Inter plotting Juventus downfall in Derby d’Italia
A new campaign has barely begun and we’re already in the thick of things, looking on as the forthcoming battle between Inter and Juventus in the Derby d’Italia takes shape.
The build-up to the fiery encounter has been simmering against the backdrop of Italy preparing for qualification to the next World Cup, and is expected to boil over now that the tickets to Brazil 2014 have been booked.
With focus now transfixed on the cut-and-thrust of the Scudetto race again, Inter could either be very fortunate – or very unfortunate – to have the distinction of hosting their arch-rivals, the Italian champions, so early on in their agenda.
Conventional wisdom may point to the Nerazzurri being badly outgunned on Saturday, but such logic holds close to no weight in a clash of this kind of stature.
After all, little less than a year ago, this weekend’s hosts made Juve demolish a gigantic slice of humble pie by smashing their 49-game unbeaten record; that the emphatic 3-1 result was achieved in Turin only propelled expectations among the club’s faithful that the moment they would next seize the domestic crown was close at hand.
But though hindsight subsequently pronounced the ensuing collapse and ultimate ninth place finish a woefully-flawed endeavour by Andrea Stramaccioni’s men, his successor Walter Mazzarri will not fall into the trap of such false beginnings. The wily tactician has harnessed the anger and desire for redemption circling around Appiano Gentile from last season and transformed it into a potency that will look unmistakably familiar to title rivals as that of Mazzarri’s ex-club Napoli’s.
And just as he led the southerners on a continuous path to prominence, defying the odds en route, Mazzarri is coaxing the same belief from his new charges, who have responded by producing a perfect start to the new season with consecutive clean sheets to boot.
Make no mistake, there’s no doubt the Italian would have fancied further preparation time with his team before facing the impending battle royale, but the initial signs are nevertheless telling: the San Siro outfit are rapidly on the mend. Opting against an overhaul, with the bulk of his squad seemingly identical to Stramaccioni’s save for a few tweaks, Mazzarri has instead restored enthusiasm and belief to a side once stricken by doubt since coming on board.
This time, Inter may not be able to hit Juve often, but when they do they will hit them hard; undoubtedly a virtue the 51-year-old trainer has been quick to strive after. Argentina international Hugo Campagnaro epitomises the renewed spirit to battle, following an opportune free transfer from Napoli.
Already, Mazzarri’s defensive protege is appearing a terrific signing that has foreclosed many a danger, going about marshalling the wall thrown up in front of the impregnable Samir Handanovic.
Meanwhile, Andrea Ranocchia has looked invigorated in his coach’s line-up, and he isn’t the only one. Ricky Alvarez and Jonathan have likewise come to grips with the duties expected of them and materialised as leading lights after a leaden beginning to their Inter careers.
The pair take up place in a compact engine room that has still to reap utmost benefit from the tidy bundle in the centre that is Saphir Taider. Far from being a mere midfield corporal, the August arrival from Bologna is a polished user of the ball.
A tangible spring to their step and a genuine air of optimism has been growing steadily amongst the players since summer, as they set out to redeem themselves. Knowing Inter are just starting to discover the reach of her powers – with Mateo Kovacic on the road to full fitness and soon expected to transition to a role befitting his No.10 shirt, and as Mazzarri bides his time to unleash both Mauro Icardi and Ishak Belfodil – the atmosphere around the club is the most uplifting it has been in some time.
Contrary to the promising developments currently afoot however, Mazzarri’s start to life in the dugout had not always been plain sailing. The club had succumbed to humiliating friendly defeats against Real Madrid and particularly cash-strapped Valencia while on tour in America, and missed the opportunities to sign Mauricio Isla and Samuel Eto’o in the transfer window.
Yet, the opportunity to usurp Antonio Conte’s luminaries and enforce the theory the Bianconeri will face their toughest fight for the Scudetto this term will condemn all ignominy sustained to distant memory and truly launch Inter down the route it has envisioned for itself back to the top, if taken. With their coaches inevitably obliged to lock horns once more in a battle for supremacy, it will be to Juventus’ peril to underestimate their plucky opponents.
Expect the full gambit of emotions to flow come match day. A famous win against their bitter and historic rivals will be Inter’s statement of intent to the rest of Serie A that they are henceforth to be taken seriously once again; ensuring that, despite this edition of the Derby d’Italia not yet encompassing the title crossroads, the latest confrontation between the pair still constitutes plenty of significance.
Can victory serve as a milestone in Inter’s resurgence as Scudetto contenders? With Mazzarri at the helm, one wouldn’t bet against it.
Follow Jeremy Lim on Twitter: @JLCalcio