Juve have conquered big challenges before but now must adjust to Inter
It must be said, for a club that many have said is experiencing a crisis and is not at the level it was in previous years, Juventus have navigated through their tricky ties well. Not only did the Italian champions defeat Napoli to keep themselves in the hunt for the seventh consecutive Scudetto, they defeated Olympiakos in Greece to progress in the Champions League.
All that's left is the Derby d'Italia to round off the week, and if Juve succeed and defeat their most "hated" rival, they will have well and truly announced their intentions for this season. The problem is, this isn't just another Inter side. This is Luciano Spalletti's Inter side, and they look to be a daunting opponent.
For many, especially those who appreciate aesthetics, Napoli are the best team in Italy. They play the best football, boasting fluidity and a clear identity that ensures they leave a mark on the opponent. The problem with having such a clear identity is that it can be studied and thus defeated if the weaknesses are spotted and effectively punished. Shakhtar Donetsk had clearly done their homework when they inflicted defeat on the Partenopei in the Champions League, and Massimiliano Allegri did much the same when he deployed a side that intelligently exposed the limitations of such an identity last week.
By contrast, the beauty of Juventus is that while they may look disjointed, lacking in cohesion and downright boring at times, they're versatile and thus unpredictable. The shape and personnel change often (especially at the start of the season) and at times do so frequently during the game to adapt to the opponent. One need only look at the match against Napoli to see how Juve adapted their game to expose their opponent's weakness, seamlessly changing shape when they lost and regained possession.
Simply put, if you are tasked with playing Juventus, you're never quite sure how to prepare for the game because you're never quite sure how they will play. They are a reactive side, and even when Allegri discovers the right blend and formation to suit the needs of his players, that shape and indeed the players within it may change depending on the strengths of the opponent.
Unfortunately, their chameleonic nature means they will struggle to possess the majesty of teams such as Napoli and Barcelona, as there is no clear identifiable style -- a wonderful Plan A -- but simply the consistently perfect execution of a game plan that ensures success. It is a side that relies on intellect and players who can read the game well and are willing to sacrifice and alter their style accordingly.
So if Juve is the intelligent side, Napoli the beautiful one, what about Inter? This season, they're perhaps the most complete. The reason why Spalletti will always be admired as the tactician he is, is because he knows how to improve players, how to adapt tactics and how to win. While Napoli are struggling to show the beauty of their Plan A due to their lack of squad depth and the Bianconeri have looked out of sorts as they seek balance through experimentation, Spalletti has no real complaints. He not only knows his perfect formation and starting XI but he has nurtured every player within the squad and made them feel valued to ensure they can slot in when necessary to ensure a seamless performance.
One need only watch the Nerazzurri's match against Chievo to see the proof. Both Andrea Ranocchia and Davide Santon were made to slot in and performed admirably well, ensuring solidity and reliability to further demonstrate Spalletti's capabilities.
However, the best thing about Inter is how well they too adapt to the opponent. While they don't adapt in the way Allegri's men do, they practice best- and worst-case scenarios. For example, they are taught early on how to initiate attacks when offered room to play out and how to position themselves if the opponent presses high up the pitch. Prepared for many match situations, the Nerazzurri are efficient, hard-working and smart.
"Inter have a genius in their dugout this season," exclaimed Antonio Cassano when asked his views on the Nerazzurri's business in the summer. "They can beat Juventus [to the title]."
Let's see if they can beat them in a match first.
An intriguing Derby d'Italia, this is a match between two great squads and two excellent tacticians, and the result may well tell us a little more about what to expect this season.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.