By Kris Voakes
The inevitable happened once again in Saturday’s Derby d’Italia: Arturo Vidal had the final say.
Just as they switched off and allowed Mauro Icardi to lead Sampdoria to a shock victory in Turin in January, Juventus very nearly went down at the hands of the young Argentine once more when the Inter substitute broke the deadlock at San Siro.
But the Chilean wasn’t about to let his underperforming team-mates suffer a first defeat of the season and, having quickly equalised, he almost had a hand in a winner which wouldn’t have been entirely unwarranted despite the lacklustre nature of Juve’s performance.
For long spells the champions were far too pedestrian, allowing Inter’s back eight to sit in and watch the Bianconeri pass the ball around with a high degree of comfort. But it wasn’t even as though Walter Mazzarri’s side defended all that well.
|KAKA RETURN ENDS IN DRAMATIC DRAW
The all-white strip was the same, even down to the sponsor. And, on his return for AC Milan, Kaka's frustrations also ended up mirroring those of his four-year stint with Real Madrid as the Rossoneri were made to wait for a late 2-2 draw at Torino.
The Brazilian's long-awaited second debut lasted 69 minutes, by which time Danilo D'Ambrosio had already put Toro ahead. Alessio Cerci added the second moments after Kaka's exit. But the visitors stole a point thanks to Sulley Muntari's double miskick which dribbled into the far corner, then Mario Balotelli's 96th-minute penalty after Giovanni Pasquale's brainless challenge on Andrea Poli.
Kaka seemed keen to leave his mark on proceedings during his spell on the field. Roaming into space all over the pitch, whether right-wing, left-back or front and centre, he saw plenty of the ball. But in this Milan side lacking cohesion, the 31-year-old was unable to add any of the substance for which he was famed during his first spell in Italy.Still looking a yard short, it was no surprise when Massimiliano Allegri replaced him with Valter Birsa for the final quarter. However, whether he can regain that extra spark now that he is back in the surroundings he most prefers remains to be seen.
Kaka's return will ultimately be judged by the long-term form of Milan, but right now both he and his side remain short of the required mark.
Whenever Juve began to stretch the play a little, opportunities were created. Even at half pace, they could easily have won the game. Vidal would have won a penalty but for the ball catching his flailing arm a split-second before Saphir Taider rugby-tackled him to the ground. Paul Pogba should have put his foot through a Pirlo pass which caught Hugo Campagnaro right out of position. Inter tried hard on the counter, but it was their visitors making the best openings despite a stocked back line being placed before them.
At one stage late in the first half, Andrea Pirlo picked up the ball in 15 yards of space, with too many Inter players having sunk back to the edge of their own area. But the crooked and disorganised nature of the defensive line left enough space for the Italy midfielder to slide an angled ball in behind the back line for Mirko Vucinic, who would have put the champions ahead had he held his run better. The home side were defending in numbers, but not with real authority.
Still, Inter had a few half-chances of their own thanks to Juve’s rather distracted approach to the game. With a trip to Copenhagen ahead of them on Tuesday, there was a very good argument for rotating the first-team squad, yet Antonio Conte instead played his preferred XI, even rushing back Mirko Vucinic after he was stretchered off for Montenegro during the week. The result was that Juventus’ minds never seemed to be entirely on the task at hand.
The Old Lady’s lack of focus was exposed when Giorgio Chiellini was caught napping on the ball by Ricky Alvarez in the 73rd minute. The Argentine was then given a great angle to pass thanks to the clever run of Icardi, who finished superbly with his first touch of the game. While Juve had looked the most composed on the ball and quickly battled to win it back when they lost their way in the final third, the loss of possession in their own half proved crucial.
Yet the moment they needed to up their game they did so, gaining a quickfire response to Icardi’s opener. Kwadwo Asamoah made a rare run to the byeline with the ball at his feet, outmuscled Jonathan with ease, drew Campagnaro and cut back for Vidal to drive home the equaliser.
The Chilean’s magnificent form since arriving at Juve has been one of the biggest talking points in European football, helping to draw attention from many of the best clubs in the game. And he looked set to bolster his reputation even further in the 88th minute when his header from a left-wing cross proved too hot for Samir Handanovic to handle, but he was let down by compatriot Mauricio Isla, who skewed his shot wide with cover slow to come across.
It was the final chance of a keenly contested derby, robbing Vidal of the win bonus he deserved but also making Juve pay for not going at the game with their usual gusto. Inter will be more than happy with the point.