It promises to be a momentous occasion on Friday night, when Serie A leaders Juventus will take on one of the last remaining anti-Juve candidates in Inter in the Derby d’Italia.
With a whopping eight point gap at the top already, and an 11 point buffer between them and their opponents, as well as a, unbeaten record, there’s no doubting who the favourites are.
THere is a form-based combined XI (4-2-3-1) of these two titanic sides.
1. GK: Samir Handanovic
The first of many big calls, but for me, it’s the Slovenian custodian who edges out his Polish counterpart. That’s not to belittle Wojciech Szczesny’s form at Juve, which has certainly not been as spotty as some of the English press will make out, but Samir Handanovic remains the safer pair of hands.
He will certainly have to be at his impregnable best to keep out I Bianconeri under the lights at the Allianz Stadium.
2. RB: Sime Vrsaljko
For such prestigious teams, the right-back position seems the only place of slight weakness. That is, on form at least, because on his day Sime Vrasljko is one of the most well-rounded, imposing right sided defenders there are.
He has certainly had an action-packed year, and hopefully the rest he’s received in recent times will allow him to return to those lofty heights once again.
3. CB: Milan Skriniar
This is big. The ceremonious passing of the torch between two wonderful defenders. Look, Leonardo Bonucci is great. Everyone knows that. But he’s never been quite the same since his unceremonious exit from Turin last summer.
He remains an incredible passer of the ball, but his defensive solidity has been questioned at times. Plus, who doesn’t love watching Milan Skriniar play? He’s passionate, hot-headed but above all supremely talented – all at the age of 23.
4. CB: Giorgio Chiellini
Look, we wouldn’t rock the boat that much. While Bonucci is showing sings of wear and tear, Giorgio Chiellini remains unfathomably pristine. He’s 34 now, and what he has lost in pace and fitness (though very little, it must be said) he makes up for in heart and leadership.
Still probably the best defender Italy, you can rest easy knowing he’s still where he deserves to be in this XI.
5. LB: Joao Cancelo
With Alex Sandro likely absent with injury, and Kwadwo Asamoah… not very good, it’s going to have to be Joao Cancelo. Not that the call comes with any reluctance, because as the Nerazzuri will know all too well, the Portuguese international is a magnificent talent.
Why Inter’s board turned their noses up at that fee whilst maintaining they could break the bank for Luka Modric I’ll never know. Don’t be surprised if it comes back to haunt them on Friday.
6. CM: Rodrigo Bentancur
The away side will definitely not be happy that their prized summer signing Radja Nainggolan has been upstaged by a £9m Uruguayan, but it’s inarguable as to who has had the better season and besides, the Belgian can’t stay fit for long enough to prove us wrong.
I bet Bentancur doesn’t smoke, Radja.
7. CM: Miralem Pjanic
If I was a TV pundit struggling for superlatives to describe Miralem Pjanic, I’d probably just call him a ‘class act’. But he is, honest. They say they don’t make ’em like they used to, but Pjanic is proof that sometimes today’s fast-paced tempo can be bypassed by an archetypal orchestrator.
The Bosnia & Herzegovina international is one of those few, and is certainly the kind of player that Inter so desperately crave right now.
8. RW: Douglas Costa
It’s controversial for sure, and he certainly hasn’t had the most dignified of seasons, but in a straight shoot-out between him and Juan Cuadrado, I’d take Douglas Costa all day long, and in accordance with the balance of the rest of the team, I’d put him on his favoured right.
With all due respect, I’m not sure Matteo Politano or Antonio Candreva are even in the conversation.
9. CAM: Paulo Dybala
Again, Inter seem to have so many players that could occupy this playmaker role, but none of them are half as good as Paulo Dybala.
After a few teething problems in adjusting to his relatively newfound stardom last season, and some initial weariness as to how he would cope with a certain high-profile recruit, Dybala has been wonderful this term. Without the pressure that was prematurely piled on him last campaign, he looks reborn.
10. LW: Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has contributed to 18 goals in 18 appearances for Juventus, seven of them scores. So much for that ‘slow’ start, eh?
Far more impressive than the goals has been his newly tapped ability to provide for teammates. It seems so alien, but it also suits the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. Of course, he still lives for big goals in big games, so expect nothing less than that in the Derby d’Italia.
11. ST: Mauro Icardi
After some Old Lady domination up top, of course it’s Mauro Icardi who breaks Inter’s rut in this lineup. Who else would it be?
He is, quite simply, the best number nine in the world right now, and unquestionably the most clinical. He also has a quite fantastic record against Italy’s all-conquering leaders. There’s no doubt about it – Inter’s hopes on Friday night rest almost solely on this man’s shoulders. Can he handle it? Stupid question.