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Combined XI: Juventus v Inter (21st century)

No club has won more than Serie A titles than Juventus and Inter. Of the 21 Serie A titles won since 2002, 17 have been won by either Juventus or Inter; the two dominant clubs of Italian football in the 21st century. 

With that in mind, we’ve put together a combined XI from the 21st century between Juventus and Inter:

GK: Gianluigi Buffon

Many players – in all positions – have peaks in their careers where they rival the world’s best. What set Gianluigi Buffon apart was that he spent around 20 years rivalling the world’s best.

It’s easy to point to the hundreds of clean sheets, the thousands of appearances and the countless personal accolades as justification for Buffon’s inclusion in these fantasy XIs, but he was so much more than the numbers.

Strong in the air with excellent shot-stopping abilities, Buffon had no significant weakness as a keeper. Indeed, former team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic once remarked that in training, once he’d got past Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram, he’d be faced with Buffon, who was ‘almost impossible’ to beat.

RB: Lilian Thuram

A part of the great double-winning Parma team that contained future team-mates Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram earned a move to Turin.

To give an idea of how highly thought-of Thuram was back in 2001, he was signed for a world-record fee for a defender of €36m – the same amount Milan paid for one of the league’s top strikers in Serie A, Filippo Inzaghi, and more than Manchester United paid for Ruud van Nistelrooy. But signing one of the greatest right-backs to ever play the game would come at a cost.

Of course, Thuram had been more at home as a centre-back with Parma, with Marcello Lippi eventually utilising the Frenchman on the right for Juventus, as he more typically did for his national side.

Though Thuram wasn’t the buccaneering full-back in the mould of Serie A colleague Cafu (and would later return to centre-back as his pace declined), the Frenchman was the more defensively astute while still capable of contributing in the final third thanks to his imposing speed and strength as well as his technical abilities.

One of Serie A’s – and Juventus’s – all-time great defenders.

CB: Walter Samuel

Earning a reputation as one of the best defenders in Italy, Walter Samuel attracted the attention of Real Madrid in 2004 at the height of their Galacticos era. The season was a disaster as Real Madrid ended up trophyless with three managers occupying the dugout throughout the season.

Samuel returned to Italy after just one year in the Spanish capital to help form one of the country’s most dominant teams.

Though not the ball-playing defender that would become more prominent after Samuel’s peak, he was the archetypal centre-back of his day. Despite only being six feet tall, Samuel was strong in the air and uncompromising on the ground. 

Samuel would spend nine years at the San Siro; many of them impacted by severe knee injuries. Nevertheless, the Argentine would partner Lucio in defence in 2009/10 as Inter scooped the treble.

CB: Giorgio Chiellini

Completing the no-nonsense centre-back pairing is Giorgio Chiellini.

Following Juventus’s demotion to Serie B that saw Inter win five straight titles, the Old Lady came back with a vengeance. 

Five years after winning Serie B, Juventus won the first of eight straight titles and made two Champions League finals, with Chiellini a mainstay throughout. 

Despite struggling with injury in his 30s, Chiellini was handed the captain’s armband following the departure of Gianluigi Buffon in 2018.

LB: Javier Zanetti

Owing to his versatility, Javier Zanetti could have occupied a number of positions in this team. Naturally at home at right-back, Zanetti moved into midfield following the arrival of Maicon but his tactical intelligence meant he could play anywhere across the back line and anywhere in midfield.

For 18 straight seasons, Zanettli played at least 25 Serie A games for Inter. You need an element of luck to avoid any major injuries for so long, but Zanetti’s consummate professionalism kept him fit and firing into his late 30s.

Just shy of his 37th birthday after missing just one Serie A game all season, Zanetti would lift the Champions League trophy as Inter won the treble in 2009/10.

Ryan Giggs – long after his retirement – revealed Javier Zanetti to be the toughest opponent he ever faced. Only a handful of players have such an impact on a club that their number gets retired at the end of their career; Javier Zanetti is one.

CM: Esteban Cambiasso

Every good team needs a midfielder willing to do the dirty work. Thankfully for Inter, the haste and short-sightedness of Florentino Perez in Real Madrid’s Galacticos era meant the club president overlooked such qualities. Claude Makelele was sold to Chelsea in 2003 with Esteban Cambiasso going to Inter the following year.

It’s no coincidence that from then until the end of Perez’s presidency, Real wouldn’t win another league title and would only get past the last-16 of the Champions League once, while Inter and Chelsea would embark on their most successful periods.

Inter won the Coppa Italia in Cambiasso’s first two seasons, being awarded the Serie A title in his second following its removal from Juventus. 

Inter would win the next four league titles with Cambiasso at the heart of midfield.

A terrific reader of the game, Cambiasso could break up opposition moves and start them for his team-mates. 

One of the best holding midfielders of his generation, and certainly one of the most under-rated.

CM: Andrea Pirlo

It’s a testament to how good Andrea Pirlo was in his later years that you could argue his peak actually came at Juventus rather than Milan. Pirlo spent 10 years in Milan, winning two titles and two Champions Leagues, but is perhaps best remembered for his role in rejuvenating Juventus in the 2010s.

His first season with Juventus saw the Old Lady win Serie A for the first time in eight years as Pirlo was named Serie A Footballer of the Year for the first of three straight seasons. Juventus would win the title in each of Pirlo’s four seasons in Turin as well as making a Champions League final in 2015.

Despite only spending four years with Juventus, a fan vote saw Pirlo named as one of the two midfielders alongside Zinedine Zidane in their all-time XI.

CM: Pavel Nedved

From the ballet-dancer grace of Andrea Pirlo to the heavy-metal energy of Pavel Nedved. 

Nedved was given the impossible task of replacing Zinedine Zidane and though he didn’t have the elegance of Zidane – then again, who did? – he did have an all-action determination about him. 

Nedved could pound every blade of grass with an unforgiving intensity as well as dribble past players, pass through defences, and score from different postcodes.

The 2003 Ballon d’Or winner and one of the midfielders of a generation.

AM: Wesley Sneijder

Wesley Sneijder may not have had the longevity of some of the other players in this team, but as far as individual seasons go, 2009/10 makes him impossible to omit.

Jose Mourinho’s Inter team were very defensively sound. Lucio and Walter Samuel at the back, Javier Zanetti frequently deployed in midfield with the likes of Esteban Cambiasso, Thiago Motta and Dejan Stankovic. Even Samuel Eto’o was deployed out wide for his work rate. But Mourinho needed the creative spark to unlock Diego Milito’s goals. Sneijder was that spark.

The Dutchman was utterly sensational that season, eventually finishing fourth in the Ballon d’Or voting, when he was unlucky not to finish three places higher.

AM: Alessandro Del Piero

There’s an argument to be had that of the greatest Italian footballers of all time, Alessandro Del Piero can be considered to be up there with the very best on account of not just his longevity, but his sheer ability right throughout his career.

Of all the Juventus greats to have come and gone over the last 25 years, Del Piero stayed until the very end, even following their demotion to Serie B. In the 21st century alone, Del Piero won five league titles and scored 95 Serie goals. When only counting Del Piero’s goals after his 30th birthday, he still scored more than Marco van Basten, Paolo Rossi and Vincenzo Iaquinta.

Whether it’s a greatest Juventus XI of the 1990s, 21st century or even all time, Del Piero is one of the first names on the team sheet.

ST: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

As good as he was, one wonders how much better Zlatan Ibrahimovic could have been with just a little confidence…

Certainly not one for false modesty, Ibrahimovic’s comments over the years drew many an eye-roll, perhaps causing an underrating of how good he actually he was. But Ibrahimovic was a world-class striker for a number of years, for both Juventus and Inter.

Ibrahimovic won Serie A in all five seasons for Juventus and Inter, though his two Juventus titles were stripped due to the Calciopoli scandal. But during those years, Ibrahimovic was nominated for the Ballon d’Or four times, finishing in the top 10 each year and was twice named Serie A Footballer of the Year.

So good was Ibrahimovic that Pep Guardiola parted ways with not just £40m, but Samuel Eto’o too, when acquiring his services in 2010.

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