Stadio Giuseppe Meazaa, Milan
November 25th, 19:45 GMT kick-off
Two of the biggest Italian sides lock horns against each other as Milan host Champions Juventus in Serie A’s main event on Sunday night. Two teams who were at loggerheads with each other last season as they fought stride for stride alongside now couldn’t be in more contrasting situations in the league. Milan have struggled to replicate last season’s form and that doesn’t come as a surprise as the club opted to balance its books – selling two of their most important players in Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to oil rich PSG. While Milan have weakened, Juventus have strengthened their squad with shrewd purchases in the summer market. The fruits of Marotta’s work are there to be seen as they look streets ahead of any team in the league.
Milan head into this fixture on the back of a morale boosting away win at Brussels against Anderlecht; a win that secured their passage through to the knock-out phase of the Champions League. At the same time, the Bianconeri’s dismantling of the European Champions at the Juventus Stadium sent out a statement of intent to the rest of Europe. A point off Shakhtar is all they need to go through to the next round of Europe’s premier competition. Juventus sit comfortably at the top of the table with a 4 point lead over Inter, their nearest competitors for the title. Milan, on the other hand, occupy 12th position on the table with 15 points.
Team News and Tactical Brief
While Milan may be getting their work done in Europe, it’s in Serie A where their struggles continue. Winless in their previous two encounters, Max Allegri’s head has been on the chopping block for long now and with each passing game and their inability to pick up the three points, his job at the helm of Milan comes under scrutiny. But Milan’s vice-president, Adriano Galliani, has been adamant that they will stick with Allegri through these tough times.
Allegri is expected to make just one change from the side that faced Anderlecht with Antonio Nocerino making way for Urby Emanuelson in his 4-3-3 formation. Mattia De Sciglio has been one of the bright sparks in an otherwise dim season so far for Milan. His attacking forays coupled with his defensive solidity has warranted comparisons with legendary full-back Cafu. Mario Yepes will partner French International Phillipe Mexes, who seems to have taken a page out of former team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s book with a spectacular bicycle kick during the European fixture.
Nigel De Jong will be the screen in front of the defense while Riccardo Montolivo will act as the creative outlet from midfield. The former Fiorentina man will look to orchestrate Milan attacks and will spray out balls left, right and centre. Bojan will spearhead the attack and while he doesn’t offer a huge target to aim for, he is dynamic and his pace could trouble the Juve defence. Kevin Prince Boateng and Stephan El Shaarawy will flank him in attack.
Milan may not see a lot of the ball and they may look to make the most of the high back-line Juventus will employ. El Shaarawy and Bojan have the pace to worry Juventus and as Chelsea showed, the Bianconeri back three could be troubled when counter-attacked with pace and trickery. But Milan will also have to be wary of the late runs made by Marchisio and Vidal into the box which have often gone untracked by teams.
Milan have Mesbah, Strasser, Didac Vila, Antonini, Abate, Traore, Ambrosini and Bonera all on the treatment table.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Abbiati; De Sciglio; Yepes, Mexes, Constant; Montolivo, De Jong, Emanuelson; Boateng, Bojan, El Shaarawy
After their invincibility cloak was shrugged off by Inter, Juventus have responded with authority. Three wins and a draw against Lazio underlines their ability to recover from a rare loss. But against Chelsea, there was the urge and determination we’ve grown to familiarize ourselves with Antonio Conte’s side. The players played for each other rather than themselves and their arrogance was replaced by humility and an unwavering attitude that Conte demands.
Few changes are expected from the side that was deployed against Chelsea. Giorgio Chiellini was impeccable in defence against the English side but Conte will be sweating on the fitness of his big defender. Chiellini faces a race against time to make it to the eleven against Milan but the general feeling is that Conte won’t risk him. Martin Caceres and Lucio will be vying for the Italian International’s spot in the back three with the Uruguayan looking the favorite to start ahead of the former Inter man. Leonardo Bonucci too is a doubt and could miss the game due to a fever. Should he fail to make it in time, youngster Luca Marrone will take his place in the centre of the back-line.
The midfield picks itself, with the dominating trio of Vidal-Pirlo-Marchisio looking to stamp their authority on the game. Andrea Pirlo, of course, had a memorable time with Milan and will be pulling the strings from the heart of midfield. After a slow start to the campaign, Pirlo, just like his beard, has grown magnificently well into form. Mauricio Isla should return to the set-up with a break for Stephan Lichtsteiner on the table keeping in line with Conte’s rotation policy. Isla’s pace and willingness to take his man on could cause Kevin Constant a few problems but he will also have one eye set on Milan’s talisman, Stephan El Shaarawy. Mirko Vucinic is expected to continue his partnership with Juventus’ most in-form striker Fabio Quagliarella.
Juventus’ midfield tussle with Milan’s three makes for an intriguing clash and it is here where the game could be decided. On paper, Juventus are more than capable of dictating proceedings owing to their superior quality and the away side will look to take advantage of Milan’s lack of quality in defence. Attacking them from the outset will be Conte’s orders but they should be wary of the threat Milan pose on the counter. The home side’s inability to convince defensively from set-pieces and aerial balls whipped into the box is an area Juventus will look to exploit as well.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres; Isla, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Vucinic, Quagliarella
Players To Watch Out For
Stephan El Shaarawy (AC Milan)
The shining light in a period of darkness, Stephan El Shaarawy has stood up and dragged Milan through these trying times single-handedly. The ‘Little Pharaoah’ has 10 goals to his credit in the league and his inspirational performances have been reminiscent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s displays at Milan. The Rossoneri will once again pit their hopes on the 20 year old’s shoulders in the hope of producing the goods he is well and truly capable of.
Arturo Vidal (Juventus)
The Chilean International is arguably the most in-form player in the Juventus roster. His all action display against Chelsea gained him many plaudits and rightly so as he announced himself on the European stage. Antonio Conte will hope for another lion-hearted display against the Milan giants as he looks to establish control over the midfield and support the Juventus attack as well.
Milan 1-2 Juventus
Juventus have emerged as clear favorites for this game but it’s an encounter which Antonio Conte won’t allow his side to take lightly. Milan have it in themselves to run this Juventus train off its tracks. It will be an exhilarating encounter with both the sides hunting for a win but form and sheer difference in quality should hand Juventus the three points, but only just.
Blast From The Past