Football Features

Five things learned as Juventus edge out Inter in Derby d’Italia despite De Ligt own goal

By Steve Jennings

Published: 14:57, 24 July 2019

Juventus secured their first win of pre-season with a penalty shootout victory over Serie A rivals Inter Milan in China on Wednesday.

Matthijs de Ligt’s early own goal was cancelled out by a deflected Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick in the second half as former Chelsea bosses Maurizio Sarri and Antonio Conte went head-to-head in Nanjing.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was the hero for Juventus in the shootout as the Italian champions bounced back from their 3-2 defeat to Tottenham at the weekend.

Here are five things we learned from a not-so-friendly Derby d’Italia in the International Champions Cup.

1. De Ligt may need time to settle in Turin

De Ligt’s remarkable rise continued this summer when he switched Ajax for Juventus in a big-money move. The 19-year-old – it’s worth remembering just how young he is – has been tipped to become one of the world’s leading centre-backs, but it may take time for him to play at a consistent level for his new club.

It could be argued De Ligt is already among the best defenders in Europe, which explains the massive fee Juventus paid to get him. But in reality, there are still deficiencies present in his game that need ironing out, as evidenced by his own goal here.

The teenager was deceived by a flick-on at the near post from a corner and with a lazy stretch, ended up poking the ball into his own net. The pressure of making his first start for Juventus may have played a part, but the club needn’t worry; playing alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – and Virgil van Dijk at international level – will help De Ligt to reduce the number of errors he makes.

Last season, De Ligt struggled against the powerful presence of Fernando Llorente when Ajax lost to Tottenham in the Champions League semi-finals. On a positive note, he seemed more assured in the air during his 45 minutes against Inter and will hope that continues throughout the season.

2. Friendly or not, the Derby d’Italia has an edge

The name of this tournament – the International Champions Cup – is an effort to make the matches feel more competitive, thus adding intensity to the games and making the event more marketable. In truth, they are still just friendlies – but nobody told Juventus and Inter that.

The match was played at a relatively slow pace as a result of the lacking fitness and sheer number of substitutions, but players on both sides were desperate to win. Ronaldo looked gutted whenever he missed a chance, Bonucci fumed at several refereeing decisions, and Inter did their own fair share of complaining to the officials.

Some fierce tackles were on display as the Derby d’Italia lived up to its reputation. Friendly or not, it seems impossible for these two sides to be complacent when up against each other.

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3. Ronaldo lives up to star billing

Not everything came off for Ronaldo in Nanjing. More often than not, he took one touch too many when dribbling or made the wrong decision in the final third, most notably when he took the ball around Daniele Padelli only to be tackled by the Inter goalkeeper before he could score.

But even when Ronaldo has a bit of an off day, he usually produces the moments to remember. The Portugal international scored a deflected free-kick midway through the second half, treating the Chinese fans who audibly anticipated a goal when he produced his trademark backward steps after placing the ball down.

On top of that, Ronaldo was all flicks and tricks throughout. Step-overs, no-look passes and back-heels were all greeted by screams from the onlooking supporters. Ronaldo more than lived up to his star billing, and his celebrity status appears to be even more intense in Asia, where the fans only get one chance a year to see him in the flesh. His powerful spot-kick in the penalty shootout was the cherry on the cake.

4. Sarri and Conte yet to instil philosophies

It’s very early days for Sarri and Conte at Juventus and Inter, so it’s understandable that the Italian giants do not resemble Sarri and Conte sides yet. Fans of Serie A and the Premier League will be familiar with the respective approaches of the two Italian coaches.

Those approaches were not truly on display in China. Juventus failed to keep possession in the way Sarri likes his teams to, and Inter didn’t fully show the aggression of a Conte group of players. Both clubs are yet to finish their transfer business for the summer – time will tell how many of the players we saw in this game will play regularly in 2019/20.

With reports suggesting Juventus are still chasing Paul Pogba and talk Inter haven’t given up on Romelu Lukaku, the core of the teams could be very different by the end of the transfer window. Judgement on the impact of Sarri and Conte should be reserved for then.

5. Buffon has still got it

Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon, who has returned to the club this summer after his PSG contract expired, is already reminding the supporters of his icon status.

The 41-year-old saved three penalties in the shootout to secure the victory for his team. He guessed right in terms of direction for every spot-kick and was unlucky not to save another, but it hardly mattered; his three brilliant stops were enough for Sarri’s men to see off Inter.

It will be interesting to see how often Buffon plays this season as he competes with former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny for a place between the sticks.