AC Milan takes on Juventus at home hoping to avoid a thrashing and if possible, get their season back on track. Juventus and Milan have had contrasting fortunes in the last few years. While the Old Lady has grown by leaps and bounds, Milan have plummeted to the bottom of the pit this season. After all the disallowed-goal controversy last year, who knows what will transpire this time around? The resident team at TheHardTackle presents the latest version of Rival Rendezvous with Cheslton D’Souza (CD hereafter) and Amlan Chaudhury (AC hereafter) taking on each other in a battle of words.

AC: Where do you see Juventus finishing this season?

CD: In Serie A? Champions is the least I expect. Our squad is miles ahead of any other Serie A side and that has been proven time and again. It would be embarrassing if Juventus don’t secure the Scudetto and I expect us to do so comfortably. In Europe, I do not think this side can be looked at as favorites but I do believe we can give any club a run for their money on our day. The lack of a top bomber will hurt us here. I would be happy if we manage to reach the quarter or semi-final.

AC: How did you felt when the winning streak was over? Will you say that after the streak got over, Juventus have become more strong?

CD: I was left upset and with a bitter taste in my mouth simply because the loss and the streak came to a halt against Inter. Having said that, the defeat did turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The team who looked arrogant and often did just the minimum for a win, now look more like the team from last season. It was a much-needed slap on the face and the results and character displayed post the loss can attest to the fact that the defeat has only spurred us on. So yes, the team has learned from their mistake and has put aside the complacency to become stronger.

AC: Quagliarella – he is the dark horse in your squad. Sometime back it was even rumored that he will be sold and now he’s grabbing headlines like anything. Your thoughts?

CD: It’s really strange. Quagliarella never looked the same after his injury but he has really stepped up this season. What he needed was a good run of games in the side and once he got that, Conte bore the fruits of his trust. His play-station goals are a joy to behold and the confidence which was lacking is now evident. I am more than happy with the fact that he has managed to find his feet again and I’m optimistic about him continuing his rich vein of form for the rest of the season. A world-class striker is still the final missing piece of the jigsaw but Quagliarella is doing fine for now.

AC:  What are your views about the touch-line ban on Conte? Will you say Juventus have performed better with him not on the sidelines?

CD: I think the ban imposed on Conte is very harsh. Receiving a ban for something he did not do is baffling. Nevertheless, the team have moved on. Conte’s presence on the sidelines was one of the main reasons behind our success last season. He is without a shadow of a doubt the main catalyst behind the conquering of the league. Conte has managed to instill the old Juventus spirit and attitude we’ve characterized with the great Juve teams of the past. He’s managed to get us out of our slump and constantly keeps the players hungry and determined with his perfectionist attitude. His half-time team talks and his courage to make tactical changes have definitely been missed. Conte manages to get the best out of his players and is arguably the best coach in the league. Dare I say it, if he were managing this Milan side right now, they wouldn’t be in the predicament they find themselves in.

AC:  Finally, do you think you can claim back-to-back Scudetti?

CD: There’s no team in Italy that possess the same quality and depth as Juventus so winning another Scudetto is all but certain barring, of course, a disaster of herculean proportions. While others have weakened in the market, Juve have strengthened and considerably so. This Juve side is simply far too strong for any other Serie A side. We have the best players, the best manager and a stadium with an atmosphere that is the envy of Serie A. So I see absolutely no reason as to why we cannot go on to win another Scudetto.

Having survived the preliminary round, the tables are turned and now it is time for Amlan to take the hot-seat.

CD: What do you think of Milan’s season so far? What realistic hopes do you have from them?

AC:  Milan’s season so far has been nothing short of abysmal. Our luck started flying south from the very first match of the season. Not only have we lost matches against weaker teams, we have been otherwise thrashed by the bigger ones. Milan hasn’t started so badly in over 70 years and part of the blame should be borne by the management. The sale of the duo to PSG came at the wrong time. Sure, it gave us good money in return, but at the end of the day, it set us back by at least 3-4 years. The only realistic goal for Milan this season will be to qualify for Europe next season. No matter what Galliani or Allegri says, Milan are not at all title-challengers with a team like this. So, they should look to minimize the losses. A club like Milan cannot be out of Europe – not now, not ever.

CD: How long do you think Allegri will last? He clearly hasn’t got too many things right so far and most Milan fans have called for his head. Would his sacking help Milan?

AC:  That is a difficult question to answer, honestly. Allegri has changed formations as many times as Justin Bieber changes shirts during a show. The instability is clearly showing – both in his mind and in his tactical acumen. However, if you look closely, Allegri has been bad this season only. For two consecutive seasons, Allegri took Milan to the zenith of Serie A. If you think closely, last season would’ve ended in a Scudetto if some results have gone here and there. We missed in narrowly and injuries did have a part to play in that. But let bygones by bygones. Allegri is faltering this season, but that does not mean chop-and-change. If every team in the world adopted that policy, every club would be controlled by Zamparini. Sacking Allegri will not help because this is the best he can do with a team like this, assembled in such a short time. Milan must believe in Allegri.

CD: El Shaarawy is obviously carrying Milan on his young shoulders single-handedly and his stock has risen considerably. Will Milan sell him in the summer like they sold Ibra and Thiago Silva in the hopes of balancing the books?

AC:  El Shaarawy has been phenomenal this season – leading the goal charts, scoring goals at will; you name it, he’s done it. It’sMilan really heartening to see such a young talent take over the mantle of talisman for a team of Milan’s stature. That being said, rumors are circulating that once again, to “balance the books” he might be sold off come next summer. This is not the first time Milan have sold a champion and certainly this won’t be the last time Milan will be selling a champion. After the sale of Kaka, Galliani said that he’ll never again sell a champion and yet last summer, he sold Ibra and Thiago. Their shadow is still looming large at Milanello and no amount of “balancing the books” shenanigans will subdue that. That being said, if Milan does sell El Shaarawy next summer, they should be relegated – just like that.

CD: What is up with Pato? So much promise yet so much disappointment in equal measure. Have Milan lost the opportunity to cash in on him? And what do you make of his recent comments about possibly leaving Milan in Jan?

AC:  Pato is one of the most mysterious players in my book. World-class one time; pedestrian the next. The problem with Pato is that he is not being able to physically cope with the rigors of this demanding league. For Milan, Pato has bulked up but his body is not being able to take that additional pressure. Every time he has taken the pitch in the recent year or so, he has ended up in the doctor’s chamber. Milan need not cash him in as long as he’s with Barbara. But jokes apart, he needs to get back to shape as soon as possible and not the “5 mins into the match and replaced” type. Pato is clearly frustrated with the lack of opportunities, but given the current abysmal state of the squad, can Allegri risk him for 5 mins?

CD: How long before Milan can be considered serious title challengers?

AC:  Good question and the answer to that will be at least 3-4 years if not more. Berlusconi and Galliani are not going to pump money into the club and with Milan already in deep debt, they cannot afford to buy players left and right. What they can do is create a self-sustaining model from the grass-root level. But doing that takes patience and lots and lots of it. If Allegri is sacked at the end of this campaign, there will be another round of rumors and post rumors before Leonardo is once more appointed coach. So, all in all, fans in this Milan madhouse can expect to go into hibernation for at least 3-4 years.