There is never an amicable time for a Derby D’Italia, but when the schedule puts Juventus versus Inter Milan less than 48 hours after the close of a transfer window, there is a high chance the serrated edge on this fixture will be further sharpened.
Juventus and Inter have spent much of January cattily snapping at one another, not so much because they were competing for the same transfer targets, but because of direct negotiations that turned sour.
Juve had been in pursuit of Inter’s Fredy Guarin, the Colombia midfielder who had made little secret of his desire to look elsewhere.
Talks about a sale were quite advanced until the point when Inter supporters made plain their displeasure at seeing their club sell a valued player to a rival, particularly during a run of four matches without a win, which has seen them slip to 23 points behind the champions and Serie A leaders, Juve, as their chances of Uefa Champions League football next season grow more remote. Inter suspended negotiations abruptly, which enraged Juventus.
It also put a level of scrutiny onto Erick Thohir, the new majority stakeholder at Inter, he had not yet experienced.
The Indonesian businessman took over the reins at the club in October. This was his first transfer window.
The Guarin saga had Juventus labelling him a novice in the business; more uncomfortably, it had fans voicing scepticism about the extent of his ambition. When Guarin ended up extending his Inter deal – until 2017 – instead of going, the club’s strategy looked rather muddled.
But, late on Friday, the new boss had something to smile with supporters about: the gifted Brazilian playmaker Hernanes joining from Lazio as the transfer window deadline drew closer. Danilo D’Ambrosio, the winger, also came in from Torino.
Neither Hernanes or Guarin were included in caoch Walter Mazzarri’s squad for tonight’s game.
The Hernanes fee is estimated at around €17 million (Dh84.3m). The player could even start against Juve, Thohir hailing him as “the man to fill the gaps”. He may fill some of them, with his creativity, his long-range accuracy as a goalscorer, though he is not the out-and-out striker Mazzarri had lobbied for.
Juventus do have one of those, new to their squad, thanks to their late-window swoop for Dani Pablo Osvaldo, on a six-month loan from Southampton. Osvaldo looks like a piece of typical Juve pragmatism.
The Argentina-born Italy international needed to move, suddenly and urgently, after a practice ground punch-up with his Southampton colleague Jose Fonte last month. That sort of behaviour – and it is not new with Osvaldo, who clashed with Erik Lamela, among others, while he was at Roma, the club he left last summer – might put certain coaches off a player, but Antonio Conte is becoming more and more assured of his own authority, his capacity to impose discipline and to motivate.
Osvaldo will be obliged to accept a back-up role to Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez in Juve’s striking hierarchy. On arrival, he sounded hugely relieved.
“I will do my best to get into the World Cup squad by succeeding with Juve, and who knows, maybe spend many years here,” he said. For today, he will probably have to settle for watching from the sidelines, at least to start off, as Juve seek a 13th Serie A victory in 14 matches.