What: Inter v. Juventus. Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. September 14, 2013, 17.00. Match Day 3.
History: You need me to tell you? It’s the Derby d’Italia, dude. The greatest, fiercest, most vicious rivalry Italian football has ever seen. It’s the kind of rivalry that has broken up marriages, caused parents to disown their own children, and even lead to murders between opposing fans. There are no neutrals in this encounter, and anyone who professes otherwise is lying. It hasn’t started any actual wars, but just give it some time.
I’d go into the long and scandalous history of this fixture, but I assume anyone reading this already has a pretty good background. (Plus, I continue to be absolutely drowning in work, which is why this post will be rather half-assed.) With that in mind, take a look at some of the caustic cheap shots, insults and veiled threats that the two teams’ players and coaches have been throwing back and forth over the past week as the battle draws nearer:
"These rivalries are important and good for the sport, they get people fired up, as long as everyone still behaves in a civilized manner." When asked how many Scudetti Juventus have won: "Let’s not go there." – Walter Mazzarri
"Inter are a side who mirror their Coach. They are to be feared because they are strong defensively and can hit you on the break." – Antonio Conte
"We’re up against a team who will be fighting for the Scudetto as their first objective, just as we were two years ago." – Stephan Lichtsteiner.
"We have tremendous respect for Inter and take them very seriously. With a great coach like Mazzarri and the advantage of focusing on Serie A, they are a serious force." – Gianluigi Buffon
"Inter have always made it difficult for us – they beat us last year and they have a great new coach. They are capable of playing good, fierce football." – Claudio Marchisio
"I think Juventus are a great team who have been playing well for years, and they’ll fight to the end to win the league." – Javier Zanetti
"I’m very afraid of Vidal. He has excellent shooting technique and is a well-rounded footballer. And they’re also great defensively too." – Juan Jesus
"It will be a tough match for us, it will be important to determine our quality, but also the quality of our opponents, who I think can compete for Scudetto." – Beppe Marotta
Can’t you just feel the hatred in the air? Seriously, I know footballers are always giving canned quotes like this, but I can’t remember the last time there was this much pre-match diplomacy and mutual admiration between our two clubs. It feels wrong, somehow.
(Well, Bonucci may or may not have attempted some sort of weird subliminal shit-talking a few days ago, but no one can really figure out what he was trying to imply. He never did seem like the brightest bulb on the tree.)
Random stat of the day: Of all the goals conceded by Juventus in the 2012-13 Serie A season, 29% of them were scored by either Mauro Icardi, Rodrigo Palacio or Diego Milito. That’s actually pretty amazing.
Referee: Despite some horrifying earlier rumors that our good friend Gianluca Rocchi would be officiating this match, the actual referee assigned is Daniele Orsato. This is his first Derby d’Italia, and his last two matches with us were conducted without any major offenses against justice or public decency. Those with longer memories may be able to correct me, but I can’t recall him doing anything notably awful in his history with us at all. Then again, there’s always a first time!
Us: Mazzarri just released his 23-man squad for the match. It looks like this:
Attaccanti: 7 Ishak Belfodil, 8 Rodrigo Palacio, 9 Mauro Icardi, 22 Diego Milito
Obviously, one name here jumps out above all others: Diego Milito is back on the senior squad for the first time since his knee turned unpleasantly double-jointed in last winter’s Europa League match. The likelihood that he will play tomorrow seems very low, and the chances that he will start are roughly zero. (After all, the even less-fit Walter Samuel is on the team sheet as well.) But it’s still wonderful to see him back on the bench.
Mazzarri was as dyspeptic as ever in his pre-match press conference, and didn’t go into any detail about the type of lineup we’ll see tomorrow. It nonetheless seems a safe bet that we’ll line up much like we did in our last match, with the one note of contention being whether Kovacic or Taider will start in the center of the pitch. Kovacic’s playing time, and the precise reason it has been so limited, has become something of a sticking point for myself and others, but Walter has insisted there is no funny business going on:
"Taider is fit, and we mustn't forget Kovacic was out for six weeks… It's not a choice between Taider or Kovacic but a decision based on who’s fitter."
That sounds a lot like a Taider starting slot to me. Which means we’re likely to see:
Campagnaro – Ranocchia – Juan Jesus
Jonathan – Cambiasso – Guarin – Taider – Nagatomo
Them: Juventus have two injuries of note: Mirko Vucinic picked up a knock during international duty, and Claudio Marchisio is out for the foreseeable future. If this were last season, these absences would have counted as major strokes of luck, but since then Juve has picked up Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente upfront, and some would argue that the blossoming Paul Pogba should be ahead of Marchisio in the lineup even when he’s healthy. So we’re very much facing a full-strength squad, and it’s a terrifying one.
TL;DR Summary: I’d attempt to sketch a tactical outline for the match, but I have neither the time nor the depth of knowledge to write anything meaningful. I’d hazard a deeper dive into the inner-workings of Juve’s teamplay, but thinking about their squad depth makes me depressed. I’d revisit our August friendly with Juve for clues as to how we’ll play, but neither team took that match seriously enough to matter.
And besides, tactics are at most a footnote where this fixture is concerned. Same with recent form. And past records. And sometimes even the number of legitimate goals scored. This is the Derby d’Italia, and as ever, it will be decided by whichever team has the stomach to all-out battle its hated counterparts for 90 minutes, whichever team the fickle light of fortune decides to shine upon, and whichever team happens to be advantageously positioned when the referee abruptly stops paying attention to the game and/or experiences an unusually detailed acid flashback.
There’s really nothing we can do but wait. In the meantime, here are a few things to keep the spirits up. Forza Inter.