Juventus reap revenge on Inter to prepare for assault on Europe
Matri (centre) celebrates netting vs Inter
Juventus not only moved one step closer to the retaining the Serie A title by beating Inter over the Easter weekend, but also reaped revenge on Andrea StramaccioniÃ¢ÂÂs side for having the temerity to end the defending championsÃ¢ÂÂ unbeaten record earlier in the season.
NovemberÃ¢ÂÂs surprise 3-1 loss to the Nerazzurri, their first defeat at the Juventus Stadium since it opened in September 2011, denied Juve the half-century of unbeaten matches. But although it rankled to have lost to their most bitter of rivals, it did little to derail Antonio Conte and his men on their relentless march at the top of the table.
Such has been JuveÃ¢ÂÂs dominance throughout the campaign that the scudetto should be sealed by the beginning of May, but in the meantime there was an old score to settle at the San Siro. Despite the Old Lady arriving in Milan with one eye on their Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich, she was at her meanest in putting Inter in their place.
A 2-1 final scoreline on a rain-sodden afternoon didnÃ¢ÂÂt tell the whole story of a polished performance where the two Ã¢ÂÂback-upÃ¢ÂÂ strikers - Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri - were on the mark. Rodrigo Palacio had given the home side a glimmer of hope when he canceled out QualiarellaÃ¢ÂÂs stunning long-range opener, but once Matri had put the champions back into the lead, there was only ever going to be one outcome to this Derby dÃ¢ÂÂItalia.
Hotly contested as ever, Esteban CambiassoÃ¢ÂÂs potential leg-breaker on Sebastian Giovinco just before the final whistle was as rotten as the weather and led to the ArgentineÃ¢ÂÂs first red card in Serie A. The incident summed up InterÃ¢ÂÂs frustrations at being well off the pace - not only of Juventus, but also AC Milan and Napoli.
Teenager midfielder Mateo Kovacic has potential, but a major rebuilding programme is needed in the summer if Inter are to be reinvigorated. Yet, at present, there is no guarantee there will be European football to incite new signings, with victory in the Coppa Italia perhaps their best hope.
What looks certain is that a Champions League place is beyond Inter, even with a game in hand on most of their rivals, after both Napoli and AC Milan won away from home to cement second and third spot.
The Rossoneri took their unbeaten run to 12 games thanks to a 1-0 win at Chievo, while Edinson Cavani made up for returning late from World Cup duty in South America to score twice in NapoliÃ¢ÂÂs thrilling 5-3 victory at Torino.
Conte was in the crowd at the Olympic stadium no doubt urging on the Granata, but at the same time plotting how Juve will overcome Bayern. The Bundesliga champions-elect may have thumped Hamburg 9-2 on Saturday, but that scoreline will have no bearing on Tuesday nighthÃ¢ÂÂs encounter.
Mirko Vucinic was left at home for the Inter game, suffering from a bout of weekend flu, but the Montenegrin was on the plane to Munich on Sunday.
Giovinco also travelled, but Conte may elect to play with the former as a lone striker, with Claudio MarchisioÃ¢ÂÂs runs from deep offering support and Paul Pogba drafted into the holding role.
Arturo Vidal is equally equipped to cover every inch of the Allianz Arena, so Juve will not lack man power going forward to create goal chances as they search for at least one away goal.
Yet JuveÃ¢ÂÂs primary strengths, as they have been all season, will be a little further down field. The three centrebacks - Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and indomitable Giorgio Chiellini; the tireless running of the wing-backs; and midfield linchpin Andrea PirloÃ¢ÂÂs ability to pick out the pass that ensures his team-mates do not unduly waste energy in chasing lost causes.
With Vidal and Marchisio steaming forward, VucinicÃ¢ÂÂs strength at holding up the ball will be invaluable. Matri did it to good effect at the weekend and if Conte decides that it is the German side that should be the ones living in fear, then a Vucinic-Matri tandem could well reap havoc.
Juventus are marching towards the title at home, but with the sort of form they have been showing lately, European success is also beckoning.