Juventus live to fight another day thanks to the win over Sassuolo, where the opponents were too naïve in leaving so much room to counter. The Bianconeri rarely have such an opportunity and are not particularly strong in that area of the game, but their potential came through last week. It is a stratagem that could potentially be a factor more in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta than versus Inter. Shockingly, good things tend to happen if you do not go down in the score early, and the Old Lady have to thank Gianluigi Buffon for that.
On the other hand, there were no gifts on the pitches as Atalanta, Milan, and Napoli keep on rolling. The first two are almost certain, even though they will face each other in the final rounds, thanks to the advantageous tie-breaker. The Partenopei seem on fire, and it would be surprising if they did not take care of business in the last two matches versus opponents that have nothing more to play for, but you never know. Juventus have to stick with it and hope for some unexpected help, but clearly, they dug their own grave on multiple occasion, lastly in the Milan game.
It is an objective that is worth more in terms of prestige and especially financially than on the sporting side. It is clear that Juventus is not in a position to win the Champions League next season, and rejoicing for simply participating is small-club stuff.
It will be delicate for coach Andrea Pirlo to manage the energies between now and Wednesday as clearly no slip-ups are allowed, or it will curtains in this round already. Moreover, he will have to do battle with sides whose intensity is their forte, which has instead been a flaw for his side, so the XIs will have to be carefully crafted.
The match versus Sassuolo was healthy for some contributors, as Paulo Dybala and Dejan Kulusevski had their best showings in some time, and Adrien Rabiot built on the great assist he had versus Udinese. Alex Sandro has also had a strange renaissance defensively in recent matches. The squad has its flaws and is too thin in some areas, but the quality is not an issue and would have easily produced better results with better stewardship.
Minimal changes are expected in the XI, where Wojciech Szczesny, Juan Cuadrado, and Rodrigo Bentancur are slated to return after getting partially spared midweek. Leonardo Bonucci is not in tip-top shape and could be replaced by either Giorgio Chiellini or Merih Demiral. Paulo Dybala is currently leading the usual duel with Alvaro Morata.
4-4-2 Szczesny; Danilo, De Ligt, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Rabiot, Chiesa; Dybala, Ronaldo.
Inter have a chance to end up with the most prolific attack in the league, or at least a top-three one, and surely with the best defense, so it is hard to argue that the title was not well-deserved. They have been a steamroller from January on, which is when they were last defeated, and gained a ton of momentum after coming out on top after the first clash with Juventus. The struggles of the other contenders only fueled their confidence. They have not let up the Scudetto, trouncing Sampdoria and Roma.
Antonio Conte will never be the finest tactician or have the most aesthetically pleasing side, but he just gets the job done domestically. His approach to motivate players and hammer home his points works out wonderfully. The management had already put together a star-studded roster, but, as well-documented by the Bianconeri’s struggles, that is not enough on its own. You also need a manager that can bring the best out of the players and keep them on their toes when they make mistakes.
Their 3-5-2 is rock-solid and well-oiled at this point and has its strength on the dynamism of Achraf Hakimi and the dangerousness of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, who are simply a perfect offensive pair. The big Belgian is a tremendous hub for the offense with his massive frame, and he has improved a lot in the dirty work and in combining with his teammates, then he has always been a prolific striker. El Toro has finessed his game and perfectly rotates around the teammate and can hit the opponents in a plethora of ways his craftiness.
Milan Skriniar, Stefan De Vrij, and Alessandro Bastoni form the most impenetrable back-line in the League, and that has made up for the fact that Samir Handanovic just has not had a great season. While De Vrij and Bastoni are well-suited for the role, the former for his passing, the latter for his mobility, it took Skriniar some time to adapt, but he eventually managed, and he is now a very reliable specialist considering his physical gifts.
Their various midfielders have taking turns in carrying the team. Nicolò Barella and Marcelo Brozovic were impressive in the early going in all facets of the game. Christian Eriksen flourished in the second half after a long adaptation to Italian football, and he is just on another level in terms of technique. Ivan Perisic also ended up adjusting to the coach’s requests and providing a valuable contribution on the left wing, so the only slight disappointment has been Arturo Vidal, who is just not the same player if not sustained by peak physical condition.
The strikers do a lot of the heavy lifting in their design, by they are far from a one-dimensional team. Eriksen and Hakimi are phenomenal playmakers and add a ton of creativity, plus Barella, Brozovic, and Stefano Sensi can bust out quality plays as well. After rotating a lot in the last two matches, they are set to go with something close to their best XI in this one.
They would surely come to play and would wear it as a badge of honor of they could knock Juventus out of the Champions League race. One, instead, could argue that it would be in their best interests if the Bianconeri did not focus exclusively on Scudetto next year, but that is next-level thinking. They will want to keep up their undefeated streak until the end of the season.
The Old Lady had the opportunity to bring back Conte in a couple of instances in recent seasons. While the refusal was maybe understandable considering the ugly way in which he left back in the day, it is still not entirely clear why Giuseppe Marotta was ousted. His loss in the front office has been sorely lost as he keeps everything and everybody in check, and it turns out that his prudence is an asset and not a sign of lack of ambition. The fact that they have been able to navigate this season through their financial troubles with minimal backing from ownership has been an amazing feat.
3-5-2 Handanovic; Skirniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Hakimi, Barella, Brozovic, Eriksen, Darmian; Lautaro Martinez, Lukaku.
Kolarov (herniated disc).