San Siro set the stage Sunday afternoon as league leaders Inter hosted perennial Serie A title favorites Juventus in the latest installment of the ‘Derby d’Italia’, one of the Italian peninsula’s most historic and heated rivalries.
Antonio Conte’s Nerazzurri entered the clash flying high atop the table, winning a perfect six from six to begin the 2019/20 campaign and looking every bit the force we have come to know over the years, while Turin’s ‘Old Lady’ lurked in their rear view mirror itching to reclaim the top spot.
Argentine forward Paulo Dybala’s 4th minute snap shot put the visitors ahead early on, only to have his fellow countryman Lautaro Martínez equalize roughly a quarter hour later from the spot. Eventually, Maurizio Sarri looked to his bench to break the deadlock in the second half, summoning Rodrigo Bentacur and Gonzalo Higuain whose 80th minute strike once again punctured the hearts of Inter as it proved decisive in the 2-1 win to send the Bianconeri back atop the table.
Here are five takeaways from the thrilling affair.
1. Paulo Dybala can adapt and co-exist with Ronaldo
‘La Joya’ denied opportunities to leave Juventus for more sporting guarantees this summer in an effort to prove he belonged and can thrive under Sarri in a different role. Although his usage has varied a bit as a result of Higuain’s return to form, Dybala hass shown he can be an attacking force and harmonize with Cristiano Ronaldo up top. The ex-Palermo playmaker’s exhibition in the win validated the quality of his recent performances and that there is certainly room for him in white and black.
2. Blaise Matuidi’s ball-winning ability is vital to Juventus’ midfield
Calls from various sections of the fanbase to see the French international ushered out the door have quickly been silenced early on as Sarri’s reliance on him in the midfield looms large. The former Paris Saint-Germain star brings both solidity and a high-motor as a ball-winner, freeing up the likes of Miralem Pjanic to sit deep and orchestrate according to plan. Matuidi is more than a destroyer and emerging as a key figure in the middle of the park.
3. Makeshift right-back Juan Cuadrado providing unexpected spark
Much was made about Juventus’ decision to sell both João Cancelo, and entrust Mattia De Sciglio and Danilo with the right-back responsibilities of a potentially elite back four. Once the Italian, then Brazilian, picked up injuries, Sarri had to improvise by transforming Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado into a viable option. By the looks of his recent performances, the former Fiorentina attacker has eased the pain from the injury crisis and is putting his versatility to good use on multiple fronts.
4. Early exits for Sensi, Godin tipped the scales
Both the diminutive Italian midfielder and central-defensive stalwart arrived to the San Siro this club past summer with the high expectations to elevate Inter to the next level; without question, the duo has done just that. Sensi’s creativity and offensive injection was a focus coming into the match, but his early exit immediately sent Conte’s 3-5-2 into a spiral as Juventus began to gain control. Although they hung around, battled and showed the grit customary of any Conte-led club, Godin’s sudden departure evidently enabled the reigning champions to expose the Uruguayan’s replacement Alessandro Bastoni on Higuain’s clincher. Purely hypothetical, but perhaps the outcome may have been different had Inter been at full force.
5. Bianconeri remain clear title favorites
Inter stood alone as leaders of the pack coming into this derby, and convinced all they had joined the exclusive table with Juventus and Napoli are Scudetto contenders by virtue of a solid start. However, there was never any doubt about the 8-time defending Serie A champions remaining the odds-on favorite to continue their domestic dominance. Early days, but in the midst of the injuries to captain Giorgio Chiellini, their two right-backs and a less than pristine start to the Sarri era, this is still Juventus’ title to lose.