AC Milan hosted Juventus for the first time this season in Serie A, as the home side looked to continue their unbeaten run in the league so far. Both the teams arrived at the San Siro with two back-to-back wins with Juventus even victorious in midweek in the UEFA Champions League. A lot has changed on the managerial front for both of these Italian teams, with the most notable one being the change in coaches. While Milan placed their faith in Inzaghi, who had earlier won everything there is with the Milan Primavera, Juventus appointed Allegri, who was removed after Milan’s nightmare start last season.
Both the coaches had a history between them, as it was reported that Inzaghi and Allegri clashed at least on three separate occasions during Allegri’s reign at Milan. The last of those came during Inzaghi’s last year, when he overcame a career-threatening ACL tear to make it to the first team. In spite of being fit and ready to play, he rarely saw any action and it came to such a situation that Inzaghi even thought of leaving Milan in the January transfer window to look for regular playing time.
With such animosity between these two individuals, the clash was hyped to be one between Inzaghi and Juventus rather than between Milan and Juventus. Although both of them downplayed the past incidents in their interviews, one felt that whichever team scored would automatically prove a point in their favor. While Allegri visited the San Siro dugout for the first time since his removal and immediately took the opposition seat, Inzaghi walked over to the Juventus dugout and exchanged pleasantries. A moment for the camera, but one with far-reaching consequences.
Milan stuck to their 4-3-3 formation as this was the one which had given them goals and points in their previous two matches. While the attacking talent was there for all to see, the defensive lapses exposed Milan’s vulnerability at the back. Having lost Diego Lopez and Saponara to injury, Milan also missed Bonera with a suspension. In a bid to heighten their attacking options, Milan called up El Shaarawy and new recruit, Torres to the first team. Milan changed their back-line, opting to field Rami and Zapata as the central defensive duo. While the midfield remained the same, it did transmit a sense of desperation rather than options for Inzaghi. With Montolivo and Saponara out of the squad, Milan does have some muscle in the midfield, but Inzaghi is yet to use any of them so far. El Shaarawy returned to the forward line replacing Bonaventura as Menez once more started in the false nine position.
When Allegri was appointed the head coach at Juventus, it was expected that he will change the formation to his favored 4-3-3. However, he stuck with their tried and tested 3-5-2 formation. So far this season, Juventus are yet to concede a goal and that goes a long way to show that the players have continued the process after the departure of Conte. Leading the most accomplished team in the subcontinent isn’t an easy affair, but to Allegri’s credit, he hasn’t put a foot wrong so far. The midweek victory over Malmo helped in that regard. For Juventus, Marrone and Pirlo missed this match due to injury and even though there was some doubt over Vidal, he was eventually included in the team. Juventus have a very solid back-line in Caceres-Bonucci-Chiellini, with players like Pereyra, Marchisio and Pogba providing the impetus from the midfield. Llorente and Tevez formed the strike force, with Llorente sometimes playing the role of a single striker with Tevez dropping a bit deeper.
The match started at a slow pace with both teams feeling out each other before going for the kill. Inzaghi’s Milan deployed a fast counter-attacking formula against Juventus’ high intensity tireless running all over the pitch. Juventus deployed a high line from the very onset and as the match progressed, Milan midfield was pushed back to their own half. It was not that they did not have the possession or the ball, but anytime a Milan midfielder had possession, he was hounded till the point he retreated to his own half. Pereyra, Marchisio and Pogba pressured De Jong and Muntari as Poli preferred to play a bit higher role. The first chance of the match came Juventus’ way when Pereyra shot over the bar. Milan slowly gained confidence and composure as the first half progressed and their first real chance came when Honda headed straight to Buffon. Milan had Abbiati at the back saving them on many occasions with most of them coming from Llorente. The home side tried to shackle Tevez and for some portions of the match, they succeeded in doing that. Before the end of the first half, Llorente had a one on one saved against Abbiati. Marchisio came the closest to scoring as his shot hit the woodwork. Ogbonna came on for Caceres for what appeared to be a muscle problem.
The second half started a bit slower than the first, with the visitors keeping possession of the ball and Milan looking to break with Menez and El Shaarawy. Menez was a nuisance throughout the match, but lacked in his positional sense. It is a known fact that Menez likes playing on the left – a place where El Shaarawy was operating and during many occasions, he was seen drifting to the left, leaving a hole in the middle. At times, El Shaarawy became the central striker. Bonaventura replaced El Shaarawy soon after and minutes later, Tevez scored the only goal of the night. Working his way through a forest of Milan midfielders and defenders, Tevez waited for Abbiati to commit before finishing in the far corner. A flurry of substitutions followed from both the sides, with Milan throwing in four forwards and Juventus only replacing Pereyra with Vidal. While Milan attacked with vigor, Juventus defense held firm. Even a fast Torres could not get past the stubborn formation.
A victory was expected from Juventus, with the final score line confirming their status as the top team in Italy. Milan have only just began their journey and it will take quite some time till they become Scudetto material but it has been an encouraging start from Milan this season. They have to address their concerns at the back if they are to finish high up the table this season. Juventus, on the other hand, has continued so easily under Allegri that one wonders whether there has been any change at all at the helm. The victory leaves Juventus rightfully at the top of the table.