Michael Cox previews the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Andrea Stramaccioni.
Juventus v Inter Milan, Saturday 7:45, ESPN.
Match Odds: Juventus 1.715/7, Inter 5.85/1, The Draw 4.03/1.
Juventus and Inter come into the Derby d'Italia in excellent domestic form - both sides have won their last five matches, and while Juventus have a 100% home record, Inter are yet to drop a point on their travels. Everything points to a fascinating contest.
This is likely to be a tense tactical battle rather than an open, all-out-attack classic, however. Both coaches have major decisions to make regarding selection, with Antonio Conte and Andrea Stramaccioni capable of playing either a back three, or a back four.
That said, it would be a surprise if Juventus moved away from the 3-5-2 they've used in all their Serie A fixtures so far this season. Conte has created a tight, cohesive unit that understands the formation excellently, with the addition of left-wing-back Kwadwo Asamoah giving Juve even more drive and power on the flanks.
The Juventus coach has a selection decision in the centre of midfield. Paul Pogba has started the last two league games, and also scored a fine volley after coming on as a substitute against Napoli, but the more experienced Claudio Marchisio will probably return to the centre of midfield - which is harsh on the French youngster, but would be a typical Conte decision in a big game.
As usual, it's also very difficult to predict the identity of Juventus' two forwards. Nicklas Bendtner has started the last two league games, but I'd be surprised if he played here - Sebastian Giovinco and Mirko Vucinic look more likely to me, as they'd have the mobility to stretch Inter's back three.
Stramaccioni has more of a formation dilemma. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't give you the starting XI," the Coach stated on Friday afternoon. "I have too many doubts in my head. I'm desperate as I can't decide, I'll make my decisions 45 minutes before the game."
Inter played a 4-3-3 against Sampdoria in midweek because they were without Juan Jesus and lack centre-back cover, but it's more likely they'll showcase the 3-5-2 formation used over much of the last month. Stramaccioni has mentioned that he was impressed with the way Fiorentina played against Juventus in a 3-5-1-1 featuring two mobile, tricky forwards - and I think he'll attempt to play a similar system.
That would mean Diego Milito upfront alone, probably supported by Antonio Cassano. His major selection decision would involve the midfield triangle - Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Gargano will hold, and do battle with Marchisio and Arturo Vidal, but does Gaby Mudingayi or Fredy Guarin complete the trio? I think it will be the latter, told to press Andrea Pirlo and prevent him creating.
There will be a wing-back battle on the flanks - I think Juve's duo are more powerful, and will push higher up the pitch, forcing Inter into something looking like a back five. That should lead to Juventus dominance of possession, and the key then becomes Pirlo, and how much space he can find to create.
In that case, Inter would play predominantly on the counter-attack. Cassano would buzz around between the lines, getting into clever positions the Juventus back three are reluctant to come out to. It's vital that Inter get runners forward to support the forwards, and with the wing-backs likely to be tracked up and down the line by their opposite numbers, I think Guarin has a big responsibility to get forward and connect the midfield to the attackers.
When Juventus have faced decent sides playing a mirror image of their formation, it's generally resulted in a tight first half followed by an open second half. I can imagine the sides going in goalless at the break, before Juventus win the game with some clever substitutions - don't underestimate the value of Juve having a full squad to choose from, in comparison to Inter being without Wesley Sneijder, Coutinho, Joel Obi, McDonald Mariga, Christian Chivu and Dejan Stankovic.
Especially after a midweek Serie A round, good use of the squad might be crucial in the second half.
Draw / Juve in Half Time / Full Time at 5.04/1