As the 2023-24 Serie A season has progressed, several things have come into focus. The first is that Napoli won’t retain their crown, one they waited 33 long years to win. Aurelio De Laurentiis has simply made one too many errors since his club won the title last June. The second is that the fight for the Europa League places will be fierce, with the likes of Roma, Atalanta, Fiorentina and Thiago Motta’s Bologna all showing moments of promise amid lapses of concentration.
But the clearest thing we’ve seen in the early months of the campaign is that the title will come down to either Juventus or Inter. The two sides have demonstrated they are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. For Inter, Simone Inzaghi clearly has the best squad of any coach in the division. For Juve, while other teams have better individual players (Napoli), the Bianconeri have the advantage of having Max Allegri as coach, one who is king at grinding out results. Moreover, while Allegri lacks the star quality and squad depth Inzaghi enjoys with Inter, he has the extra bonus of not having to contend with European football this season due to the club’s one-year ban by Uefa. Playing once a week suits this Juve side down to the ground, and while they aren’t pretty to watch — in fact they are a tough slog to sit through most weeks — they’re getting results.
Both sides have shown they are by far and away the most consistent teams in Serie A, and this is reflected in the six point gap between Juve in second place and Milan in third.
The two teams, 55 Scudetti between them, meet in the first Derby d’Italia of the season on Sunday and, as always, fireworks are to be expected. Juve completed the double over Inter last season despite being one of the worst Juve sides in living memory, and Inzaghi’s record against Juve while being boss of Inter isn’t particularly strong in the league: only one victory in four attempts isn’t good reading at a time when Inter possess the superior players.
Games between these two sides have been historically feisty. The rivalry was built more on sporting excellence than any genuine hatred for most of the 20th century. The two are the best-supported sides in Italy and had for the longest time the most league titles (even if Inter are now tied with Milan on 19 apiece), but the tension between the two really accelerated in 1998 and the infamous Ronaldo-Mark Iuliano clash, a topic which remains heated to this very day. If that incident sparked the fuse, then the events of Calciopoli in the summer of 2006 and its aftermath sent the rivalry nuclear. Ever since, things have been spicy between the two sides. Last season, five players were sent off across the four games in Serie A and the Coppa Italia. To bet against players getting sent off this season would be brave.
Allegri has downplayed Juve’s title aspirations, claiming that finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League is the objective. While a top four finish is never enough for a team like Juve, he’s right. Allegri knows how to win a league title better than any coach currently in Serie A, but a Juve Scudetto win this season would be a travesty considering the quality of the team. Of course, its fantastic man management from the Tuscan, keep expectations low and everything else is a bonus. Moreover, it puts the pressure on Inzaghi to win his first league title as a coach, having become renowned as something of a cup specialist in his time at Lazio and Inter.
In truth, Napoli’s title collapse means the Scudetto is there for Inter’s taking. And should Inzaghi not deliver a second star on the Nerazzurri shirt then questions will rightly be asked, but it’s very clear that the fight for the title is down to just two, and if history has taught us anything, expect tension, fireworks, and likely a red card or two.