For the first Derby d’Italia in a while, Juventus headed to their Milanese rivals looking the stronger side. After an abysmal start to the season under the unsuitable Gian Piero Gasperini, new coach Claudio Ranieri is still yet to turn the Inter ship around, and fortunes didn’t seem to be swaying in their match-up against the Turin giants.
With Gasperini’s 3-4-3 clearly not working, Ranieri opted for a 4-3-1-2, while Antonio Conte went for a fairly narrow 4-3-3, with striker Mirko Vucinic and the defensive Simone Pepe as the wide players in the three. The narrow play meant two areas became particularly important in the match for contrasting reasons: the flanks because of the large space afforded to the full-backs, and the heavily packed midfield.
Although notationally Juve’s formation appeared to show them playing with more width than Inter, the choice of players meant Inter had more players out wide. Vucinic and Pepe generally looked to come inside (fig. 1), whereas Ranieri used Javier Zanetti and Joel Obi as carrileros, both of whom are comfortable in wide positions. This meant that although Vucinic and Pepe could defend against Yuto Nagatomo and Maicon, Zanetti and Obi could still pull wide to provide width, and they were still positioned deeper than normal wingers which allowed them more space.
Unsurprisingly, Pepe did a better job of defending than Vucinic, tracking Nagatomo deep into Juve’s half. This meant that Inter had to be more considered down the left, with Obi supporting and Wesley Sneijder and Mauro Zarate drifting in that direction too, the major benefit of this was that Juve’s defence would be pulled to the right, which gave Maicon more space and isolated Giorgio Chiellini, who is clearly uncomfortable at left-back, particularly when opposition players run directly at him.
The importance of the flanks meant both teams generally looked to knock the ball about in the central midfield areas to narrow the play then hitting it wide to stretch play. Juve’s central players were generally better with the ball than their Milanese counterparts, especially Obi who really struggled with the occasion, so Sneijder looked to drop deeper to link play. Given Juve’s defence looks susceptible to long balls, having Sneijder deeper to hit balls forward for Giampaolo Pazzini worked out better for Inter.
While having Sneijder drop deep allowed them a foothold in midfield, he wasn’t going to improve them defensively. To close up the space, Inter played a higher defensive line – something they have consistently proven they haven’t got the players to do. Juve found it easy to cut apart Inter’s high defence, so perhaps abetter solution would have been to swap Zarate, who did little other than frustrate his teammates, for an extra midfielder to stabilise that central area. Even though the attack would be one fewer, they would be more free with a more stable defence to fall back on.
Regardless, while Juve continue to grind their way on, Inter show few signs of changing from the dysfunctional if talented mess they currently appear to be. While sections of the team appear to work individually, they require another part of the team to play in a way that hampers that group to function. Now, without Samuel Eto’o or Zlatan Ibrahimovic to bail them out, Massimo Moratti needs to consider that his side may require an expensive rebuild.