Italian Serie A

Published on December 8th, 2017 | by Peter Coates

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Icardi v Higuaín: a battle for the Scudetto and a World Cup spot

🕓 Reading time:4 minutes

Saturday’s table-topping clash between Inter and Juventus in Serie sees a fantastic face off between Icardi and Higuaín, two rivals for Russia 

“He is one of the best centre forwards in the world and he needs to be in the Argentina squad.”

Lionel Messi could have been talking about a few players when discussing some of his national team teammates during an interview with TyC Sports this week but it wasn’t old pal Sergio Agüero or Serie A’s leading marksman, Mauro Icardi that the Barcelona star singled out for praise. It was Gonzalo Higuaín, a player who has found himself on the outside of Jorge Sampaoli’s most recent squads, but is still pushing for a place in Russia.

Agüero’s spot, provided the Manchester City striker remains fit, looks certain after his friendly goals but the potential battle between the experienced Higuain and the young upstart Icardi provides an intriguing subplot to Serve A’s top of the table clash on Saturday.

Juventus’ grip on Serie A and the Old Lady’s six consecutive titles were in danger of sapping the excitement out of a league undergoing something of a perceived renaissance. Napoli made things interesting last year and if anyone was to topple the Bianconeri this time round it was supposed to be Maurizio Sarri’s side.

However, spearheaded by inspirational captain Icardi, Inter’s impressive unbeaten start to the season, has the resurgent giants top at this stage.

One week ago, Higuaín came back to haunt his former employees with his seventh goal in seven games as Juve ended Napoli’s 26-game unbeaten streak while Icardi scored his 16th in 15 games to send Inter a point clear.

The progress made by the Nerazzurri can’t be understated but despite beating the likes of Fiorentina, Roma, Milan and picking up a point against Napoli, the greater test comes under the pressure of leading and against champions, Juventus.

There are a number of reasons for Inter’s rapid improvement – manager Luciano Spalletti deserves enormous praise, the lack of European football has allowed for greater rest and preparation, the defence has been outstanding and throughout what is a very settled starting eleven there have been a number of top performances.

However, Serie A’s leading scorer, Icardi has been stealing the limelight.

While the rest of the world wanted to focus on his personal life, Icardi went about scoring goals even in the poor Inter side’s of recent years but this season, the abundant supply line of Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva has delivered even greater numbers for the centre forward and in turn an unlikely title challenge.

As a result, Inter will arrive in Turin on Saturday full of confidence and no one more so than captain Icardi. The Nerazzurri may not have won there since 2012 but they were the first visiting side to win at the now named Allianz Stadium and have, in Icardi, a striker who loves facing the Old Lady.

It was playing for Sampdoria in 2013 that Icardi really announced himself to the world when his brace stunned Juve but in his last nine Series A matches against the old foe, the 24-year-old has scored seven and recorded two assists.

Icardi’s goal against Chievo took him into Inter’s top ten all-time goal scorers and has seen speculation over a move to Real Madrid intensify this week but should the Rosario-born striker down Juventus on Saturday, his value will only increase.

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And it could importantly serve as a direct comparison with a rival for a World Cup spot. Juventus’ four-consecutive clean sheets have shown the type of resilience attributed to champions but Higuaín’s form at the other end has been important.

A predatory finisher, who guarantees goals, Higuaín answered some of his critics with the winner against Napoli and can now focus on regaining his place in the Argentina squad. After all, it is here, playing for La Albiceleste that Pipita will truly be able to shed his unwanted reputation as a choker.

After missing out on the two most recent squads, Higuaín’s World Cup chances looked slim but Sampaoli maintained that the door was still open. With Icardi missing some opportunities through injury and Darío Benedetto now facing up to nine months out with a ruptured cruciate knee ligament, the Juve striker is again in the plans.

Messi is in no doubt that Higuaín should be there: “As far as I am concerned, Higuaín is one of the best centre-forwards in the world. He proves that with Juventus and it’s just not the same thing playing for Argentina.

 

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“Criticism does hurt him and we’ve talked about this many times. I think this period off international duty was good for him, though, as he has been able to focus on training and improving his fitness levels.

“Having said that, he needs to be in the Argentina squad.”

Sampaoli’s World Cup squad decisions won’t be based on a single match but both strikers will be aware that a strong performance with the world watching will improve their chances significantly. Argentina is fortunate to have two elite level goal-scorers, the type of instinctive hitmen who need only one chance.

While for some, Higuaín has blown his chance; Icardi is yet to be in the same position.

On a personal level, Saturday is important but Icardi could also give Inter reason to believe that they can achieve far more than just a Champions League spot while Higuaín could fire Juve back to the top of the table.

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About the Author

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Peter is a British football writer living in Buenos Aires, who specialises on Argentine football. His passion for the game in South America took him to Argentina in 2011 and aside from starting his own site 'Golazo Argentino', he has covered the national side for The Independent and acts as WhoScored's expert on the Primera División.



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