Juventus earn hard point in Derby d'Italia, something to build on
With two fierce rivals, two different ideologies and a trigger-happy referee keen on highlighting the aggression on the pitch, Serie A fans were treated to a special evening on Sunday. Inter were held to a goalless draw by an ever-improving Juventus side in the Derby d'Italia.
In an atmosphere filled with passionate hate, the Bianconeri arrived on the pitch knowing a defeat could well ruin the dream of a fifth consecutive Scudetto. With Massimiliano Allegri's first-choice midfield trio taking their place in the side, he hoped his men would take control of the game and recover the confidence that led to so much success in recent years.
On paper, Juve looked well equipped to cause trouble but Roberto Mancini had clearly taken note of the pain Fiorentina inflicted with their passing fluidity and quick feet and opted to prioritise defensive coverage. Playing a 4-4-2 shape, Inter were keen to shut down the danger Juventus can create in the wide areas to provoke frustration and force mistakes.
While the Bianconeri started strongly -- Inter looked taken aback by the occasion -- it didn't take long for the Nerazzurri to realise Juve's weaknesses and their own strengths, slowly making use of their physicality to hinder Allegri's men from establishing a playing rhythm.
With Claudio Marchisio having just returned from injury and Sami Khedira still adapting, albeit in remarkable fashion, the midfield did not perform as brilliantly as the coach and the fans would have hoped. Startled by the strength of their opponents, several of the Juve stars surrendered to panic and demonstrated recklessness when tranquillity was required.
The desire to grasp control of the game left the midfield with little opportunity to truly affect the team's attacking game. Inter's heavy pressing suffocated the trio leaving them incapable of inspiring the forward line or even adopting a rhythm. Having learned from their mistakes in the match against Fiorentina, the Nerazzurri were desperate to intercept and block everything in sight to ensure safety and with Felipe Melo putting in a dangerously aggressive performance in the middle, Juventus were often hacked down before they could even attempt an offensive move.
However, Allegri's men still managed to create goal scoring opportunities. Sadly, those chances fell to Simone Zaza, a man well versed in the art of annoying the opponent but not in ball control. So many opportunities wasted, Zaza works hard and boasts strength but is simply lacking the technique and intelligence required to make the difference in such big matches against such determined opposition. Once again Allegri's choices stirred debate. Why was Paulo Dybala, a forward Lionel Messi labelled as a great player with a bright future, benched in favour of a youngster who simply isn't as talented?
In the first half Juventus desperately needed a little more inspiration, a player with quick feet and creative thinking, not a player like Zaza who failed to demonstrate elegance and understanding of the game. However, to be fair to the former Sassuolo forward, he was not the only player who was guilty of poor decision making in the final third. Far too often, the likes of Juan Cuadrado opted to strike when a teammate was in a better position to score.
In the second half, Inter fell away as Juve started to show the real potential of this newly formed side. Cuadrado caused havoc on the right, Sami Khedira grew into the game by taking up clever positions and Paul Pogba finally begun to show off his elegant technique. The squad showed promise and is slowly improving, lacking only the efficiency required to make their technical superiority count.
Frustratingly this was a match that neither side wanted to lose meaning both teams failed to really push for a goal in the final stages of the game. While both sides excelled on certain occasions, this wasn't a match befitting of two giants of football. Sloppy passing, horrifying fouls and several instances of wasted possession, both coaches should be demanding more of their players, especially considering the sheer amount of quality on either side.
At least on a defensive level, Allegri can be proud of his men for keeping a clean sheet, especially against a strong Nerazzurri front line. With Andrea Barzagli demonstrating his immense quality to ensure solidity, he gives the team the opportunity to dedicate itself to improving the offensive side of the game.
In time the results will arrive but until then, Juventus have a Champions League match against Borussia Monchengladbach to win.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.