By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
For the second time in four days, Juventus revealed their second skin last night. Pegged back by a resurgent opposition, they upped the ante. But this wasn’t at home to Fiorentina, it was against Inter at San Siro. The Nerazzurri may well be suffering a slump of major proportions at the moment, but last night they were threatening to bounce back to form against their most bitter rivals until the Bianconeri showed their belligerent side once more.
Whereas for much of the early stages of the season Juve have failed to make the most of their opportunities when dominating fixtures, over the past two games they have hit their opponents hard just when they have looked to be on the back foot. After Fiorentina bagged an equaliser on Tuesday following a concerted spell of pressure, it took Antonio Conte’s side little more than five minutes to dust themselves off and regain the lead thanks to Alessandro Matri.
And on Saturday they responded to a superb Giampaolo Pazzini header which came back off the crossbar by going up the other end of the pitch and netting a winner through Claudio Marchisio, with Matri again at the heart of the play.
|MATRI'S BIG WEEK
Just as Inter were looking to deliver their own big hit by subjecting the Bianconeri's suspect backline to a line of serious questioning, they had the wherewithal to deliver a blow of their own.
With AC Milan’s earlier victory over Roma at the Stadio Olimpico came a reminder that Juventus are going to have to fight for the right to call themselves favourites for the 2011-12 Serie A title. At San Siro, they were up to the task, and the ability to look to Matri has become their wild card option – one they were lacking a fortnight ago at Chievo when he spent 90 minutes on the bench.
Twice against Genoa last weekend he put Juve in front, and when Simone Pepe launched himself at the heart of the Fiorentina defence in midweek, the ball landed for the poacher to net their winner. Last night it was his great movement from Stephan Lichtsteiner’s right-wing cross which breached Inter’s backline as Mirko Vucinic opened the scoring, while 20 minutes later he took and returned Marchisio’s pass as the midfielder netted the crucial second with a fierce low drive.
Matri has shown a knack for leading the line in Conte’s 4-1-4-1 that Vucinic has not yet proven he has in his locker. The former Cagliari man may also miss good chances, but not with the regularity of his team-mate. What’s more, he’s also popped up at killer moments.
With ability in the air, good hold-up skills, excellent movement and an eye for goal, Matri has become the difference in front of goal. With their backs up after Maicon’s equaliser, Inter looked good for a go-ahead goal, but instead Juve sought out Matri and it was they who regained the lead. After the shocking injury news for Giuseppe Rossi has come the knowledge that there’s now an Italy shirt up for grabs ahead of Euro 2012, and on current form Matri has to be a realistic contender.
It has been a great week for Juventus, despite the two points dropped against Genoa, and even in the face of Milan’s nine-point haul. They have shown that there’s more than one string to their bow; that their leadership of Serie A is not just about their pressing game. And they’ve also discovered that their title challenge could well have a new attacking kingpin.