It’s Groundhog Day here in the U.S. (surely, the ever-stylish Italiani would never designate an annual day of recognition to a rodent.) On this day each year we theoretically find out whether Spring is on the way, or whether we’re going to have to endure a longer, harsher winter.

The national groundhog, Punxatawney Phil (see the film with Bill Murray for further groundhog exposure) has retreated after glimpsing his shadow, thus signaling 6 more weeks out in the cold. It struck me this morning that this match would foreshadow something similar in Juve-Land. If the Blue and Black Milanese Neanderthals dominate us in a manner similar to the last encounter between the clubs, we might be looking at a long, dark, and chilly winter.

Fortunately it didn’t turn out the way, although for the first few minutes it was looking pretty frigid on Gigi Buffon’s 1100th appearance. Let’s look at that # again. Eleven Hundred matches for clubs and country. Astonishing.

Also astonishing was Inter’s early goal, at the 9 minute mark, Lautaro Martinez cashing in after a blunder by Matthis de Ligt and a late reaction from Buffon. A few minutes later Merih Demiral picked up one of his not-infrequent yellow cards for clanging into Alexis Sanchez. Thankfully he would improve over the course of the match, as would the entire squad.

A sloppy foul by Ashley Young on the always industrious and shifty Juan Cuadrado led to a Penaldo moment at minute 26. CR7 cooly left no doubt, slotting the ball high and central, easily evading Samir Handanovic’s gloves. A mere 9 minutes later, Cristiano pounced on a loose exchange between Bastoni and Handanovic (who should have alerted his teammate to the danger lurking behind him) and the Portuguese assassin nonchalantly rolled the ball in from the edge of the box via a gentle carem off the right post. You really have to see it to believe it. One of those moments when you just realize this man is not quite of this world. I’m not saying he is the greatest ever to play the game, as I haven’t been around as long as the game has, but he is indeed molto Special. And molto Smart. You really must see it. https://cbssports.com/soccer/news/inter-milan-vs-juventus-score-ronaldo-gives-juve-edge-in-coppa-italia-semifinal/live/…

The second half played out tensely, replete with collisions and heated disagreements, as both squads squandered decent enough opportunities to score, and both experienced shakiness on defense, particularly in transition. It wasn’t a beautifully played tussle overall, but it was hotly contested, a nail-biter till nearly the last second, and a vital win for the visitors from Torino.

Player Ratings

Juventus:

Buffon-6. The great one’s miscalculation led to the Inter goal; otherwise he was steady but not dominant. We still seem a tad shaky on the defensive side in general.

De Ligt-7 After the early slip-up he was steady and decisive. Had a lot to do, as Inter pressured consistently over the bulk of the match.

Demiral-Also a bit shaky at the start, but grew into the game and made numerous critical interventions. Had a huge save late on with Gigi out of position.

Sandro-6.5 Steady throughout, tidy in possession and defended well.

Cuadrado-7 Earned the penalty early, drove the opposition defense nuts for a large section of the match. Some inexplicably wayward passes, as usual.

Rabiot-7 One of he’s best games, physical in defense and solid in possession. One of those matches during which you realize what he’s capable of when maintaining focused and aggressiveness for a full 90.

Berna: 5. As always, industrious, but to little end. The usual dribbling to nowhere and errant passes.

McKennie 6.5: The expected molto Grinta all over the field. No sparkling offensive highlight this time, however.

Bentancur 5: Lackluster from start to when he was yanked off.

Kulusevski: 5 never seemed to generate any traction in this match. Hustled as always, but as is often the case he seemed out of sync with the rest of the attack, or visa-versa.

Danilo: 6 came in for the last 20 to firm up the defense when we were ceding far too much possession. Did what he was sent on to do, ball-stopping and tidy passing.

Arthur:6 similar to Danilo, came on to see this one out. More controlled in possession and passing than Bentancur had demonstrated.

Pirlo: 7.5. This was not a simple match, and we had only recently been dominated at the same venue by this same outfit. Initial lineup sound, made timely changes to see out the 2nd half and emerge with the W.

Inter ratings:

Conte 5: Took too long to bring on subs, and none of them made much of an impact. Perisic in particular might have been able to affect the run of play. I can’t imagine the locker room was a happy place afterwards.

Handanovic: 5. Made some good stops, but he had a better look as Juve’s 2nd goal developed, and should have communicated more clearly with Skriniar of CR7’s lurking

Skrinniar: 4 switched off mentally, leading to Juve’s 2nd, and that was the ball game.

De Vrij: 5.5 capable defending.

Bastoni: 5.5 did the job on defense and got forward a bit. Vidal: Lost his Sh-t. Does that sound familiar. Last seen sulking.

Barella: 7.5 easily their best player on the night IMO

Darmian: 4.5 It never bothered me that we failed to get him over the years. And it certainly didn’t today. Created Buffon’s highlight for the night by attempting to score.

Alexis 6: I would have liked to have seen us acquire him years ago when he could have teamed with prime Ferrari-crashing Vidal for club and for country, but that was then and this isn’t then. Still active and assisted in the opening score. Muffed a great chance later on.

Martinez: 6.5 created the sole highlight for Inter with his excellent early goal. After than not much of a factor.

Perisic: should have been on earlier. N/A

Eriksen: 5 Also on late. Missed a decent chance. Pinamonti and Sensi: Also on very late.

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