Three matches and three rivals vanquished (even if Adriano Galliani does not completely agree) – Juventus enjoyed a successful week which rejuvenated their Scudetto bid and saw them reach the Coppa Italia final. The week-capping victory over Inter made Juve forget the provincial struggles which has threatened to ensure a potentially unbeaten season likened more to Perugia 1978/79 than Milan 1991/92.
It had appeared the January yips which were prevalent in recent campaigns made the shift to February following a number of frustrating draws. Perhaps the Old Lady just needed to face her rivals to get back on track. After all, that is when Juve shines brightest. So far so good in that regard.
Fiorentina were bested 5-0 and Milan eliminated from the Coppa Italia after a stirring extra-time progression. Whilst Juve started brightly in those two matches, Inter came out like a house on fire at the Juventus Stadium on Sunday night. Only Gianluigi Buffon’s first half saves to deny Diego Milito – twice – and Diego Forlan kept a sluggish Juve in the hunt as Alessandro Matri spurned two chances at the other end.
Roles were reversed in the second half with Martin Caceres, Antonio Conte and Alessandro Del Piero coming to the fore. Caceres nodded in Andrea Pirlo’s corner to ease Juve tensions as Del Piero sealed the result 20 minutes from time. In between, Conte’s tactical shift to 3-5-2 from a starting 4-3-3 helped turn the tide in Juve’s favour. They saw more of the ball and had joy out wide – Caceres especially – and Claudio Ranieri’s response did not help.
Special mention goes to Arturo Vidal, who was superb throughout – in his defensive duties, getting forward and even creating Del Piero’s goal – in what was one of his best performances to date for Juventus. Only Pirlo completed more passes, whilst the Chilean made six tackles and recovered 21 balls to ensure a busy evening’s work.
At the other end of the spectrum, Alessandro Matri is lacking in confidence. The striker still has plenty to offer and should be starting ahead of Marco Borriello but the header straight at Julio Cesar was indicative of recent issues, whilst he provided little against Fiorentina. Without a goal since the draw at Milan, for the sake of Juve’s title bid he needs to revive his scoring touch.
Juve now take their winning momentum into yet another meeting with an old foe, this time Napoli. The two played out a pulsating 3-3 in November but a similar result will be detrimental to the Turin giants Scudetto bid.
Conte could return to the 3-5-2 formation – which made its debut in that November draw – in order to combat Napoli’s strengths. The Partenopei may have dropped points against Catania on the weekend from a winning position but they have not tasted defeat in nine Serie A matches. Stephan Lichtsteiner returns from suspension to give Conte another option at the back, but after Caceres’ fine performance, it would be harsh for him to return to the bench.
The gap to Milan remains four points and as Conte said post-Inter the Rossoneri hold all the cards. He is objective in his outlook and so must Juventus be. All the Bianconeri can do is win their remaining fixtures to put pressure on Milan.