This weekend is full of plenty of big fixtures for football fans around the world. In England, the biggest one is arguably Chelsea vs. Arsenal. In France, Nice and Monaco locked horns in what could later prove decisive in the Ligue 1 title race. In Germany, surprise packages RB Leipzig faced off against Borussia Dortmund as die Bullen sought to close the gap on Bayern Munich in the battle for the Bundesliga title.
And over in Italy, it’s none other than the Derby d’Italia. Any Serie A supporter knows of the bitter rivalry between Juventus and Inter that was made even worse by the Calciopoli scandal a bit over a decade ago. Whilst Juventus are comfortably four points clear of the chasing pack, and thus on course for an unprecedented sixth straight Scudetto, this game nonetheless is full of sentiment. Both teams are on winning streaks. The Bianconeri have won their last 27 home ties, which is a Serie A record. Meanwhile, whilst Inter are out of the Coppa Italia after losing to Lazio, the Nerazzurri have won seven consecutive Serie A matches.
That has put them back in contention for Champions League football – something that had been a pipe dream not too long ago. Inter have already beaten Juventus earlier this season, when they defeated them 2-1 in arguably what was the sole highlight of Frank de Boer’s ill-fated tenure. The Nerazzurri are also the first team to have traveled to the new Juventus Stadium and won, when a Diego Milito brace was enough to give them a 3-1 victory in November 2012.
More significant is the fact that Inter have also kept five clean sheets over the course of this seven-game winning streak. That shows that things are beginning to tighten up in defense, which has often been Inter’s weak point and given Juve’s threatening attack, it will be very interesting to see how they stack up in Sunday’s blockbuster tie against La Vecchia Signora.
In addition, Inter appear to be moving away from their over-dependence on Mauro Icardi. The Argentinian international is still firing in the goals, as he’s tied with Edin Dzeko and Gonzalo Higuain on 15 goals in the race for the Capocannoniere. But finally, others are also taking on some of the goal-scoring responsibilities. Icardi himself is still heavily involved, as with eight assists, he’s up there alongside Napoli’s Jose Maria Callejon in passes that lead directly to goals. And in fact, his eight assists mean that he’s the striker who has been directly involved in more goals than any other player featuring in Europe’s Big 5 leagues.
Meanwhile, Juventus are flying high at the moment, and fans are definitely excited to see how Massimiliano Allegri’s new formation will fare against the Nerazzurri. Allegri has been using a new system that allows Higuain, Paulo Dybala, and Mario Mandzukic all at on the pitch at the same time. And it has paid dividends. Mandzukic in particular has been very impressive as a left-winger a la Samuel Eto’o for Inter during the 2010 Treble-winning season. The lanky Croatian seems to be relishing in his new role and was excellent yet again against Sassuolo. There were concerns about his increasing frustration due to a lack of playing time, but with this interesting 4-2-3-1 system, there is plenty of room for the 30-year-old in the starting XI, and given his seemingly endless stamina and 110% work rate effort, that’s a good thing for La Vecchia Signora.
Higuain has been quite impressive as he recently became the first player since David Trezeguet to score in five consecutive matches, but he has a few more games to go to match the iconic striker’s record of nine. However, should he net against Inter, he will be getting ever so closer towards reaching that long-standing run that has been valid for over a decade.
Sunday’s Derby d’Italia has all the makings of what should be an entertaining affair. Two of the top-scoring strikers in the division, Higuain and Icardi hoping to add to their respective totals. Juve’s long-standing winning streak. Inter’s mini-renaissance and how they will react after seeing their Coppa Italia campaign end.
Will Juventus make it a 28th straight league home win? Or will Inter do the double over their opponents for the first time in several seasons, and become the first team since Udinese to defeat La Vecchia Signora on their home turf?
Tune in to find out!