Antonio Conte admits that facing Juventus, the team he captained and coached, will be “emotional.” How could it be any other way after 17 years in black and white? But when the Derby d’Italia kicks off on Sunday, the Inter coach claims the moment will pass and his old club will become “just another opponent.”
In the away dugout, Maurizio Sarri cannot boast the same connection. He’d have to have been living under a rock, though, to fail to appreciate the significance of this game to both sets of supporters. The Tuscan is spot on when he says “Juve-Inter isn’t a game like the others” but the anticipation for this one is even higher than usual.
Inter have made a perfect start to the season in Serie A, taking maximum points from the opening six games for the first time since 1966 — a season that ended in heartbreak. Juventus, still undefeated, are only two points back and chasing. Both are playing well, and while the game comes in early in the season, Sarri, and particularly Conte, have had time to impose themselves on their teams.
It is the closest Juventus and Inter have been to each other heading into a Derby d’Italia since December 2017, the last time the Nerazzurri were alone at the top of the table. Unlike then, there is a confidence and conviction that they can go the distance this season. Conte’s reputation as a serial winner, the best Inter summer transfer window in years and the radical nature of Juventus’ makeover under Sarri, have led to a feeling that the playing field is more level than in recent years. Unlike Rudi Garcia’s Roma and Sarri’s Napoli, who emerged as surprise contenders, Conte winning the league would match expectation and the standards he sets himself.
Inter’s start has only reinforced the conviction that Sarri will be given little margin for error in his first season at Juventus. In England, Conte figured things out quicker than Pep Guardiola at City, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. By the time they got settled in their new jobs, his Chelsea side were already out of sight.
As such, the onus is on Sarri, still yet to win a major league title, to show he can not only keep Juventus at the top but validate the club’s decision to repudiate its own mantra — a credo Conte and Massimiliano Allegri lived by.
Winning is no longer the only thing that counts to Juventus. How you win does, too. A draw this weekend will be easier for Conte to spin as progress given the ground his new club have had to make up on Juve since they last won something in 2011. It would also keep Inter top. Conte will go for the jugular though, which brings us to the main peculiarity and source of greatest curiosity around this game.