“It’s unfortunate that we lost, but we were the team that had the bigger chances during the game. But this is Juventus’s strength: we more than matched them, but they know how to fully capitalise on their opportunities. We didn’t manage to find the back of the net, however. We could have got a better result tonight, but we’ll try to take good heart from the good things we did tonight: on Tuesday evening, we have to win at San Siro in front of our fans, who are always fantastic.”
Those were the words of Inter central defender Milan Škriniar in the aftermath of his side’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Bianconeri at Allianz Stadium. It is hard to argue with much of what he said because, in the first half especially, the Nerazzurri looked most likely to score before Juve eventually did so via a Mario Mandžukić back post header. However, in hindsight, it cannot be understated how much of a mistake it was to replace Matteo Politano with Borja Valero just before the hour mark.
Indeed, Politano had spent much of the first 58 minutes wreaking havoc on the right flank and it looked like a mere matter of time before he put the ball on a plate for either Mauro Icardi or Ivan Perišić to slot into the net. For many, Spalletti’s decision to substitute a winger for a midfielder sent the wrong message to his players. Politano himself appeared to be somewhat bemused his coach’s choice and little wonder. Besides the fact that the former Roma and Sassuolo wide man was one of the Beneamata’s top performers on the night, the days in which the aforementioned Spaniard was capable of influencing high profile matches such as the Derby d’Italia are long gone.
It is clear that, by sending Borja Valero on, Spalletti thought he would be able to wrestle control of the midfield area before launching a final spree of attacking intent once the game reached its latter stages. However, a mere five minutes or so later, Juve were ahead and Inter’s game plan was left in ruins. To add insult to injury, Spalletti reacted to finding himself a goal down by bringing on Keita Baldé for Roberto Gagliardini, thus rendering his previous change a complete waste of time.
With all due respect to Borja Valero and the attributes he possesses, he no longer has the physical strength to compete in matches against a side like Juventus. He cannot control matches being played at such a high tempo and Spalletti ought to have been able to recognise this. While the Tuscan is of course a highly-respected tactician with a huge amount of experience in Serie A, there is no doubt that he handed the initiative to Massimiliano Allegri and his players by making what can only be described as an utterly pointless substitution.
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