Looking back at the end of Juventus’s strange, remarkable run

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Juventus went 49 Serie A games without a loss, but when they finally fell 3-1 to Internazionale yesterday, the reaction was less shock than confirmation, the feeling that an inevitability had come. Inter were clearly the better side – an advantage they needed after a wrongly allowed goal put them down one after 18 seconds – though they weren’t the first team to outplay Juventus over the league 18 months. That they were the first to beat them in league made the preceding 49 games all the more confusing.

“We came back out for the second-half with so much anger after the offside goal,”1 Inter striker Diego Milito admitted afterward, the Argentine having taken his customary place in the big stage’s spotlight. His two goals had Inter up in by the 75th minute, with Rodrigo Palacio’s late insurance handing Juve their first loss at Juventus Stadium.

“We are still proud of these lads, who didn’t lose for 49 games,” Juve general manager Guiseppe Marotta said. [N]ow we must look forward.”2

“The Nerazzurri will compete at the top right until the end. We accept this defeat and we’re not going to make any bones about it.

For some, it was a surprising moment of humility. In the days before the game, Marotta made the mistake of publicly chiding Inter’s preparation, his glib derision catching the Nerazzurri’s attention.

“I was annoyed by what Mr. Marotta said before the game,” Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni conceded after ending Juve’s run. “He made a sarcastic remark about our blithe approach. We work hard and you could see that.”3

The team’s formation symbolized that preparation. Stramaccioni took advantage of Juve’s two-forward approach by going three at the back, an approach they’ve used a various times this season, the team using both 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formations. Surprisingly, Stramaccioni chose the more audacious approach on Saturday, Inter’s 3-4-3 seeking to pressure Juve high while taking advantage of the Old Lady’s lack of a top finisher.

Though Inter relinquished their clean sheet early, Juventus was held at bay for the next 90 minutes, a testament to both the Nerazzurri’s preparations and Juve’s lack of punch.

“We weren’t used to losing anymore, even if we played well,”4 captain Gianluigi Buffon said after the game, Juventus conceding three goals in league for the first time since last November. eventually noting another issue with Juve’s attitude. They’d never conceded three in their new home.

Buffon went on to note another issue which, like Marotta’s ill-advised criticisms, hints Juve took Inter for granted.

“I did not like our attitude after we went 1-0 up. I don’t understand why we sat there waiting for them outside our own box, we were far too carefree.”

Passivity is not a new problem for Juventus, a team whose 49-match unbeaten streak defied their approach. This year’s Champions League has highlighted the problem, the Old Lady sitting on a disappointing three points after as many matches. The team too often relies on opportunism in lieu of control, and while their streak shows the approach can be successful, it frequently leaves your success in the hands of your opponents.

The approach also leaves the team content to sit on a lead, an attitude that would have been difficult to maintain last year had Inter, Milan, and Napoli (thanks to their Champions League commitment) not all, simultaneously taken a step back. Udinese had sold Alexis Sanchez. Fiorentina was in disarray. As with all remarkable results, Juve’s streak required remarkable circumstances.

“In my view, we could’ve dealt with the game differently,” Buffon continued, “but after 15 minutes we just left the initiative to them.”

“Was our attack light,” Moratta asked, rhetorically, after the game. “Yes, maybe with a more clinical striker we might’ve had a different result.”5

The remark understates the difference between the sides. With better finishing, Juventus may have scored another goal, but they still wouldn’t have had an answer for Milito.

Coming into the game, Inter’s focal point had 113 goals in his 191 Serie A appearances, yet he’d never scored from open play against Juventus. He’d converted from the spot during his time with Genoa, and in the 59th minute, Milito did the same on Saturday, equalizing after a penalty on Claudio Marchisio.

Sixteen minutes later, Milito finally had his open play goal, putting home a rebound of a Fredy Guarin blast to give Inter the lead. With Palacio’s late goal, Inter had their 3-1 win, giving Andrea Stramaccioni the biggest victory of his young career.

“Is this the best day of my career? The best day of my career was when the president chose me to coach Inter,” the 36-year-old modestly explained after the victory, preferring to keep the focus on the club rather than himself. “I’m proud to be the Inter coach and I’m happy for our fans who can enjoy this win.”6

Stramaccioni’s appointment was almost a last resort in spring, with Inter having already gone through two coaches after Leonardo’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain. Gian Piero Gasperini was dismissed almost immediately after the 2011-12 season started. Claudio Ranieri failed to engineer the same turnout he’d brought to Roma. When he was dismissed in March, Stramaccioni was promoted from the team’s Primavera side, becoming Inter’s fifth coach since José Mourinho left after the team’s 2010-11 league, cup, Europe triumph.

“Stramaccioni doesn’t need to be compared to Mourinho,” Inter president Massimo Moratti explained. “He’s just good. He’s surprising.”7

The surprises mean Inter have adjusted their goals.

“I’m happy because what seemed to be a transition season is now starting to look interesting,” Moratti said, with caution. “[Let’s] wait a bit before talking up our title challenge.”

Moratti doesn’t have a choice. Eleven rounds into the season, Inter sits second, one point back of Juventus. After a win in Turin, the Italian press is sure to see Inter as a contender, and with good cause. On talent, they have the means to compete with Juventus and Napoli. If Stramaccioni proves to have move tricks up his sleeve, Inter is as capable of claiming the Scudetto as the league’s other two title hopefuls.

It’s an assessment that only underscores the strange nature of Juventus’s streak. One loss after a 49-game unbeaten run would normally be seen as a blip. Not so in this case. While that feeling could come from the strength of their opponents or the sense that all good things must come to an end, it’s more likely a reflects a more general feeling about Juve’s quality. Though their title earned them respect, there was always wonder at how a team could go from out of Europe to unbeatable – from redesign to reign in one summer.

That wonder was a euphemistic one. Nobody felt Juventus unbeatable, an attitude reflected in how Napoli beat them in last year’s Coppa Italia final. Inter was similarly aggressive on Saturday, and in doing so, they may have affirmed a blueprint for dealing with the Bianconeri.

Mid-way through last season, Napoli was similarly found out, Juventus helping to uncover an antidote Walter Mazzarri’s 3-5-2. Now it’s Juve’s turn to adapt, even if their adjustment will be more mental than tactical. Though Stramaccioni’s innovations trickled into his formation, the real epiphany in attidute. Like Napoli in the Coppa final, Inter proved you can go after Juventus.



1 – http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/86/italy/2012/11/04/3502194/milito-anger-at-offside-goal-motivated-inter-comeback
2 – http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item885085/Inter-driven-by-Marotta-comments/
3 – http://english.gazzetta.it/Football/03-11-2012/strama-a-sign-of-our-strength-now-juve-should-show-us-respect-913112705397.shtml
4 – http://www.football-italia.net/26879/buffon-slams-juve-attitude
5 – http://www.soccerway.com/news/2012/November/04/marotta-rues-lack-of-marksman/
6 – http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item884902/Moratti:-Stramaccioni-is-just-good/
7 – http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item884902/Moratti:-Stramaccioni-is-just-good/

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.