Antonio Conte has changed the mentality at undefeated Juve, and their win at Inter in the Derby D'Italia was 'worth double'
Juventus celebrated Halloween as any right-thinking club would, by posting pictures of their manager and star players re-imagined as vampires, werewolves and ghouls on the club's official website. "Scary Juve" reads the headline. But if the rest of Serie A is quaking in its boots, it might have less to do with images of Antonio Conte with fangs than it does with how his team have been playing.
Saturday evening brought another win for Serie A's only unbeaten side and to borrow the words of Tuttosport's front-page headline, this one was "worth double". A 2-1 victory over Internazionale had restored Juve to the top of the table after they were briefly overtaken by Milan in the afternoon, and ensured they would remain there through the weekend, despite wins for Udinese and Lazio a day later. But far more importantly for many supporters, it meant they had beaten Inter. In their own backyard.
From the day the fixture list was published this was the appointment Juventus fans had underlined, highlighted, and circled with a big red marker. First dubbed the Derby D'Italia (the Derby of Italy) by the journalist Gianni Brera back in the 1960s, matches between these two have long held added significance but the fall-out from the calciopoli scandal of 2006 has only served to intensify the rivalry. Since being forcibly relegated that year and seeing their title handed to Inter, Juventus have never finished above the Nerazzurri. But this season felt different.
It felt different because the Juve fans finally had the manager they wanted – the former captain Conte – because they had a new stadium and because, despite missing out on the biggest names they had pursued, they had still achieved a number of high-profile summer signings: Andrea Pirlo, Eljero Elia and Arturo Vidal. It felt different because, without European competition to worry about, this year they could focus all energies on the league. But mostly it felt different because Inter, having failed to win the title for the first time since calciopoli, no longer looked all that invincible.
In fact, it would soon turn out that Inter were a lot worse than even the most optimistic Juve fan might have imagined. Shorn of Samuel Eto'o, confused by Gian Piero Gasperini's tactical innovations and now operating under a fourth manager in a year – Claudio Ranieri – Inter staggered into this match in 16th place, with eight points from as many games. They had scored just once in three home fixtures.
If you were looking for a further indictment then you would need to look no further than the assessment of Gazzetta dello Sport on Sunday morning. Despite the fact Inter had already been trailing 2-1 when they trudged in at the interval, Sebastiano Vernazza was still able to describe their first-half performance as "maybe the best Inter of this season".
They had, in fairness, dominated the opening exchanges – penning Juventus in their own half during a 10-minute spell in which Esteban Cambiasso hooked just wide and Giampaolo Pazzini troubled Gigi Buffon with a close-range backheel. The Old Lady's opener came against the run of play, Mirko Vucinic crashing the ball home after Alessandro Matri saw his shot parried by Luca Castellazzi. Having drawn level through Maicon, Inter then hit the bar with a Pazzini header shortly before Claudio Marchisio restored Juventus's lead.
But Juventus, too, might have felt they deserved more, even before a second half in which they looked the much more comfortable side. Matri was guilty of dragging a shot wide when in behind the Inter defence, and he had another close-range effort blocked by Castellazz. Marchisio, meanwhile, ought to have had a penalty after being brought down by Castellazzi shortly before the interval. Had it been awarded, the keeper would surely have been dismissed.
The conspiracy theorists have argued that the penalty would have been awarded had it not been for Inter's much-publicised complaints that they have had too many contentious decisions go against them in recent weeks. Others have simply accused the referee, Nicola Rizzoli, of incompetence. It was probably best for all concerned that it should turn out to be a moot point.
Ranieri conceded afterwards that it could have been given, before arguing somewhat optimistically that Juventus had won because they took the "only two" chances they had. The manager was reported to have received phone calls from José Mourinho during the week offering suggestions for the game – an experience roughly akin, one suspects, to being offered romantic tips from the ex who your new girlfriend still cries over every night, and who used to steal your lunch money at school – though he would later insist their conversation had extended no further than a brief good-luck message.
Massimo Moratti remains behind his latest appointment, as do the fans, although Inter now have 10 fewer points than Rafael Benítez had at the corresponding point last season. In fact this is now their worst start since 1946-47, though for some supporters it is the owner who is to blame. When Moratti finally left the stadium shortly before midnight, after giving the team an added dressing down, he was heckled by the 100 or so Inter supporters waiting outside. "Sell the club" was one refrain. "Yes to Ranieri, no to the transfers" was another.
By that point Juventus's players had mostly headed their separate ways – off for a two-day break while their main rivals must all prepare for midweek action in Europe – though only after a celebration under the away supporters' section that would have been befitting of a team who had just won the title. Conte himself was right at the heart of it, leading his players hand in hand as they sprinted towards the travelling fans, but despite having now beaten both Milan teams – winners between them of the previous six scudetti – the manager will still not stand for any talk of the title.
"After three months of work you cannot talk about a finished house with the roof ready," Conte had noted in an interview before the game. "A house of that sort would be destined to collapse at the first tremor. Our foundations are two seventh-place finishes – that should never be forgotten. Time and patience are required from everyone, as well as a lot of work. Manchester City are only just starting to reap the rewards after four years and €480m spent."
It is clear, though, that Conte has already effected a huge transformation in mentality. He had spoken in the same interview of a desire to make Juventus "nasty" once again, to instil a work ethic and desire among his players to keep battling for every ball. He has refused to use players – including the much-touted Elia – who fail to show sufficient application in training. On Saturday the impact was evident everywhere, from a defensive line who charged down eight shots, to Matri's tireless work dropping back to involve himself in the build-up play.
Conte, too, has shown his flexibility, abandoning his much-loved 4-2-4 in favour of a 4-2-3-1. On Saturday, after realising that Maicon was finding too much space against Giorgio Chiellini and Vucinic on the left, he swiftly switched Simone Pepe over to that side. "Simone is a versatile player and he was excellent," said Conte of a player who embodies his vision for the new Juventus. "Plus I have a secret: I have a bat with lots of nails in it. When Pepe's intensity drops I threaten him with it."
If there was to be one black mark on the evening it was to come not from events on the pitch but those in the stands, where both sets of supporters were shamed by the crass behaviour of a minority. In the Curva Nord, some fans held up banners celebrating their "Nostalgia for Heysel" (presumably ignorant of the fact that two Inter fans were among the 39 who died in that tragedy). At the other end, racist chants were directed at Maicon, and nasty ditties sung about the late Inter player and president Giacinto Facchetti.
"These are things that are so common that they usually go unreported by the newspapers or the media in general," wrote Fabrizio Bocca in his blog for La Repubblica – noting that just two weeks ago a group of Fiorentina fans had attended their team's game against Juve wearing shirts that simply read '39'.
"[People] don't even get shocked any more," he added. And that is a sad state of affairs indeed.
• The excitement generated by Milan's 3-2 win at Roma was quickly overtaken by concern for the well-being of Antonio Cassano, after the striker was taken ill on the team's return to Malpensa airport on Sunday. The striker was rushed to hospital suffering from disorientation, blurred vision, exhaustion and impaired speech, and though reports on Mondaay morning suggest his condition has improved dramatically, he will have to undergo further diagnostic tests to establish the cause of the scare. What the long-term impact will be is hard to know at this stage, but in the immediate term, he will not travel to Belarus for the game against Bate Borisov on Tuesday.
• "We're still not a great team," said Luis Enrique after the defeat for Roma. "In fact, we're still not a team." For the first time all season he also kept his players back after the game to pick over the defeat, rather than waiting for this week's first training session at Trigoria as he typically would. But if his players were to blame for some sloppy marking that allowed Milan to get all three of their goals from headers, the manager must also look at himself. This was his 11th different team selection in as many games, and a 12th can be expected on Saturday at Novara after Fabio Borini sustained a thigh injury that will likely keep him out for at least a month. At some point, this side will need some continuity.
• After an abundance of headlines on Sunday heralding the return of an "old duel" between Juve and Milan, both Udinese and Lazio quietly moved back ahead of the Rossoneri into second and third place respectively. Tommaso Rocchi scored his 100th goal for Lazio in their rout of Cagliari, and was promptly promised an "important job" with the club when his playing career ends by the owner Claudio Lotito. But it is Miroslav Klose who continues to be the key man for the Biancocelesti. His strike was his eighth in 11 games in all competitions.
• Napoli, meanwhile, became the latest victim of a Catania team who had already beaten Inter at home as well as drawing with Juventus. Their start to the season under Vincenzo Montella has been hugely impressive – the win leaving them level with Napoli on 14 points – but there must also be questions about whether the Partenopei are struggling to cope with the demands of a Champions League campaign. With Walter Mazzarri once again attempting to rotate his team, they have won just one of their four games immediately preceding a Champions League match.
• Marco Giampaolo was sacked by Cesena on Sunday, his team having managed just three points – and even more damning, having scored just three goals – in his three games in charge. For a team that started the season with quiet hopes of battling for a place in Europe following the arrival of Adrian Mutu, the fall to earth has been extremely painful.
• Goals are seemingly back in fashion in Serie A after that rather dispiriting dry afternoon a fortnight ago, and this weekend brought one or two particularly fine strikes. Gaetano D'Agostino won't often hit a better free-kick than the one he put past Chievo's Stefano Sorrentino on Sunday, but perhaps the best goal of the weekend was one that didn't even count (although it should have) – Riccardo Meggiorini serving up a textbook overhead strike against Lecce.
Results: Bologna 3-1 Atalanta, Cagliari 0-3 Lazio, Catania 2-1 Napoli, Fiorentina 1-0 Genoa, Inter 1-2 Juventus, Lecce 1-1 Novara, Parma 2-0 Cesena, Roma 2-3 Milan, Siena 4-1 Chievo, Udinese 1-0 Palermo.