Juventus 1-0 Inter: Leonardo unable to respond to Delneri’s narrow formation

February 14, 2011

The starting line-ups

Alessandro Matri scored the biggest goal of his career to guide Juventus to victory in the Derby d’Italia.

Gigi Delneri reverted to 4-4-2 after last week’s experiment with 4-1-4-1. Luca Toni was recalled upfront, with Jorge Martinez dropping out.

Leonardo named an unchanged 4-3-1-2 side from the XI that demolished Roma the previous weekend.

The main feature of the game was Inter failing to break down the Juventus defence – it wasn’t quite giving Inter a taste of their own medicine, but Leonardo’s side had the vast majority of possession, and dominated territory too.

Sneijder shut down

Delneri clearly saw the rejuvenated Wesley Sneijder as Inter’s main threat, and despite the Dutchman having a good opening to the game, Felipe Melo marked him out of the game pretty well throughout – ironic, after the hero/villain situation after last summer’s World Cup quarter-final.

Aside from that, Juventus’ main gameplan was to keep their whole unit, very, very narrow, preventing Inter from playing through them. This was helped by the use of two centre-backs (Frederik Sorensen and Giorgio Chiellini) in the full-back positions, meaning the four at the back naturally gravitated to the centre of the pitch.

Further forward

In addition, the situation in midfield worked quite well – Inter’s more creative side of the pitch, Maicon and Houssine Kharja, were up against Claudio Marchisio, who is decent defensively, whilst the less threatening duo of Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti were the responsibility of Milos Krasic, who is more slack defensively. Juve’s wide midfielders picked up Inter’s side midfielders, and let the Inter full-backs have time on the ball.

Samuel Eto’o versus Sorensen was billed as Juve’s biggest worry before the match, but the young Dane rarely got beaten in 1 v 1 battles, and defended excellently by standing up to Eto’o, not diving in, and guiding him into the congested centre of the pitch. He was Juve’s best defender. Andrea Barzagli was always on hand to step out from centre-back and close down either Sneijder or Eto’o, both of whom started to the left of the pitch, if Melo or Sorensen were beaten.

Matri strikers

With the midfield battle relatively uneventful, the action at the other end of the pitch consisted of a physical battle – Toni and Matri against Andrea Ranocchia and Ivan Cordoba. Toni caused a nuisance, as always, but it was Matri who headed in the opener, after a mistake at the near post from Cordoba. Cambiasso and Zanetti were keen to double up against Krasic, which left Sorensen free to swing in an excellent cross to the near post.

After the goal, Juve became increasingly defensive. Matri moved over to the left side without the ball, which prevented Maicon from having too much of an impact on the game, whilst Alberto Aquilani was more frequently found intercepting balls ahead of his back four, rather than spraying passes to the flanks.

Second half

Just after half-time, Matri almost added a second in a extremely similar incident to the first goal, which prompts serious questions about Inter’s new centre-back partnership.

Leonardo realised he needed more width, and took off Kharja to introduce Goran Pandev on the right, as Inter switched to a 4-2-3-1. Whilst Pandev and Eto’o played wider, Inter still lacked a true winger – someone who could go down the line and put crosses into the box. Pandev and Eto’o wanted time on the ball and to come into the centre of the pitch, and Juve shut them out well, minimising the space between the lines and dropping increasingly deep.

Final minutes

Delneri looked to have made a huge mistake when he made all three substitutions despite Matri struggling with a rib injury, and Juve effectively played the final minutes of the game with ten men – Matri could hardly run, although he battled on manfully.

The introduction of Simone Pepe saw Juve go to what looked like a back five as he dropped to left-back and allowed Chiellini narrower, but it was down that side that Inter created their best opportunity. Pepe inexplicably tried to dribble past Maicon in his own third of the pitch – Maicon robbed him and put a great ball across the six yard box for Eto’o, who missed an open goal.

That chance showed us two things – first, that Inter needed width and crosses to get in behind Juve, and second, that Juve’s organisation was so good that it was only an individual mistake that gave Inter a clear chance.


The ‘defend deep and narrow’ approach is generally very successful against sides like Arsenal and Barcelona, who want to play quick, short passes through the opposition, and are more reluctant to get wide and cross the ball. Inter would probably not be put in the same bracket as Arsenal and Barcelona in terms of their style of football, but for years they’ve lacked a true winger to give the side width and a different point of attack.

Inter’s 4-3-1-2 system played into Juve’s hands in this respect, and though the probably from width was less obvious when Leonardo switched to 4-2-3-1, but this time Juve had the lead and were content to sit back and protect their advantage. A good victory for Delneri.

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