Straight from the dark heart of Italy
With the start of the Serie A season still just over a week away, there was an opportunity to gauge the fitness and form of AC Milan, Inter and Juventus when Italy’s three major clubs met in Thursday’s TIM Trophy in Bari.
The traditional summer triangular tournament consists of three 45-minute matches squeezed into one evening, and has been a treat for holiday-makers over the last decade. All three of the participating sides could count on massive support in the south of the country, supplemented by vacationers from other parts of Italy.
The San Nicola stadium was packed - just as it had been the previous week when the national team defeated Spain - but this time the spectators were not united behind one cause, and on the whole Juve shirts outnumbered those of the Milanese pair.
Inter, without the potentially Russia-bound Samuel Eto’o, lifted the trophy after a penalty shoot-out win over Juve and a victory against their city rivals.
If Eto’o does move east, then Diego Milito could be given a new lease of life. The Argentine certainly looked sharp in the game against Milan, in which he scored the only goal in trademark fashion: ghosting in behind the defence before finishing with a deft flick.
However, it is of upmost importance that Massimo Moratti keeps his word that Wesley Sneijder will not be heading to Manchester United, Malaga or anywhere else. The Dutchman was without doubt the star of the evening - full of energy, demanding the ball at every turn and basically being the type of playmaker any coach in the world would want in their team.
There was little to be gleaned from Milan’s overall performance, with the Rossoneri losing both their matches, but the champions gave run-outs to eight youth team players and on the whole eased through what was a broiling evening.
Juventus, for their part, were in no mood to take it easy - not with their drill sergeant of a coach Antonio Conte barking orders from the sidelines.
Conte is back at a club where he once played alongside the likes of ZinËdine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Edgar Davids and of course Alex Del Piero. It was also where he honed a winning mentality that kept the Bianconeri at the forefront of the game both in Italy and in Europe.
Conte’s tactics of playing the ball out from the back demanded concentration and plenty of energy from the whole team.
Andrea Pirlo will be pivotal to exactly how well this system works, and needless to say the playmaker kept the ball moving rapidly, while newly-recruited fullbacks Stephan Lichtsteiner and Reto Ziegler were comfortable receiving passes and willing outlets to burst forward.
Mirko Vucinic linked well with Del Piero and took his goal against Inter with a coolness and assurance that had been missing in his final days at AS Roma. But if we were looking for one player who personified the new Juve then it had to be Arturo Vidal.
Having only recently joined-up with his new team-mates following the Copa America, the Chilean was employed in a more advanced role ahead of the holding pair of Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio in the match against Milan, popping up on the left then on the right before racing through the middle whenever an opportunity presented. And not only that, his touch was sure, his passing crisp – he was the antithesis of Felipe Melo.
A compact bundle of energy who can switch into rapid sprints in an instant, the former Bayer Leverkusen midfielder really stamped his authority after initially being out-muscled by Rino Gattuso.
It was that old warrior of many a campaign who had the better of the early exchanges, brushing the new man off the ball in a move which led to Milan taking the lead. But Vidal soon had the measure of the veteran – and one crunching challenge left Rino visibly stunned, demanding a hand of apology which never arrived.
At just 24, Vidal is on the fast track to make an impression – his goal against Milan may have been more down to the poor goalkeeping of Flavio Roma but he also crashed a shot against the bar and set up Alessandro Matri for the winner with a well-measured cross.
Juventus have been in the doldrums for too long but on last night’s evidence the arrival of Vidal could be the catalyst for a return of that feisty Old Lady of yesteryear.
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