This Friday league leaders Juventus will host Inter in the Serie A. Although Inter, sitting in third, are only two places lower than Juve in the table, they already find themselves 11 points adrift from the top.
Juventus are unbeaten in the league so far and a win against Inter would see the current reigning champions pull even further away from the chasing pack. A win for Inter, however, would have them draw level on points with second placed Napoli, if only for 24 hours or so before Carlo Ancelotti’s men play Frosinone on Saturday.
Here are four key battles that could ultimately decide this top-of-the-table fixture.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Mauro Icardi
This one could be a straight shoot-off between two of the game’s most prolific goal scorers. Plenty of people had their doubts over how quickly Cristiano Ronaldo would adjust to life in Italy, but with ten goals and five assists in his opening 14 league games, it’s fair to say he’s settled in rather well. In fact, no Juventus player had managed the feat of reaching double figures in their opening 14 Serie A games since John Charles all the way back in the 1957/58 season.
But everyone knows Mauro Icardi isn’t exactly shy in front of goal either. So far the Argentinian has managed an equally impressive eight goals in 11 league games. He was also just recently crowned the Serie A player of the year by the Italian Footballers’ Association.
An away win at Juve and a goal or two to his name would be the perfect way for Icardi to crown his achievement.
2. Wojciech Szczesny vs Samir Handanovic
If we’re going to talk about two of the league’s best goal scorers, it’s only fair we discuss the two men entrusted with the thankless task of try to keep Ronaldo and Icardi off the scoresheet.
Wojciech Szczesny has done a pretty reasonable job so far this season when you consider he’s had to replace club legend Gianluigi Buffon between the sticks for I Bianconeri. Despite this, Juventus have still been frequently linked with a move for Manchester United keeper David De Gea. A strong performance in a game like this may well subdue some of those rumors.
Slovenian international Samir Handanovic on the other hand is a shot stopper well and truly cemented in his role as number one for Inter – a position he has filled since 2012. But in all of his 228 league games with the club, it’s fair to say he has never faced a striker quite as potent as Ronaldo.
3. Rodrigo Bentancur vs Marcelo Brozovi?
It’s fascinating when you compare each of these midfielder’s stats in the league so far. They both have featured in 12 games, registering two goals and claiming a single assist. The only difference? Where Rodrigo Bentancur has four yellow cards, Marcelo Brozovic has just three – though he has a red to help balance things out, sort of…
Both men also came into the season off the back of strong World Cup campaigns with their respective nations of Uruguay and Croatia, and each player has carried that form into the Serie A season performing as integral members for their club teams.
This game may well draw attention to the attacking talents on display, but the real battle might just be won in the middle of the park by either one of these men.
4. Joao Cancelo vs Keita Balde
Last season, Joao Cancelo featured 26 times in the league for Inter whilst on loan from Valencia, making the Serie A team of the season in the process. In the summer he made a €40m move to Juventus. Now, he may know his opponents well, but he may be a little less familiar with his position. Following Alex Sandro’s injury at the end of last month, it looks like the Portuguese full-back may well be asked to fill in at left back.
Up against Cancelo on that flank could be the high-flying Keita Balde. The Senegalese winger has managed three goals in his last two league appearances – he also has two assists this season.
Interestingly enough, as well as Cancelo knows this Inter side, he will not know much about Keita as the 23-year-old was not at the club last season – he only joined the side at the start of this campaign.
The clash should be a new test for both players.