Juventus took a huge step back towards the top end of the Serie A table with a crucial 0-1 victory away to Inter Milan on Sunday, courtesy of a fine strike by Filip Kostic in the 23rd minute. It was a frustrating evening for the home side, which eventually erupted into a scuffle at the very end. As a result, Danilo D’Ambrosio and Leandro Paredes, both of whom came on as substitutes for their respective teams, were both sent off after the final whistle.
The contest started as a relatively balanced one, with both teams arranged in the 3-5-2 formation. The battle in the congested midfield area was fierce from the first whistle, and both teams sought to engage their strikers, Romelu Lukaku and Dusan Vlahovic, with relatively frequent long passes. But it was Inter who threatened first, twice through Nicolo Barella who saw his efforts saved by Wojciech Szczesny.
It took a quarter of the game for Juventus to finally do something at the other end, and then, Adrien Rabiot combined nicely with Vlahovic to eventually set Kostic up on the left. The Serbian wing-back was in a surprisingly large space out wide, and he took his time, set his sights and fired a perfect low shot into the far corner, leaving Andre Onana in the Inter goal to watch helplessly as the ball struck the inside of his net.
The visitors could’ve doubled their lead five minutes later as Kostic turned provider for young Matias Soule this time, a surprise inclusion in the starting XI ahead of Angel Di Maria, but the 19-year-old attacking midfielder scuffed his shot from around the penalty box.
The second half was mostly about Inter, as Marcelo Brozovic and Hakan Calhanoglu wasted good opportunities, and Juventus defender Federico Gatti did well to thwart Lukaku inside the six yards after Denzel Dumfries whipped a low ball in there. The Bianconeri threatened twice on counterattack, the first one ending with an effort from Manuel Locatelli which Onana saved, and the other with Kostic’s effort deflected wide of the target by the backtracking Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Lukaku in limbo
There has been plenty of talk about the future of Romelu Lukaku in the last couple of days, since Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta confirmed the Belgian striker would return to Chelsea at the end of the season. Having said some pretty condemning stuff about his parent club previously, Lukaku won’t be too pleased with that prospect. A rather sad situation for a player who returned to Stamford Bridge from Inter in 2021, as a Scudetto winner, for a €115m fee, only to go back to Italy the following summer on a season-long loan.
Be that as it may, this game was a notable example of what Marotta was talking about when he said the 29-year-old colossus wasn’t the same player that helped them win the 2020/21 title anymore.
The former Everton and Manchester United striker spent 79 minutes on the pitch, taking just one shot, making just one key pass, winning two aerial duels, being dispossessed by opponents twice and failing to control teammates’ passes also twice – a rather forgettable evening for a player searching for the best version of himself. For the time being, it remains lost.
Referee Daniele Chiffi controlled the match very well for the most part, and it certainly wasn’t an easy task. However, questions must be asked, not of him but of those in the VAR room, about the Juventus attack which led to the winning goal. It was Mattie Di Sciglio who started the move, sending a long ball towards the middle of the park where it was picked up by Rabiot. The France international clearly brushed the ball with his arm, and it even bounced off the arm of Vlahovic too before Rabiot managed to bring down under control.
The VAR check took an unusually long time, and the goal stood. It was probably one of those situations where the officials try to asses if there was any intention to play the ball with the arm, or if the player concerned could’ve avoided it. In all honesty, it seemed like Rabiot knew what he was doing – Vlahovic not so much – but Chiffi wasn’t even told to go and check it on the pitch-side monitor.
A strange situation, given that the officials in the Serie A usually employ the VAR technology much better than their colleagues in other leagues, but it is what it is. The goal stood, and it won the game for Juventus.
Late red cards
In the 83rd minute, Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri freshened up his team by sending Leandro Paredes on to replace the injured Federico Chiesa. The Argentinian midfielder is known in the world of football for his knack for provoking opposition players, best shown in Argentina’s World Cup triumph over Netherlands when his “dark arts”, in reality nothing more than extremely unsportsmanlike behaviour, cost him a slam to the ground by Virgil van Dijk.
Even that came as no surprise for anyone who’s been watching the teams Paredes has played for. At PSG, for example, his presence was believed to be causing severe unrest within the squad as his fellow South Americans shunned Georginio Wijnaldum for occasionally usurping his place in the starting XI.
Be that as it may, Paredes took to his usual crafty behaviour straight away, picking up a yellow card in less than 10 minutes. In the dying seconds of the match, he needlessly provoked D’Ambrosio into a tussle and managed to get the Inter midfielder sent off after the final whistle, but though he usually gets away with such unfitting behaviour, this time Chiffi did the right thing and raised the red card against him as well.
One thing is certain – Allegri won’t be too pleased with his midfielder pointlessly suspended for the upcoming matches.
Juventus back in top-four race?
Had it not been for the 15-point deduction due to financial irregularities, Juventus would now be sitting pretty in second place, still too far behind leaders Napoli, but a place in next season’s Champions League would be more than likely for them.
When the setback came, the Bianconeri were thrown down the ladder into the middle ranges of the table, but their impressive response on the pitches across Italy has put them back on the map, and they’re surely in the running to be playing in Europe again, possibly even the Champions League.
After 27 rounds, Juventus are seventh with 41 points, four less than Atalanta in sixth, six less than AS Roma in fifth, seven less than AC Milan in fourth, nine less than Inter in third, and 11 less than Lazio in second. During the 11 rounds that remain to be played, they will face Lazio, Napoli, Atalanta and Milan among others.
Inter are still in a much better position obviously, but they shouldn’t relax too much if they don’t want the situation to change rather quickly. The Nerazzurri are also still to play Lazio, Napoli and Atalanta, as well as Roma.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!