The contest between Juventus and Inter Milan at the Allianz Stadium in Turin was a crucial moment in the race for the Serie A title. It would have been important for either side to win, but was simply imperative for Juventus to remain undefeated. They failed, and while their chances of regaining the Scudetto this season may still be there in theory, in reality, they now appear non-existent.
Aware that beating Inter would prompt a shift between the two teams in the table and draw Juventus closer to the leading duo of AC Milan and Napoli, the Bianconeri started the match strong. They pushed up the pitch and pressed high as much as they could, obviously eager to score from minute one.
Deployed in a 4-2-3-1 shape, with Dusan Vlahovic upfront, supported by Paulo Dybala directly behind, Alvaro Morata on the left and Juan Cuadrado on the right, Juventus seemed set rather well in an attacking sense. Adrien Rabiot and Manuel Locatelli provided steel and protection in the middle of the park, doing their job properly even though Locatelli picked up a nasty head injury in the second minute and was replaced by Denis Zakaria later in the match.
Every statistical piece of data will tell you that Juventus dominated the match. They had 54% possession, took a total of 22 shots compared to Inter’s five, took eight corners compared to Inter’s one. The visitors committed 19 fouls, compared to Juventus’ nine.
Looking at this match in isolation, putting everything else aside, it’s quite obvious that Allegri did nothing wrong in terms of team selection, though there were arguably other ways he could have prepared the game. It was mostly decisions made in the final third and numerous failures in one-on-one duels, that proved the basis for the eventual defeat. A few fine chances were created, but neither Vlahovic, nor Morata, nor Dybala managed to beat Samir Handanovic in the Inter goal, despite the Slovenian veteran looking shaky a few times. On the other hand, Alessandro Bastoni, Danilo D’Ambrosio, and particularly Milan Skriniar who never left Vlahovic out of arm’s reach, all had a good game.
With everything said and done, it wasn’t as if Juventus weren’t motivated for this clash. It was a simple case of lacking a specifically devised plan to hurt the opposition in certain ways and areas, as well as a bit of imagination from their usually very creative attacking players.
The conundrum in which the first half of the game ended is probably hard to believe for anyone who hasn’t seen it for themselves. The only goal from the game came of it – Hakan Calhanoglu firing past Wojciech Szczesny from the penalty spot. But the events leading up to it were incredible indeed.
Denzel Dumfries broke into Juventus’ box down the right, and there he was stopped by the joint effort of Alex Sandro and Morata before hitting the deck. Referee Massimiliano Irrati wasn’t too interested at first, but he was soon notified that the VAR was checking the situation for a potential penalty. In the end, he was instructed to take a look for himself, and the slow-motion footage revealed that Morata had stamped on Dumfries’ foot. Irrati was left in no doubt – penalty to Inter, despite the fierce protests from the home players.
Up stepped Calhanoglu, but so did Szczesny, and the Polish goalkeeper saved the shot. His parried save was then an object of a desperate scramble in which Calhanoglu appeared to have sent the ball towards the gaping goal, and Rabiot only managed to slam it in as he tried to make a goal-line clearance. But before the Inter players even started celebrating, Irrati’s whistle was heard again – the referee deemed Calhanoglu to have committed a foul in that scramble and gave Juventus a free-kick. But he was again told of the VAR being in action at that point.
In the end, it was ruled that Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt had made an encroachment by stepping into the box a split-second too early, before Calhanoglu took the penalty. The penalty therefore had to be retaken, and the Turk made no mistake from his second attempt.
A highly controversial moment, no doubt, but it can’t truthfully be said that Irrati or the VAR got anything wrong in this situation. The back-and-forth run of emotions for everyone in the stadium within those few minutes, however, must’ve been maddening.
There was another moment, very late in the match, that might have required a little more consideration from the officials, but there can be no doubt that De Ligt made a lot more of the contact the hand of Inter substitute Matteo Darmian had with his face than there actually was. Irrati wouldn’t hear of giving Juventus a penalty for that, and this time the VAR stayed silent.
The race now
AC Milan still top the table with 66 points from 30 matches played. Napoli in second place have the same tally, though they’ve already played (and won) their 31st match, while the Rossoneri face Bologna at the San Siro this evening (Monday) and obviously have a chance of pulling away again.
Inter are third with 63 from 30 matches, and unless the top two start dropping points soon, even Simone Inzaghi’s team will be getting further away from defending the title. As for Juventus, they are in fourth place with 59 from 31 matches, and it’s very hard to imagine all three teams that stand in front crumbling sufficiently low over the last seven rounds of the season for the Old Lady to have a chance again. If Allegri leads his team back into the Champions League, it’s all they can do.
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