More than usual rests on the outcome of the 233rd Derby d’Italia. Juve require a response after last Sunday’s nerve-racking 1-0 loss to second-placed Napoli placed serious doubts about securing a seventh-successive title, while their opponents can afford few slip-ups in the remaining rounds as they look to end a six-season absence from Europe’s elite club competition.
OLD LADY’S TESTING TIME
A strange feeling has swept over the black-and-white half of Turin – panic.
Such uncertainty had not been felt among their faithful since the days of Claudio Ranieri, Ciro Ferrera, Alberto Zaccheroni and Luigi Delneri in the trying aftermath of Calciopoli.
But this serenity, felt since the rejuvenating appointment of stalwart Antonio Conte in 2011, was broken when Kalidou Koulibaly headed home in the 90th minute at Allianz Stadium. It was further shattered by the club’s ‘ultras’ setting off fireworks at training in midweek.
Massimilano Allegri’s men still hold a one-point advantage. But with talisman Giorgio Chiellini injured, Paulo Dybala hooked at half-time against Napoli plus visits to Inter and Roma awaiting, definitive answers to searching questions are required.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT INTER
It is not only the Old Lady who come into this storied fixture with plenty on the line.
The success or failure of Luciano Spalletti’s debut season in Milan rests on whether he can secure entrance to the Champions League in the remaining four matches.
This seemed an effortless task when the sides played out a goalless draw in December.
Inter were unbeaten and top of the table then. But just six victories in the subsequent 18 league run-outs now sees them sit one place and one point outside the hallowed top four.
The Nerazzurri faithful would like nothing more than to derail Juve’s title bid. Especially when the 20th anniversary of a controversial Scudetto showdown was reached this week.
But this desire cannot be allowed to distract from the task at hand.
26 - Mauro Icardi has scored on average a goal every 26 touches, record among Serie A players with 150+ touches in this season. Fox.— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) April 27, 2018
DON’T PULL THE RUG ON DANIELE
A selection decision with ramifications for the next decade at Juve could be made by Allegri this weekend.
Daniele Rugani, 23, has enjoyed a breakthrough 2017/18. With Andrea Barzagi and Chiellini creaking, a career-high 18 Serie A-starts at Juve have been recorded by the unflappable centre-back.
Yet, doubts remain in Allegri’s mind about a starlet who still doesn’t make his first-choice XI.
When Chiellini, 33, trudged off with an early knee injury against Napoli, Rugani remained on the substitutes’ bench and Switzerland right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner was thrown on. Rumours persist that Barzagi, 36, or Germany loanee Benedikt Howedes, 30, could get the nod this time.
Links to Arsenal for Rugani re-emerged in the Italian press this week. If Rugani is snubbed again, why would he say ‘no’?
With the average age of Juve’s other potential centre-backs a concerning 33-years old, Allegri’s short-term decisions could have a damaging long-term impact.
ALL POWER TO PERISIC
Inter’s form has been a mirror image of their flying Croatia winger Ivan Perisic’s.
The 29-year-old burst out the blocks in 2017/18 with seven goals and six assists in his first 15 Serie A appointments. None followed in the next 11, ruinous run-outs.
Fast forward to the present and Perisic has struck twice late on in two-successive victories.
With likely direct opponent Howedes making just his fourth Serie A start, an opportunity to boost both his statistics and his team’s European hopes must be taken.
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