When the starting XIs of Inter and Juventus were made official, it only took a quick glance at the team sheets to understand what kind of game Massimiliano Allegri had envisaged for his side, taking account of both his side’s points of strength and the hosts’ weaknesses.
Starting with a compact back-three, Mattia De Sciglio as a defensive right winger in a 3-5-1-1 setup, and Matias Soulé as lone support to striker Dusan Vlahovic, it was clear that Juventus were prepared to defend deep for long stretches, with the likes of Federico Chiesa and Angel Di Maria ready to come on in the second half to break the presumed deadlock with their pace and quality.
More than that, Allegri knew that such a tactical approach was arguably the perfect one against an Inter side that usually struggles to transform their supremacy into goalscoring chances, often resulting in the Nerazzurri losing balance and conceding big gaps to be exploited.
Juventus playing Max Allegri’s way
In the end, this is exactly what happened in the Derby d’Italia, except for the fact that it happened much earlier than Allegri had even imagined. From the opening minutes, Inter’s attempts to find an early breakthrough were marked by a number of players constantly running forward to support their offensive play, which ended up creating spaces that the Bianconeri dangerously explored through Adrien Rabiot‘s excellent ball carries and Filip Kostic‘s runs down the left flank as soon as the visitors won possession back.
When the ball was played to the Serbian winger in one of those quick counter-attacks, he showed why he’s so highly regarded by Allegri – his relentless run and effectiveness make him an ideal fit for the Bianconeri’s style of play, as his lack of creativity is widely compensated for by a polished left foot that allows him to constantly be precise and ruthless, increasing the whole side’s efficiency, like he proved with his delightful finish that left Andre Onana helpless.
Juventus‘ opener was a reward that Allegri probably didn’t even expect at that stage of the game, but one that the Bianconeri strategist perfectly knew how to handle. Strengthened by the advantage, the visitors were further encouraged to build a defensive wall and leave control of the ball to the Nerazzurri, exposing both their limits and those coming from Simone Inzaghi‘s rigid ideas.
Inzaghi’s inflexibility left Inter with no answers
After all, the way Inter responded after falling behind was highly predictable – the hosts started to gradually push Juve into their own box, but they never gave the impression of knowing how to mess up the visitors’ defensive setup, as they tediously moved the ball from one side of the pitch to the other.
Their attacks down the flanks were easily dealt with when the ball reached the central area of the penalty box, where the likes of Danilo, Gleison Bremer and Federico Gatti appeared in full control, clearing every threat coming from the ground and the air with ease.
Simone Inzaghi’s major blame is not having found, or even tried, a solution to change the script of the game, as his tactical inflexibility ended up damaging his own side. In spite of being short of options at the left-wing post, when Federico Dimarco was forced out with an injury in the second half the Nerazzurri coach replaced him with 34-year-old Danilo D’Ambrosio, whose physical features make it extremely hard for him to cover large portions of the pitch going up and down the flank.
Instead, Inzaghi could’ve switched to a back-four and taken advantage of his midfield depth by replacing Dimarco with the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Kristjan Asllani or Roberto Gagliardini, adding one more man in an area of the pitch where Juventus were finding huge spaces and also moving one of the midfielders closer to the strikers to give them better support and prevent Hakan Calhanoglu and Nicolò Barella from making exhausting runs every time the ball was lost.
Inzaghi’s changes, which included the entrance of Joaquin Correa, Edin Dzeko and Raoul Bellanova, had no other effect than pushing Inter’s possession close to 70% by the end of the match, but their only three shots on target, as many as Juventus, say it all about the effectiveness of those moves.
In fact, while the Nerazzurri put the ball in the box countless times in the final 25 minutes, it was the visitors who came the closest to scoring, and they will certainly regret not having finished at least one of their many counter-attacks in the second half.
It’s not the first time that Inzaghi’s inability to make effective tweaks during the game resulted in Inter dropping points, but their defeat in the 180th Derby d’Italia is particularly painful, as well as an alarming sign for the months to come – the Nerazzurri lost a Serie A game played straight after a Champions League fixture for the fourth time, which could mean they will lose further ground in the race for a top-four spot when they meet Benfica twice in less than 10 days in April in the Champions League quarter-final.