It’s a genuine shame that the result of this year’s Derby d’Italia will have no impact on anything further than pride as last week’s results all but mathematically handed Inter the title. That said, we know all too well just how fragile even the most seemingly unassailable leads can be in football and neither side will be resting on their laurels. It’s hard to imagine that Juve believe they have a real shot at snatching lo Scudetto from the all but locked jaws of il Biscione and even Youth Academy Director, Ciro Ferrara, openly suggesting that, even a victory in this showpiece, will be a simple case of far too little, far too late. Recent performances from the Old Lady will have been received with raised eyebrows from the Claudio Ranieri skeptics and he will undoubtedly be expecting his black and white army to show their fighting spirit come kick-off time this Saturday. With Inter dropping points at home, a win away at high-flying Genoa might have resulted in a somewhat different outlook from the Juve staff, but as it happened Le Zebre were beaten 3-2 in a game shrouded in controversy, of which the effect may only fully be understood after the final whistle on Saturday.
Inter will enter the Stadio Olimpico di Torino with nothing more than a nagging doubt that defeat here would simply open up possibility of an unlikely late swoop for their crown courtesy of la Vecchia signora. With a mere seven games remaining in the 2008/09 season, their approach to the game will be vastly different to that of their opponents, knowing that a draw will be enough to vanquish title hopes from the minds of even the most optimistic of Turin’s idealists. To describe the Nerazzurri’s home record this season as solid and resilient would be doing them a gross disservice and yet to be beaten, they could hardly have been more impressive at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza – winning eleven and drawing the five of their 16 home encounters thus far. Whilst Saturday’s encounter will be played in Turin, Juventus will have seen enough about the way Inter’s defence was breached twice in three minutes as they failed to contain Palermo’s advances last week and if the visitors defend anywhere near as hazardly this weekend, the quality of the Old Lady’s firepower may well reap the rewards and fill their boots.
As with any high-profile Italian game, much will be made of potential match tactics employed by each team and rightly so. Of course, whilst there’s no sure-fire way of finding out exactly who will be playing on Saturday (and with the tinker-happy Ranieri pulling the strings team prediction is by no means easy) it’s probably safe to say that neither Coach will be voluntarily resting any of their prized assets. With European football no more than next year’s dream for Italy’s number one and two there will be no hiding places should either team fail to perform, for the players or the coaches.
Ranieri will be without the craft of Mauro Camoranesi and the menace of Claudio Marchisio – the former of which was controversially suspended following a debatable sending-off in last week’s clash with Genoa. These will be significant losses for the Bianconeri but the Tinkerman remains upbeat openly declaring his team’s determination to put last week’s debacle firmly behind them and concentrate on the considerable task ahead. Even with those key players missing, the boys from Turin still have more than enough quality between them to challenge the pride of Milan, but will be depending upon huge performances from their remaining superstars. Amauri, a striker in superlative form of late, will be Inter’s main concern and finding ways of keeping him quiet for 90 minutes will be one of Jose Mourinho’s top priorities. That said, il Biscione will have more than just Amauri to deal with and it would be a brave man that ruled out a vintage performance from Alessandro Del Piero, who might just bring a touch of his old class to the otherwise fast-paced and frenetic proceedings.
Things won’t be easy at the other end for Ranieri’s charge, having to contend with Serie A’s leading attack and with Mourinho’s side at virtually full strength, the ageing Juve defence may struggle to keep a lid on Inter’s red-hot strikers. Admittedly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is probably over-rated (certainly by his Coach) and were he playing elsewhere might not be quite the superstar he has become, but on his day his class and ability is unrivaled in the Italian top flight. Add to the mix a fearless 18 year-old wonderkid in Mario Balotelli and that’s quite a recipe for goals and if the two of them are fully tuned-up then it’s difficult to see Juve keeping them out. The battle for midfield supremacy should be an interesting one but with Juventus significantly lacking in strength in light of recent suspensions and whilst Momo Sissoko is looking an entirely different player from the Liverpool flop he once was, Patrick Vieira and co. will most probably come out on top. Which in turn will make it difficult to get the required service to the front two so the quality and dynamism of Pavel Nedved will be essential if the ageing warrior is selected by Ranieri for Saturday’s clash.
If truth be told the clash of the Coaches is almost as exciting as the fixture itself, with the two former Chelsea bosses preparing for battle once more and the stark contrast in approach only serves to earmark the occasion further, as the Special One’s dazzling arrogance is pitted against the quiet calm of the Tinkerman. Mourinho is already one up on Ranieri, as his side took all three points in the mirror fixture earlier in the season and looks to have the league under his belt, so Ranieri will be desperate to claw back some of his pride here. When it comes to tactics there a few more respected than the lovable Tinkerman and doubtless he will have poured over his available players for nights on end but we are all perfectly aware of the Special One’s ability to instill his winning mentality into a team and it may well leave Ranieri licking his wounds once again come Saturday night.
It promises to be a true spectacle and, despite it’s probable lack of significance with regards to league standings and the like, neither Coach, nor the team beneath him, will willingly relinquish the pride that makes both clubs the footballing forces they are today. ‘Roll on Saturday!’ Mourinho clamours. Ranieri sits calmly, quietly plotting.