Juventus 1-3 Inter: unbeaten run ends at 49
Juventus lost a Serie A game for the first time under Antonio Conte, and for the first time in their new stadium.
Conte selected a partnership of Mirko Vucinic as the primary striker and Sebastian Giovinco just behind – the rest of the side was as expected.
Andrea Stramaccioni slightly surprisingly selected his tridente rather than a more cautious 3-5-1-1 system, so Fredy Guarin was only on the bench.
Juventus took the lead within twenty seconds, but Inter were the better side for the majority of the game.
Formations / pressing
It was anticipated that Stramaccioni would play a mirror image of Juventus’ formation, but in using a front three it prompted questions about how Inter would play high up the pitch. Would Stramaccioni instruct anyone to track Pirlo? Would the front three press?
The answer to both questions was, well, sort of. In terms of dealing with Pirlo, Inter’s front three took it in turns to mark him. It was rarely Antonio Cassano, who stayed wide on the left and stretched the play, but Diego Milito and Rodrigo Palacio alternated between the central and right-sided positions and ensured one was goalside of Pirlo when Juventus had the ball.
This only half-worked. Stopping Pirlo is the priority when facing Juventus, but it would be inaccurate to simply point to Inter’s victory and declare that their strategy for dealing with him was successful. Twice in the first half, Pirlo got space in midfield and dinked the all over the top of the defence for Claudio Marchisio to run onto – had either of those strikes found the net, we would be criticising Stramaccioni for the foolish decision to ignore Pirlo’s threat.
As for pressing, Inter generally stood off in open play, but pressed at goal-kicks. Because they had a numerical disadvantage in midfield, 3 v 2, it meant being very brave with the positioning of the defenders – at one point, Juan Jesus advanced crazily high up the pitch to shut down Arturo Vidal – but this made sense, with Esteban Cambiasso pushing up on Pirlo.
Juventus were already ahead by the time this situation had become clear, of course. Juve were fielding their most mobile front two, players who would drag around the ponderous Inter defence, and although the offside decision for the opener was questionable, it was Inter’s defence being drawn up the pitch that resulted in the space for midfield runners to burst through.
Possession and wing-backs
Inter recovered admirably from the initial setback, passing the ball nicely across the defence and quickly into the front three. This dominance was helped by Juve playing a reactive game with a one-nil lead, and it was surprising to see Conte’s side invite so much pressure. They had forward runners to play on the counter-attack, of course, but it helped Inter get the upper hand in the wing-back battles on the flanks.
This was particularly obvious down the left, and while Cassano wasn’t hugely involved in a game that was arguably too quick for him, his tendency to stay wide on the left forced Stephane Lichtsteiner back towards his own goal, as Juve were nervous about leaving 3 v 3 at the back. With Lichtsteiner close to the defence, Yuto Nagatomo could move higher up and got space to himself. On the other side, the battle was more even – Kwadwo Asamoah made a couple of decent runs, but Javier Zanetti played higher up and increased the pressure upon Juve, who failed to break from defence quickly.
Lichtsteiner was removed having committed a foul when on a yellow card (so he was a Cleverley rather than a Wilshere), while at half-time, Nicklas Bendtner had to replace Vucinic through injury. Therefore, Juve were two subs down by the start of the second half, and considering how effectively they’d used the bench so far this season (for both tactical and fitness reasons) it was a great constraint, especially in such a high-tempo game.
Inter equalised through Milito, from a penalty following a set-piece, and then Juventus had to up the tempo and get back in the game. They did so rather clumsily – the wing-backs naturally positioned themselves higher, but the centre-backs often moved forward and were then caught out on the counter-attack.
The first tactical substitution of the game came after 69 minutes, and was the game’s crucial change. Cassano was removed, with Guarin replacing him. Inter moved to more of a 3-4-1-2 system, with Guarin pressing Pirlo. This changed the shape of the game, and Inter’s crucial second goal came directly as a result of Guarin’s presence. He won the ball from Pirlo, then stormed past him in a quick attack, and the ball was eventually tucked away by Milito. Guarin’s contribution was decisive, minutes after his introduction.
Juventus chucked on Fabio Quagliarella for Caceres, with Vidal going to right-wing-back, Giovinco becoming the number ten, and Juve more like 3-4-1-2.
Stramaccioni responded by taking off Milito and introducing Gaby Mudingayi to sit in front of the defence close to Giovinco, with Inter now 3-5-1-1. Juve chucked men forward, but were exposed on the counter-attack by Nagatomo and Palacio, and Inter grabbed a third.
Stramaccioni had two possible strategies – using Guarin with two forwards, or using only two central midfielders with a trio up top. He’ll be praised for his bravery, but the reality is that Pirlo did have opportunities to create from deep, and Inter went ahead when Guarin was introduced to press him. Was that an inspired substitution, or was he simply reverting to the strategy he should have used from the start?
Maybe a combination of the approaches was ideal – the front three forced Juventus to be conservative with the positioning of their wing-backs, and then Guarin brought renewed energy and counter-attacking ability and occupied Pirlo when the front three had tired.
Juventus 1-3 Inter: unbeaten run ends at 49