Inter vs Juve and Roma vs Milan: a look ahead
It’s a big Saturday for followers of four of Italy’s most celebrated clubs, with Serie A’s northern ruling triumvirate of Juventus, Internazionale and AC Milan as well as central pretenders Roma pairing off against each other. Most media attention seems to be devoted to the match between Inter and Juventus in Milan, a confrontation rather understatedly described as the ‘Derby d’Italia’. Given that Inter have failed to score more than a single goal in a game for the whole of October and that all season Juventus have conceded more than that number on only one occasion, it seems likely that the Bianconeri‘s defence will come up trumps on this occasion. At this admittedly early stage of the season though, Inter will be playing not just to spite their rivals from Turin but to restore some credency to their title challenge. Inter, 16th in the 20-team table, have exactly half the number of points of league leaders Juventus, and a defeat would threaten to cut them irrecoverably adrift from the rest of the scudetto chasing pack.
Inter’s task will be made no easier by the likely return of Gianluigi Buffon to the starting line-up. The Lombard team’s own number one, Júlio César, was injured in the midweek draw with Atalanta and will play no part in this match against Juve. Though considering the remarkable diminution of the Brazilian’s aura of invincibility since his howler for his country against the Netherlands in the semi-finals of last year’s World Cup, it remains unclear how much confidence his team have in him. Also absent will be Thiago Motta, whose authority in the centre of the park and leap at set pieces will be missed.
The match-up that this blog is more interested in, however, is the one that will see AC Milan travelling to the capital to face AS Roma. New Roma manager Luis Enrique’s charge of bringing in a style of play reminiscent of Barcelona’s may not be progressing smoothly, but signs are that with a bit of directorial patience the former Barcelona B boss could well bring some free-flowing football of Catalan inspiration to the Italian peninsula. Crucial will be the performance of Daniele De Rossi, who is being asked to perform the dual role of midfield anchor and libero, carried out by Sergio Busquets and Gerard Piqué respectively for Barcelona. Lazio’s victory in the recent Rome derby came from their recognition of the fact that Roma have no central defender comfortable enough on the ball to initiate attacks, and so by pressing high up the pitch and blocking the supply line to De Rossi, Roma were forced into long, hopeful balls forward rather than the patient build-up Luis Enrique’s system requires.
Milan however possess few forwards willing to work as hard defensively as Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cisse do for Lazio, meaning that De Rossi may well have all the time he needs to bring the ball out of defence. The presence of Kevin Prince Boateng, who must surely start after his three-goal performance against Lecce last weekend, will likely prove central to the outcome of the match, as he is possibly the only Milan player likely to consistently perform defensive duties in the final third of the pitch, and if he marks De Rossi out of the game then his team will be in an excellent position to gain the upper hand.
Further upfield Roma will have the craft to unpick Milan’s defence, provided their creative midfielders can get the ball of course. Miraljem Pjanic should be fit again, and may be vying with Erik Lamela, hero of the match against Palermo, for the position of the most-advanced midfielder, possibly ahead of David Pizarro and Fernando Gago. In fact it is the abundance of riches in attack for both teams that could make this an exciting encounter: Milan have scored four in each of their last two matches and if Roma can start clicking up front then this could be a high-scoring affair.