Club focus – Juventus – Battle of the full-backs

The Derby d’Italia is the most keenly contested match between two of the grandest clubs in the country. In addiction, the fact that it came at a time when explosive evidence given in the Calciopoli trial could see Inter forced to give back their ‘cardboard’ scudetto, gives it a whole new aggressive dimension. However for such a distinguished game one cannot help but be disappointed at the quality of football played on Friday night. Last year, the most exciting Champions league quarter-final game, was between Chelsea and Liverpool as bad football made the match the most exciting spectacle witnessed largely due to the collapse of both defences. This derby, on the other hand, highlighted the weakness in attack of Europe’s most recognised Italian teams.

Both sides handed their trequaristas sole responsibility of creating whilst the rest of the squad depended on these bright spots to come up with a plan – or a pass – that would lead to the elusive goal. Europe has developed its game and tactics, have evolved to make the role of a winger essential to any attack as without them the team is over reliant on the brilliance of one man to create magic. Thus it is especially strange to witness such a high profile match with the winger position largely ignored. With intelligent defending, both playmakers were cancelled out turning the match into a battle between the full-backs in an attempt to see who can take advantage of space whilst simultaneously stifling the opposition’s crosses. It is therefore largely unsurprisingly that the goal that finally did come, came from arguably the best right-back in the world. The exclusion of wingers is perhaps the reason as to why both squads are not known for their high goal scoring abilities and a reason for the rather dull football observed on Friday. One has to be thankful for the tensions riding high that night that led to several fights as well as a red card. Had it not been for the aggression between the two teams and Maicon’s wonder goal of course, it would have been a forgettable match.

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As has become the usual pattern, the Bianconeri started brightly and Inter who were playing at home in the cauldron that is the San Siro, looked nervous to take on their rivals despite their respective positions in the league. Juve, on the other hand, were determined to let motivation take over and any inferiority complexes were fittingly swept under the rug as they rolled up the sleeves and got stuck in. Alberto Zaccheroni seemed to have anticipated his opponent’s strengths. Fielding a tight defensive unit that was made to stay deep in their half to ward off any threat from the home side, his tactics paid off as the Nerazzurri were left bereft of ideas as to how to penetrate the wall the Bianconeri erected.

Yet rather bizarrely, Jose Mourinho failed to pick up on the weaknesses of the visitors and left his wild card Mario Balotelli on the bench. With a sluggish and ageing Juventus defence that is incredibly dire at defending counter-attacks, it would seem appropriate to play the teenager from the start as his blistering speed would have immediately had the opposition pinned back in their half praying for a way to break out. However, Goran Pandev was preferred and Juve were able to largely contain the pressure as pace played no part in the match. Having said that, when the arrogant starlet did come on came, he did so under excellent circumstances. The Bianconeri began to tire and the full-backs simply could not cope with his energy and pace allowing Maicon to slip in and deliver the goal of the season.

Juventus may have lost the match they care about the most in the season but they were by no means as inferior as the league table would suggest. Unfortunately, without Momo Sissoko who was deservedly red carded despite the question mark that loomed over his initial yellow card, Juve lost the battle in the midfield. Without Alessandro Del Piero, the Old Lady could not open up the game and were forced to sit and wait for the Nerazzurri to attack them. Sissoko, who has been a bright spot in this exceedingly disappointing squad, let emotions take the better of him and committed the fatal error that could see Juve miss out on a European spot this season. His dismissal changed the whole course of the match and Zaccheroni did what he did best and played for a draw by making a defensive substitution at the expense of the creative captain. However despite the criticism Zac faced for his cautious approach, very few, if any, would take the risk and trust the fragile defence to close down the channels against a determined home side playing in their backyard with an extra man.

Juventus without a place in Europe might just be a blessing in disguise to allow for a real reconstruction.

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