Serie A Blog: Juve come out on top in Derby d'Italia
Conte's Juve take a 1 point lead at the top of Serie A while Ranieri's Inter are now just 1 point clear of the bottom 3 following the first Derby d'Italia of the season.
By Mark Sheehan
On Wednesday, 4th May 1949, a plane carrying the Torino AC team home from a farewell match in Lisbon for Benfica legend Xico Ferreira crashed against one of the towers of the Basilica of Superga near Turin, killing all 31 aboard.
This tragedy claimed the lives of a golden generation of players as well as extinguishing a team known fondly as 'Il Grande Torino'. This legendary team had won the last Serie A title before WWII interrupted league play in 1944 and they subsequently won the first four post-war league titles between 1946 and 1949.
The loss of this great Torino A.C. team opened the way for two forces to re-emerge in Italian football. One team, Juventus, would come from the same city of Turin and the other, Internazionale, would come from the nearby city of Milan.
Juventus had won 5 consecutive titles in the 1930's and would be the first of these two clubs to fill the void left by 'Il Grande Torino' by winning the 1949/50 title.
These two clubs would go on to contest many of the scudetti of the 1950's with Inter's greatest ever win, 6-0, coming in the 1953/1954 campaign. On April 4 of that season, with Inter needing to win to overtake their rivals, the Nerazurri's playboy Swede Lennart Skoglund offered to refrain from drinking in the days leading up to the game on condition that he would receive two bottles of the finest whisky if Inter won by three goals or more.
A double nutmeg, a back-heel, 2 goals and three assists later, Skoglund had his 2 bottles of Scotch and Inter would go on to win the Scudetto by one point over their Turin-based rivals that year.
By 1967, such was the rivalry between Italy's 2 most successful clubs, that the most influential sports journalist of his era, La Gazzetta dello Sport's Gianni Brera, coined the phrase 'Derby d'Italia' in reference to the bi-annual Juventus-Inter fixture.
To this day, the two teams rank first (Juventus) and second (Inter) in terms of Serie A titles while the tie also features two clubs who have never been relegated from the top division.
Although, this does not allow for the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 where Juventus were automatically relegated as punishment for their role in the affair. Indeed, that scandal simply added to the intense rivalry as it was Inter who benefited the most; not only were Inter awarded the Serie A title for that year, they also raided the Juve club, relieving them of both Patrick Vieira and Zlatan Ibrahimovi?.
So as this season's first Derby d'Italia approached last weekend, there was the usual high level of expectation and build-up. Juventus, under club legend but first-year coach Antonio Conte, were riding high in the table in direct contrast to the struggling Inter who were languishing just above the relegation places under their 2nd coach of the season, Claudio Ranieri.
Showing a level of calm and rationale to be admired for such a relatively inexperienced coach, Conte did his best to play down the significance of the tie beforehand: “Inter v Juve is not 'the game', it's just a game.”
“We'll face Inter with the right level of tension as always, but it's still a match with three points at stake. Nothing must change, otherwise we'd be thinking like a small side. It's a game between two teams that have written Italian footballing history, but it has to go back to being a normal game.
"Otherwise we're just confirming what has happened in the last few seasons: the Inter game was the biggest one of all, Juve would win it but then end up in seventh place. It's an opportunity to show we've grown but it has to become a normal game. My most memorable victory at the San Siro? Hopefully tomorrow's.”
The former-Juventus and current-Inter coach Ranieri, under more pressure given the dreadful league position Inter find themselves in, also viewed the game in a calm manner: “It will be a normal game, three important points and nothing more.
"Just because I used to coach them doesn't mean it's different for me on an emotional level. It's still just an important game. It's a big game for Juve - even bigger than the derby against Torino.
"They want to become a great team and they can focus on the league in training all season. We are a great team that began with a handicap and now we want to start running at full speed again. But this match won't settle anything definitively, it's not make or break: after this game there are another 84 points up for grabs.”
Juve draw first blood
This instalment of the Derby d'Italia began in a very un-catenaccio fashion which is perhaps more typical of Serie A matches than many might believe. Inter began with the resolve inherent in great champions such as Maicon, Stankovic, Zanetti, Cambiasso and Sneijder and they dominated the opening 10 minutes.
However, it was the away team that drew first blood. Lichtsteiner made one of his trademark runs down the right to receive a cross-field pass from the in-form Alessandro Matri, who then continued his run deep into the penalty area to receive a low return ball into the box.
Matri's first time shot was parried away by Inter keeper Luca Castellazzi, only for the incoming Mirko Vucinic to crash home from close range. 1-0 Juve with 13 minutes gone.
Juve passed up other chances but Inter hung in there and a reverse pass by Sneijder followed by a powerful strike by Maicon drew the sides level on 28 minutes. Inter might then have taken the lead when Pazzini's header had Buffon beaten only to cannon back off the crossbar.
However, as with the first Juve goal, Inter conceded just when they looked to be getting a foothold in the game and just 5 minutes after the Inter equaliser, Juve's Il Principino, Claudio Marchisio, slipped a ball through to Matri whose first time return pass was slotted home by Marchisio into the bottom corner.
2-1 to Juve and with no further goals, the first Derby d'Italia of the season went to the Turin club and lifted the Bianconeri one point clear at the top of the table. Antonio Conte was on the last title-winning Juve side in 2002/03 - don't bet against his club return being an omen.
Weekend: Catania 2-1 Napoli, Roma 2-3 Milan, Internazionale 1-2 Juventus, Siena 4-1 Chievo, Bologna 3-1 Atalanta, Fiorentina 1-0 Genoa, Lecce 1-1 Novara, Parma 2-0 Cesena, Udinese 1-0 Palermo, Cagliari 0-3 Lazio
Saturday: Palermo v Bologna, Novara v AS Roma (19.45 Setanta Ireland)
Sunday: Genoa v Internazionale, AC Milan v Catania, Atalanta v Cagliari, Cesena v Lecce, Chievo Verona v Fiorentina, Lazio v Parma, Udinese v Siena, Napoli v Juventus (19.45 Setanta Ireland)