The Nerazzuri turned in an impressive performance in Turin but still succumbed to Mario Mandzukic’s header, which puts the champions 11 points clear
Massimiliano Allegri insisted ahead of the Derby d’Italia, “Juventus haven’t killed the league.” They have now, though. At least for this season.
There simply is no stopping this Juventus side, as Friday night’s 1-0 victory over Inter underlined.
They remain undefeated after 15 league games, having won 14 of them – meaning they have equalled the best ever start to one of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues.
Just like joint-record holders Paris Saint-Germain in France, Juve are just too strong for every other side in Serie A, as underlined by their now 11-point lead over Napoli, who play Frosinone on Saturday.
Inter icon Ronaldo had urged his beloved Nerazzurri to go to Turin for Friday night’s Derby d’Italia with Juventus and “play with courage”. They did just that, and with no shortage of quality either.
Yet it wasn’t enough to even claim a share of the spoils.
And this in spite of the fact that they produced the best bit of football in the game, with Matteo Politano and Mauro Icardi combining wonderfully to tee up Roberto Gagliardini, only to see the midfielder strike the base of the post in the first half.
It was impossible to escape the feeling at the time that the visitors would not get a better chance to score – and they didn’t.
Third-placed Inter had another sight of goal when Blaise Matuidi gave the ball away on the edge of his own box early in the second half but Politano’s subsequent goal-bound strike was blocked by Leonardo Bonucci.
Even after they were afforded more possession following Mario Mandzukic’s opener in the 66th minute, Luciano Spalletti’s side were unable to find a way through a side that has conceded just eight times in Serie A this season.
That is not to say that this latest Juventus juggernaut is not without its flaws.
As we saw in the shock loss at home to Manchester United in the Champions League, they are prone to lapses in concentration, while there remains a slight lack of fluency in attack, with Paulo Dybala still searching for the right role within Massmiliano Allegri’s line-up.
Still, Ronaldo and Mandzukic have formed a brutally effective partnership, with the Croat presently enjoying one of the most prolific periods of his career.
His headed winner – via a sublime cross from the fantastically dynamic and versatile Joao Cancelo, who played at left-back on the night – represented a fourth goal in his last five outings.
This is the best version of Mandzukic Juve fans have ever seen since he arrived in Turin, a striker who offers graft as well as goals.
This may well be the best Juve side over the past seven years too; at this point, no record and no opponent look safe.
Still, Inter can take some consolation from their performance.
Spalletti had stated beforehand, “On my part, there’s no surrender to Juventus. Things only come to an end when you stop trying and are no longer convinced by your qualities, not when you lose a game.”
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Consequently, he will impress upon his players that there was sufficient evidence in their performance against the champions to suggest that the gap can be closed, perhaps with a few shrewd signing from their new director general, Beppe Marotta, the man that built the current Juventus squad.
For now, though, there is nothing standing between Juventus and an eighth consecutive Scudetto.
The title race is already dead. The one consolation is that this improving Inter side look capable of being a very live contender for next season’s Scudetto.