The winner of this Derby d’Italia decider will meet Atalanta or Napoli in May’s showpiece occasion, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s San Siro double putting Juve in the driving seat ahead of part two in Turin.
Mirroring the ascendant form of Serie A top scorer and line-leading talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus have clicked into top gear in 2021.
Defeat to Inter last month – when Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo was singularly outmanouevred by his former manager Antonio Conte – seems to have acted as something of a catalyst for the Bianconeri.
It has proved to be the only defeat they have suffered since the turn of the year, during a fixture-packed run featuring league, cup and Supercoppa success – a six-game streak that has elevated them to third in the Serie A standings, just five points behind second-placed Inter, with a game still in hand.
In January, Juventus managed to turn over Milan, Napoli and Inter – among several others – keeping clean sheets in all five league matches since losing at San Siro. Their latest victims, at the weekend, were close contenders Roma, who they leapfrogged in the league table as a result of a comfortable 2-0 victory – the highlight of which was Ronaldo’s imperious left-footed opening strike.
It was a third goal in less than a week for the Bianconeri’s main man, after Juve won the first leg of the Coppa semi thanks to his well-taken brace, overturning Inter’s opener from Lautaro Martinez.
A rare away victory against the Nerazzurri was sweet revenge for Andrea Pirlo’s side following their league loss just days before and will have boosted the confidence of a coach who, for all his magisterial playing capabilities, remains a rookie at the elite level – particularly getting one over on his wily counterpart Conte.
On Tuesday night, his side have it within their grasp to seal progress to the final and spoil their rivals’ dreams into the bargain.
The task facing Inter in overturning their deficit is substantial, as they have not won away to the Bianconeri since 2013.
Antonio Conte’s side warmed up for the challenge by swatting aside Fiorentina at Stadio Artemio Franchi on Friday evening. A delightful first-half effort from Nicolo Barella was followed by Ivan Perisic’s goal after the break to send them a point clear at the top of the table, before Milan reclaimed the summit with a win over Crotone two days later.
Serie A’s top scorers – since the restart of the top five European leagues post-lockdown, only Bayern Munich have registered more goals than Inter’s 77 – again demonstrated that they are capable of scoring from all quarters in Florence, with strike duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez able to take a rare break from the scoresheet.
Now, the Nerazzurri face a daunting spell that could determine whether they claim a first trophy since lifting the Coppa Italia in 2011, with a first domestic double since the Jose Mourinho era still tantalisingly within sight for the team that played nearly-men last season.
Following this midweek cup clash, Inter welcome in-form Lazio to San Siro next Sunday, before playing out the Derby della Madonnina against Milan on the same stage the following weekend.
Conte’s men edged past their stadium-sharing foes in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals and that explosive derby success saw Inter seal victory only in the dying moments – through Christian Eriksen’s sublime free kick – against a ten-man Milan team depleted by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s dismissal.
They may need to invoke similar inspiration this Tuesday, as breaking down a defensively disciplined Juventus outfit on Turin turf – even with Lukaku back in harness – could prove their toughest test yet.