ROME: When Juventus booked their place in the Coppa Italia final on Tuesday (Feb 9), it was thanks more to ferocity than flair.
A 0-0 draw at home to rivals Inter Milan was not the cup classic some had hoped for after Juve’s 2-1 win in the first leg.
However, it underlined anew the defensive solidity that has become a hallmark of Andrea Pirlo’s side in his first season as a coach.
Since the turn of the year, Juventus have played with more of the swagger and conviction that you would expect of a team that has lifted the last nine Serie A titles, winning 10 of their 12 games in all competitions.
But a tenacity and pride in defending has characterised the run; the midweek draw marked their sixth clean sheet in the last seven matches, the best record in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues.
The warrior-like exertions of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon typified the approach of one of Andrea Pirlo’s predecessors, five-time Scudetto winner Massimiliano Allegri, and Pirlo was more than happy to be compared to the famously pragmatic Italian.
“It pleases me a lot,” he told Rai Sport. “If I win what he did, you can call me ‘Allegrian’, no problem.”
Inter, Serie A’s top scoring club, travelled to Turin knowing that they would need to find the net at least twice due to the away goals rule and sent out a full attacking artillery of Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Christian Eriksen.
But after 18 attempts they were unable to truly test Buffon, and Juve's defensive performance was made all the more impressive by the fact that Chiellini, Bonucci and first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny were left out.
In 22-year-old Merih Demiral and 21-year-old Matthijs de Ligt, Juve have the makings of a partnership that could serve the club well for years to come.
Their recent surge in form, winning six of their last seven league games and the last three in a row, has put Juve firmly back in title contention ahead of a trip to struggling Napoli on Saturday.
The Turin club are third, seven points off AC Milan on top, but have a game in hand – at home to Napoli – to come.
Pirlo's Napoli counterpart, Gennaro Gattuso, is facing increasing pressure after his side were knocked out of the cup by Atalanta on Wednesday, days after suffering a 2-1 league defeat at Genoa.
With two wins in their last seven games in all competitions and 12 points separating Napoli from Milan, Gattuso was asked if the Juventus game will be his last chance.
“I don’t know, you’ll need to ask the club,” he said.
“I’m the captain of the ship, and when things go badly it’s at the expense of the captain. I can’t think about if this is the penultimate or last chance, I need to work and I must manage to give confidence."
Leaders Milan travel to Spezia on Saturday, while Inter host a Lazio side on a six-game league winning run on Sunday night in what promises to be a stern test of their title credentials.