When it comes to football managers with strikingly contrasting characters, Simone Inzaghi and Massimiliano Allegri might be the Calcio equivalent of Whitney Houston and Madonna. The Inter manager is serene, well-mannered and perhaps a bit too cautious with his choice of words.
The level-headed Piacenza native might be descended of a rare breed in a sport packed with over-the-top, limelight-hugging characters who captivate our attention with their overzealous antics and at times bizarre statements – and chief among them is the incumbent Juventus boss.
For every “boring” Inzaghi press conference, Allegri would drop pipe bombs and punchlines, much to the delight of every journalist in the room.
Therefore, the Nerazzurri manager is wise enough to avoid engaging in pre-match trash talk with his counterpart, opting against replying to his recent “jokes” (aka jibes).
As ever, Inzaghi will be hoping to let his players do the talking on the pitch, while placing his full focus on his team’s preparations, failing the satisfy the appetite of gossip-hungry members of the media.
Yet, despite the stark contrast between the managers who will take center stage this weekend, they do in fact have a few aspects in common beyond their shared passion for victories and silverware.
With the greatly anticipated Derby d’Italia looming ever closer, both men have been consistently downplaying the significance of this encounter, refusing to consider it decisive in their Scudetto duel.
After all, Allegri and Inzaghi are both experts when it comes to preparing their troops for the big battles, and they will look to relieve their players from the pressure, even if it means soaking it themselves.
Mathematically speaking, it’s impossible to argue against the validity of the statement. With another 15 rounds remaining (16 in Inter’s case), Napoli’s successor certainly won’t be crowned on the 4th of February. Even last season’s runaway champions had to wait until the 4th of May to achieve the inevitable, and officially ascend the thrown, despite the lack of resistance.
That being said, pay no heed to what Allegri and Inzaghi are proclaiming in the buildup. Sunday’s Derby d’Italia is as crucial – if not decisive – as a league fixture can possibly be, and both of them are extremely aware of this fact, despite their best attempts to belittle their meeting in their almost identical depiction.
Nevertheless, you certainly don’t have to take our word for it.
By taking a stroll down memory lane, one would notice how the team that prevails in the direct Scudetto clash around this period of the season would almost always go on to lift the coveted golden trophy by the end of the campaign.
As we mentioned above, we hardly had a glimpse of a genuine title race last season, but we’ll refer you to the two previous editions when the Milanese duo swapped roles to ultimately share the spoils.
Derby della Madonnina Exploits Pave the Way for Inter
In February 2021, Inter and Milan crossed paths in the famous Derby della Madonnina while embroiled in an intense Scudetto battle. Only a single point separated them when the referee blew the first whistle.
With Juventus losing sight under the guidance of Andrea Pirlo, the Rossoneri and Nerazzurri were both eager to inherit the throne of the longtime reigning emperor.
After a dominant showing, Inter emerged victorious by three unanswered goals, including a strike that saw Romelu Lukaku steamroll the opposition defense en route to Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal.
At the end of the day, Antonio Conte’s men opened up a four-point gap, but more importantly, they proved to be superior to their crosstown rivals in every sense of the word. This served as a mental blow that Milan were never able to recover from.
Giroud Returns the Favor
Almost a year later, the two Milanese rivals found themselves in an almost similar situation. Simone Inzaghi had inherited Conte’s Scudetto-winning side minus Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi, while Stefano Pioli remained on the Black-and-Red dugout.
When Ivan Perisic put the Nerazzurri in the lead in the first half, there was a sense of déjà vu in the air. Inter were 45 minutes away from securing a crucial victory that would surely put them on the right path towards retaining their title.
Nevertheless, Olivier Giroud had other plans.
When Milan signed the Frenchman at the age of 35, who would have thought that the aging striker would turn the title race upside-down with a historic brace that will forever remain in the hearts of the Diavolo faithful?
This epic battle went to the wire, and a clumsy error from Inter goalkeeper Ionut Radu in Bologna tipped the scale in favor of the Rossoneri who celebrated their first Scudetto in 11 years with a comfortable win in Sassuolo on the final matchday of the season.
Yet, this triumph wouldn’t have been possible without Giroud’s magical performance in the direct showdown.
That Zaza Winner
When it comes to direct Scudetto encounters contested between Juventus and Napoli, their meeting in April 2018 offers a counterthesis since the Partenopei failed to pounce on their stunning victory in Turin to put an end to the Old Lady’s winning dynasty. A week later, Maurizio Sarri’s men succumbed to a 0-3 defeat in Florence that practically put their title hopes to bed.
However, this occasion illustrates the exception rather than the rule, underlining the dangers of premature celebrations as the ones witnessed at the Naples International Airport following the team’s triumphant return from Turin.
Nonetheless, this wasn’t the first direct Scudetto showdown between Allegri’s Juventus and Sarri’s Napoli, as the two sides had already gone head-to-head on a cold Piedmontese night in February 2016.
Following a disastrous start to the campaign, the Bianconeri launched a stunning comeback that saw them climb to second place in the standings. By Valentine’s Day, they only had one more team to overtake before reclaiming their beloved spot on top of the table, and this side happened to be their Valentine’s date.
At one point, it felt that the two fierce rivals were happy to maintain the status quo, settling for a goalless stalemate.
Enter Simone Zaza…
If it wasn’t for that particular cameo, even the staunchest Juventus supporter would have long forgotten the Italian striker’s short stint at the club by now. Yet, on that particular night, Zaza became the toast of the town in the Black-and-White half of Turin after beating Pepe Reina with a long-range shot that placed the Bianconeri in the top spot… and they never looked back.
Perhaps it’s the “six-pointer” effect on the mathematical equation or simply the enormous morale boost that accompanies the grand victory over the demoralized opponent, but whatever the reason may be, winning the direct clash (particularly in February) seems to convey a title triumph in May on most occasions, regardless of whether Inzaghi and Allegri wish to admit it or not.
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