Antonio Conte’s return to Italian football has started out on a very positive note. 12 points out of 12 means the Nerazzurri have maintained a perfect record so far and currently sit two points clear at the top above second-placed Juventus. Inter also remain one of the three unbeaten sides, as well as the Bianconeri and Roma. While Sarri’s Juventus naturally remain strong favourites to retain the Scudetto, Inter might have one major advantage along the road – one that could tip the odds comparison in their favour come the end of the season.
It’s a common thought that goals win games but in the end, a steady defence wins titles. And this is where Inter might count themselves lucky. Led by Antonio Conte, well renowned for his high priority to his defensive departments wherever he is, the Italian has already instilled a “steady” backline for the Nerazzurri and it’s much evident already.
The top of the Serie A standings doesn’t offer much in terms of surprises so far, but a closer look does reveal some concerns when it comes to Juventus – especially with regards to their backline.
As expected, the six-month absence of Giorgio Chiellini would hurt any club, especially for a player of his experience and calibre. In this case, it’s proven particularly tricky for new boss Maurizio Sarri.
As it stands after gameweek four, three other sides in Napoli, Roma and Sassulo have scored more goals than Inter. Not to worry as the expected suspect of Juventus isn’t among those names. The aspect with room for much praise is Inter’s solid backline.
The Nezzruuzi have conceded only one goal so far in the Serie A, courtesy of Cagliari’s João Pedro when Inter were 2-0 up in the second gameweek.
Juventus, the fourth-best side in defensive regard so far have conceded four goals already, with three of them coming against Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli. For all of their efforts, Roma and AC Milan have conceded less goals than the Bianconerri as well with only three goals each (via Skysports).
It gets impressive when you consider that at this stage of the Serie A last season (after five games in all competitions), Inter had only one clean sheet to their name but have already racked up three so far. The latest being a solid derby victory against rivals AC Milan over the weekend. Prior to the derby match, the Rossoneri had only conceded a goal so far so for Inter to score two and keep a clean sheet in the same game is very applaudable.
However, the focus here is Juventus and a closer assessment will be made in both side’s chances of winning the Scudetto come August next year.
From an attacking perspective, both sides look primed to take on each other as they both boast proven goalscorers in Gonzalo Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku. While the latter might only be playing Italian football for the first time, he looks to have settled in quickly and his relationship with Antonio Conte only looks like it can get better with each passing game.
On the defensive side though, Juventus can’t say the same and this is where Inter could tip the odds to their favour. With Daniele Rugani relegated to the bench like much of last season, the Tuscan coach has relied on fresh faces Matthijs De Ligt and Merih Demiral to fill the void, with neither particularly covering themselves with glory as of yet.
The Dutchman’s debut in Serie A against Napoli was memorable for Kalidou Koulibaly’s last-minute own goal, but it also saw the 20-year-old play a huge part in Napoli coming back from a three-goal deficit when the contest seemed done and dusted.
Demiral looked just as jittery in his first start on Saturday against Hellas Verona, giving away a clumsy penalty in the first half to go along with some poor distribution and nerves over the course of the 90 minutes.
If it weren’t for the exploits of 41-year-old Gianluigi Buffon, it’s fair to say the Gialloblu might have earned a point from their trip to Turin, as Ivan Juric’s side kept the reigning champions on their toes until the final whistle was blown.
De Ligt was bought with the hopes of further fortifying Juventus backline but it’s been shaky so far. Going with player comparisons, Chiellini made two tackles, one interception and two blocks in his only appearance for Juventus this season. Those numbers have been way better than De Ligt at 0.5 tackles per game, 0.5 interceptions and no blocks so far in his two appearances for the Bianconerri. It might be too early to make any judgements but Sarri’s men have not looked assuring at the back so far (via Whoscored).
While it would be rash to hand out a definitive judgement on De Ligt and Demiral, or Sarri for that matter, at this early stage, it is something to keep an eye on as we settle into the Serie A campaign.
Upcoming matches against Brescia and SPAL might not provide clear answers either, but with a clash against leaders Inter on October 6 on the horizon, no doubt we will soon find out whether this Juventus are the side we’ve seen for countless years or one that is more vulnerable than most expected prior to the start of the season.