Juventus turn on the style as sorry Inter bear the brunt
Juventus and Inter provided late drama as the transfer window closed on Friday evening - but not by restarting the abandoned Mirko Vucinic-Fredy Guarin switch.
In fact, there was hardly a mention of the two players at the centre of a move that enraged Inter fans so much that the club’s hierarchy did a complete U-turn and called it off after a verbal agreement had been reached.
Guarin’s future at Inter has been left in limbo, while Vucinic will have to wait until the summer before emptying his locker once again. For one reason or another, a proposed loan move to Arsenal didn't pan out either. To compound the Montenegrin’s misery, Pablo Osvaldo strode into the Turin club wearing a bowler hat - perhaps his only souvenir from a short and acrimonious stint in England - to make it six Juventus strikers slugging it out for two starting places.
The general feeling is that the league leaders had to make a splash in the transfer market just to keep their hand in. The squad is currently strong enough as it stands, while two of Italy's up-and-coming strikers, Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile, have already been snapped up (eventually to be used on the pitch or as makeweights in future transfers).
Osvaldo’s arrival also sent out clear messages to Fabio Quagliarella and Sebastian Giovinco that their times are up. In fact, the former turned down moves to Genoa, Lazio and Cardiff to sit on the bench for the rest of the season, while Giovinco also said no to Lazio – and probably any chance of making Italy’s World Cup squad.
Osvaldo, who will be hoping to work his way back into Cesare Prandelli’s plans after a troubled spell with Southampton, will now be the first replacement for Carlo Tevez or Fernando Llorente. If the Italy international impresses, Juventus will have to pay €16 million to make the deal permanent. The Johnny Depp clone has promised to bring “excitement” to The Old Lady, although manager Antonio Conte will be quite content to keep the drama to a minimum.
Inter, meanwhile, also needed to move on from the Vucinic-Guarin fiasco. And they did so; Danilo D’Ambrosio arrived from Torino on Thursday, but their truly eye-catching signing was that of Hernanes from Lazio. The move went down to the wire before the Roman club finally accepted €20m for the Brazilian playmaker, who signed a four-year deal.
Hernanes had bid a tearful farewell to Lazio on Thursday, gifting a fan his boots at the gates of the training ground, but club owner Claudio Lotito was not in such a generous mood until the 28-year-old officially presented a transfer request. The matter dragged on until paperwork eventually arrived at the Lega Calcio headquarters - but not in time for him to face Juventus.
The Brazilian was joined in the stands by Osvaldo, who was suitably impressed by the manner in which his new team-mates inflicted revenge for their opponents' U-turn on the Guarin deal. Juventus could have easily bettered their 3-1 win as they swept aside the shambolic visitors from the opening exchanges to the final whistle.
Why Juve's system works
Twenty-three points separated the teams coming into this famous fixture (known as the Derby d’Italia), while Juventus had only conceded 15 goals all season. Therefore, it was no surprise to see Juve notch their 13th win in 14 league games, taking Antonio Conte’s side nine points clear of Roma, who had their match at home to Parma rained off after eight minutes. The leaders' rock-solid midfield not only protected the defence, but was key in forcing Inter to defend deeply as wing-backs Kwadwo Asamoah and Stephan Lichtsteiner pushed forward.
Conte's men have now netted 54 goals - nine more than any other side - but their bedrock is still defensive solidity. Juve's backline trio have lost a challenge only 1.84 times a match on average this season, compared with Inter's back three who came into Sunday’s encounter second best on 2.57. Why Andrea Barzargli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are rarely exposed is down not only to the cover provided by the wing-backs, but the immense workrate of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba in their own defensive duties.
In this game, Juventus were firmly in control going forward. Inter were without the injured Esteban Cambiasso and Guarin, diplomatically left out of the squad after missing out on his move to Turin, so coach Walter Mazzarri was left light in midfield. Mateo Kovacic, Zdravko Kuzmanovic and Saphir Taider had neither the power nor guile to cope with their opposition, with Kovacic particularly disappointing in his handling of Pirlo. The opening goal highlighted Inter’s flaws in that area of the pitch, as pass-master Pirlo was given too much time to chip the ball into the penalty area for Lichtsteiner to finish with a stooping header.
Kuzmanovic’s contribution was negligible; a heavy tackle on Vidal could easily have earned the former Fiorentina man a red card, while the rest of his game involved putting his team-mates under pressure with wayward passing. Taider was no match for the indomitable Vidal, while fragile wing-backs Jonathan and Yugo Nagatomo were facing a hiding from the start and couldn't offer sufficient cover.
It was one of the biggest mis-matches in the rivals' history, and saw Juve gain their 100th win in the fixture. Chiellini grabbed the second goal just after half time following some slack defending from a corner, and when the Inter ranks parted for Vidal to add a third with 20 minutes remaining, a bigger humiliation looked on the cards.
But the visitors did score through Rolando, after Juve let their concentration slip and allowed the defender to latch onto a loose ball from a rare Inter corner. Rodrgio Palacio, who missed a superb chance in the first half when the scoreline was 1-0, then headed over from close range. But even if the Argentine had scored, Juventus were in cruise control and struck the post through substitute Vucinic late on.
Conte's side also hit three goals against Roma at the Juventus Stadium, but there wasn't as noticeable a gulf in class between the top two as there was against the Nerazzurri. Even Hernanes’ arrival looks unlikely to halt the downward spiral, with Inter now on a winless streak in the league stretching back to early November.
Mazzarri has just released his autobiography Il Meglio Deve Ancora Venire (The Best is Yet to Come), but Sunday evening’s performance suggests that pronouncement is a long way from being realised.