisational uncertainty which has blighted the Nerazzurri this term.Essentially, the fallout from the disastrous experimentation with a back three under former boss Gian Piero Gasperini is still being felt and injuries to key men, such as the aforementioned Samuel, have not helped matters.
|JUVENTUS' JEKYLL AND HYDE DEFENCE|
Antonio Conte has been able to field the exact same back four for the past four games and such consistency in selection has undeniably played a key role in Juventus' solid start to the season.
The Juventus defence is far from impenetrable though. Just like Inter, their weak link is a centre-half being played out of position at full-back in the shape of Giorgio Chiellini. The Italy international started out as a left-back but after five years being deployed at the heart of the Juventus defence, during which time he established himself as one of the most reliable centre-backs in the game, he looks horribly unsure of himself in wide areas.
He looked particularly vulnerable against Genoa last weekend and you can be sure that the pacy Mauro Zarate will be intent on drifting out to the wing as much as possible to exploit Chiellini’s now-glaring deficiencies as a full-back.
|PROFLIGACY IN FRONT OF GOAL|
Inter perhaps felt that offloading Goran Pandev to Napoli before the close of the transfer window would have seriously boosted their goals-to-shots ratio this season. However, the Nerazzurri have been very wasteful in front of goal of late, something which was perfectly illustrated by Diego Milito’s horror miss at the Stadio Azzurri d'Italia on Wednesday night.
The sale of Samuel Eto’o obviously made financial sense but, in footballing terms, it was a shocking decision. The Cameroonian was a reliable source of goals and Inter have looked terribly toothless without him. Diego Forlan was brought in as Eto'o's replacement but his impact has been hindered by injury and the fact that he is cup-tied for the Champions League.
In fairness, Giampaolo Pazzini has shown flashes of his predatory instincts in front of goal but he, too, is struggling for goals and he would benefit greatly from having a regular strike partner alongside him.
|THE FORM OF MATRI-GOL
Juventus have, at times, been just as profligate in front of goal as Inter. Indeed, they squandered a succession of chances at home to Fiorentina in midweek. However, Alessandro Matri proved their match winner on the night, scoring what was his third goal in three games following his brace against Genoa last weekend.
Matri’s return to prominence is a major boon for Juve given that the talented but frustratingly inconsistent Mirko Vucinic just does not look suited to the role of leading the attack.
Indeed, the Montenegrin appears more out home on the left-hand side of a three-pronged front-line, with Conte having ditched his preferred 4-2-4 formation in favour of a 4-3-3 after realising that is always best to choose a system which suits the players rather than the other way around.