Looking back at the end of Juventus’s strange, remarkable run
Juventus went 49 Serie A games without a loss, but when they finally fell 3-1 to Internazionale yesterday, the reaction was less shock than confirmation, the feeling that an inevitability had come. Inter were clearly the better side - an advantage they needed after a wrongly allowed goal put them down one after 18 seconds - though they weren’t the first team to outplay Juventus over the league 18 months. That they were the first to beat them in league made the preceding 49 games all the more confusing.
“We came back out for the second-half with so much anger after the offside goal,”1 Inter striker Diego Milito admitted afterward, the Argentine having taken his customary place in the big stage’s spotlight. His two goals had Inter up in by the 75th minute, with Rodrigo Palacio’s late insurance handing Juve their first loss at Juventus Stadium.
“We are still proud of these lads, who didn’t lose for 49 games,” Juve general manager Guiseppe Marotta said. [N]ow we must look forward.”2
“The Nerazzurri will compete at the top right until the end. We accept this defeat and we’re not going to make any bones about it.
For some, it was a surprising moment of humility. In the days before the game, Marotta made the mistake of publicly chiding Inter’s preparation, his glib derision catching the Nerazzurri’s attention.
“I was annoyed by what Mr. Marotta said before the game,” Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni conceded after ending Juve’s run. “He made a sarcastic remark about our blithe approach. We work hard and you could see that.”3
The team’s formation symbolized that preparation. Stramaccioni took advantage of Juve’s two-forward approach by going three at the back, an approach they’ve used a various times this season, the team using both 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formations. Surprisingly, Stramaccioni chose the more audacious approach on Saturday, Inter’s 3-4-3 seeking to pressure Juve high while taking advantage of the Old Lady’s lack of a top finisher.
Though Inter relinquished their clean sheet early, Juventus was held at bay for the next 90 minutes, a testament to both the Nerazzurri’s preparations and Juve’s lack of punch.
“We weren’t used to losing anymore, even if we played well,”4 captain Gianluigi Buffon said after the game, Juventus conceding three goals in league for the first time since last November. eventually noting another issue with Juve’s attitude. They’d never conceded three in their new home.
Buffon went on to note another issue which, like Marotta’s ill-advised criticisms, hints Juve took Inter for granted.
“I did not like our attitude after we went 1-0 up. I don’t understand why we sat there waiting for them outside our own box, we were far too carefree.”
Passivity is not a new problem for Juventus, a team whose 49-match unbeaten streak defied their approach. This year’s Champions League has highlighted the problem, the Old Lady sitting on a disappointing three points after as many matches. The team too often relies on opportunism in lieu of control, and while their streak shows the approach can be successful, it frequently leaves your success in the hands of your opponents.
The approach also leaves the team content to sit on a lead, an attitude that would have been difficult to maintain last year had Inter, Milan, and Napoli (thanks to their Champions League commitment) not all, simultaneously taken a step back. Udinese had sold Alexis Sanchez. Fiorentina was in disarray. As with all remarkable results, Juve’s streak required remarkable circumstances.
“In my view, we could’ve dealt with the game differently,” Buffon continued, “but after 15 minutes we just left the initiative to them.”
“Was our attack light,” Moratta asked, rhetorically, after the game. “Yes, maybe with a more clinical striker we might’ve had a different result.”5
The remark understates the difference between the sides. With better finishing, Juventus may have scored another goal, but they still wouldn’t have had an answer for Milito.
Coming into the game, Inter’s focal point had 113 goals in his 191 Serie A appearances, yet he’d never scored from open play against Juventus. He’d converted from the spot during his time with Genoa, and in the 59th minute, Milito did the same on Saturday, equalizing after a penalty on Claudio Marchisio.
Sixteen minutes later, Milito finally had his open play goal, putting home a rebound of a Fredy Guarin blast to give Inter the lead. With Palacio’s late goal, Inter had their 3-1 win, giving Andrea Stramaccioni the biggest victory of his young career.
“Is this the best day of my career? The best day of my career was when the president chose me to coach Inter,” the 36-year-old modestly explained after the victory, preferring to keep the focus on the club rather than himself. “I’m proud to be the Inter coach and I’m happy for our fans who can enjoy this win.”6
Stramaccioni’s appointment was almost a last resort in spring, with Inter having already gone through two coaches after Leonardo’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain. Gian Piero Gasperini was dismissed almost immediately after the 2011-12 season started. Claudio Ranieri failed to engineer the same turnout he’d brought to Roma. When he was dismissed in March, Stramaccioni was promoted from the team’s Primavera side, becoming Inter’s fifth coach since José Mourinho left after the team’s 2010-11 league, cup, Europe triumph.
“Stramaccioni doesn’t need to be compared to Mourinho,” Inter president Massimo Moratti explained. “He’s just good. He’s surprising.”7
The surprises mean Inter have adjusted their goals.
“I’m happy because what seemed to be a transition season is now starting to look interesting,” Moratti said, with caution. "[Let’s] wait a bit before talking up our title challenge.”
Moratti doesn’t have a choice. Eleven rounds into the season, Inter sits second, one point back of Juventus. After a win in Turin, the Italian press is sure to see Inter as a contender, and with good cause. On talent, they have the means to compete with Juventus and Napoli. If Stramaccioni proves to have move tricks up his sleeve, Inter is as capable of claiming the Scudetto as the league’s other two title hopefuls.
It’s an assessment that only underscores the strange nature of Juventus’s streak. One loss after a 49-game unbeaten run would normally be seen as a blip. Not so in this case. While that feeling could come from the strength of their opponents or the sense that all good things must come to an end, it’s more likely a reflects a more general feeling about Juve’s quality. Though their title earned them respect, there was always wonder at how a team could go from out of Europe to unbeatable - from redesign to reign in one summer.
That wonder was a euphemistic one. Nobody felt Juventus unbeatable, an attitude reflected in how Napoli beat them in last year’s Coppa Italia final. Inter was similarly aggressive on Saturday, and in doing so, they may have affirmed a blueprint for dealing with the Bianconeri.
Mid-way through last season, Napoli was similarly found out, Juventus helping to uncover an antidote Walter Mazzarri’s 3-5-2. Now it’s Juve’s turn to adapt, even if their adjustment will be more mental than tactical. Though Stramaccioni’s innovations trickled into his formation, the real epiphany in attidute. Like Napoli in the Coppa final, Inter proved you can go after Juventus.
1 - http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/86/italy/2012/11/04/3502194/milito-anger-at-offside-goal-motivated-inter-comeback
2 - http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item885085/Inter-driven-by-Marotta-comments/
3 - http://english.gazzetta.it/Football/03-11-2012/strama-a-sign-of-our-strength-now-juve-should-show-us-respect-913112705397.shtml
4 - http://www.football-italia.net/26879/buffon-slams-juve-attitude
5 - http://www.soccerway.com/news/2012/November/04/marotta-rues-lack-of-marksman/
6 - http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item884902/Moratti:-Stramaccioni-is-just-good/
7 - http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item884902/Moratti:-Stramaccioni-is-just-good/