All eyes will be at the top of the table this Saturday as two of the biggest names in Italian football go head to head. It is the clash of the titans as second placed Juventus host leaders Inter and the stakes could not be higher. It is a must win game for the Old Lady if they are to reduce the ten point gap and rejuvenate their fading title hopes. However, Inter will not hand the title over without a fight and a victory at the Stadio Olimpico would extend their lead to 13 points and all but guarantee they regain their Scudetto crown. Defeat for Juve could also see them surrender second place if Milan manage to overcome relegation threatened Torino and pile further pressure on under fire coach Claudio Ranieri.
Last weekend saw the Bianconeri miss a golden opportunity to reduce the gap on the leaders as they crashed to a disappointing defeat at the hands of Champions League hopefuls Genoa. Vincenzo Iaquinta looked to have secured at least a point for the Old Lady with a late leveller, before a cruel twist of irony saw former Juventus man Raffaele Palladino strike two minutes from time to give Genoa all three points. Ranieri will be alarmed at the way in which his side have leaked goals in recent weeks and they have now conceded six in the last two games following the recent surprise 3-3 draw with lowly Chievo, including two late goals that may well have prove costly in their bid to prise the title away from Inter’s grasp.
Inter will have been hugely relieved to have seen Juve defeated, but failed to take full advantage of their rivals misfortune after letting a two goal lead slip to draw 2-2 at home to Palermo. José Mourinho’s side looked to be coasting after Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimović had given them a 2-0 advantage going into the break. However, a second half fight back from the visitors ensured that any premature title winning celebrations were put on ice.
The two sides met four times in 2008, with Inter marginally getting the better of La Vecchia Signora. The reverse fixture this season saw the champions record a narrow 1-0 victory courtesy of a second half Sulley Muntari strike, although they failed to beat Juve in their two league games last campaign, losing 2-1 at the San Siro before drawing 1-1 away from home. They also met in a thrilling two-legged Coppa Italia tie, which ended with a 5-4 aggregate victory for la Beneamata. The first leg saw them take a 2-0 lead, only for the Old Lady to come back to take a share of the spoils. The second leg saw the roles reversed, with Juve leading 2 – 1 before Julio Cruz and Balotelli struck to send the Nerazzurri through.
There will be a wealth of talent on display, with both sides boasting an array of internationals and world-class stars. One player Ranieri will no doubt be keeping a close eye on is Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swede has been an instrumental figure in Inter’s title race and a first half penalty against Palermo took his season’s tally to 20, overtaking Marco Di Vaio as the league’s top scorer in the process. Mourinho will be hoping his top scorer can exploit the Old Lady’s defensive frailties and help his side take a giant stride towards a second successive title.
To make matters worse, the Bianconeri will be without both the injured Hasan Salihamidžić and the suspended Mauro Camoranesi. The former limped off after just 24 minutes of the 3-3 draw with Chievo and was replaced by Camoranesi, who produced an inspired performance and provided an assist for all three of Juve’s goals. However, he was dismissed for a high lunge in the defeat against Genoa and will now miss this vital encounter. It is a bitter blow and they will now be without their tenacious midfielder, who scored in both games against Inter last term.
It promises to be a hugely entertaining clash which could potentially end any Scudetto debate once and for all. Application of pressure to the Nerazzurri is needed if they are to let their grip on top spot slip. As such Juve, in front of their home fans, simply have to win.