Why Conte should rest players for Inter showdown

The Derby d’Italia represents arguably the standout fixture of any Serie A season, but the gulf in class between the two giants ahead of Saturday’s clash at San Siro is huge

By Kris Voakes

Just as crises are created in the minds of many football supporters after as few as two defeats, many suddenly believe their club to be on the verge of big things thanks to just a couple of wins. Such is the power of this great sport of ours, short-term form can so often cloud judgement as to achievable goals in the long run.

The 2013-14 incarnation of Inter are a case in point. Looking to recover from a rotten campaign last time around, they have begun the new season with back-to-back victories that have had many reviewing their original assessment of the Nerazzurri as a team very much in transition.

But while they have six points under their belts from their opening two matches, the truth is that Inter remain a shadow of the side that conquered Europe just three short years ago. More than that, they are still a long way short of the standard required to compete for a return to the Champions League come the season’s end.

Where Fiorentina, Napoli, Lazio and Roma have all dealt well over the summer, Inter’s reinforcements have done little to persuade the neutral of their European pedigree. Hugo Campagnaro has followed Walter Mazzarri from Napoli, but he was a member of the Partenopei’s least effective department over the last few seasons. Elsewhere, Ishak Belfodil has arrived from Parma amidst much pomp and circumstance but with little proven ability. Mauro Icardi’s addition to the ranks is positive, but not to the level necessary for Inter to turn ninth into third any time soon.

Just as Samir Handanovic’s magnificent efforts in goal last term could not stop the Nerazzurri from conceding 81 goals in all competitions, neither were Rodrigo Palacio’s 22 goals sufficient to win the points necessary to challenge for a top five spot, let alone top three. The return of Diego Milito is awaited as much thanks to the dearth of quality around him as it is for the Argentine’s qualities at his advanced age.

Many Interisti pointed to a poor injury record for their demise, but the inability of the likes of Ricky Alvarez, Yuto Nagatomo and Fredy Guarin to take them up a level, coupled with the downright abysmal performances of Andrea Ranocchia and Jonathan, meant that the sub-standard quality of the playing panel was reflected in the final Serie A table. If the Pinetina squad were thrown in together with Juve’s staff right now, only Palacio would get a game – as the best combined XI demonstrates below.

How can anyone seriously provide a case for Inter finishing in the top three? Some may say that, given a better injury record, they could perform again as they did in the opening 12 weeks of last season. That run saw them beat Juventus and move to within three points of the champions. But while they go into Saturday’s latest Derby d’Italia ahead of Juve on goal difference, the gap between the two clubs hasn’t been this wide in decades.

Juventus are a club stocked deep with talent. When Claudio Marchisio picked up a knock in the Supercoppa Italiana, Paul Pogba immediately stepped in and improved the side. Martin Caceres is unavailable now through injury, but that will make no odds to a starting line-up that rarely includes the World Cup semi-finalist and Copa America winner anyway. With Mirko Vucinic potentially missing this weekend, in will step one of Fernando Llorente, Fabio Quagliarella or Sebastian Giovinco, all of whom would likely make it into Inter’s first-choice side right now. Elsewhere, Mauricio Isla – fantastic against Spain for Chile in midweek – sits regularly on the sidelines but was chased by Inter in the summer.

Where once this fixture would have been ringed on the calendar by Juventini as the biggest game of the campaign, this match isn’t even the most testing one this week for the Old Lady. On Tuesday, Juve go to the Parken, scene of last year’s draw with Nordsjaelland, to open their Champions League season against Copenhagen. In anticipation of that fixture and in the context of a group which also boasts Real Madrid and Galatasaray, Antonio Conte should use the relative weakness of Inter as an opportunity to rest his top players.

Last season, he didn’t quite get the balance right around European fixtures. In league games either side of draws or defeats in Europe, Juve had a 100 per cent record. When they won in the Champions League, that Serie A win percentage dropped to 50%. And that second scenario is the one they should be aiming for. Juventus cannot go winless in their opening three Champions League games again like last term; they can only chance a great escape once every so often.

Now is the time to prioritise Europe over Serie A and with Inter realistically lagging just as far behind now as they were six months ago, the Bianconeri could use Saturday’s game as a showcase for just how far they are ahead. Inter’s first team might well give Juve’s second string a run for their money, but Conte has the chance now to rest five or six stars, still take three points, and head to Denmark for Tuesday’s tougher test with a fresh panel from which to choose.

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