San Siro makes final preparations as AC Milan get ready to be the final hurdle, the last remaining “big team test” in the league that separates Juventus from a fifth consecutive Scudetto.
Usually the most underrated fixture in the Serie A calandar, yet one of the most highly anticipated one, the Milan-Juventus rivalry boasts of everything. From an 111 year old history when an Ettore Negretti brace and another Herbert Kilpin goal was enough for Milan to seal the first ever tie between the two sides on April 28, 1901, to the only ever all-Italian final in the Champions League in 2003, this rivalry has it all, except the missing label of a derby.
Thirteen years from that historic moment, whose very thought keeps a good number of Serie A fans going in spite of a future with little promise, comes the customary two-times-a-year routine (at times with a possible third in the Italian Cup) when the rivalry must once again be revivified with a Promethean fastidiousness. Rivalry, never enmity.
Despite their all too evident asymmetry, one having fallen from grace only to continually falter at every desperate attempt of recollecting itself and the other having fallen only to see itself risen higher than ever before, this rivalry is one that is a re-invigoration of tradition, of heritage and of a glorious past risking erasure with every footfall towards the future.
The story of the season for these two teams bear a faint resemblance with their recent history in general – Juve floundered at the start of the season but have reached astronomical milestones this season in terms of their form, while their Milanese compatriots continue to hit every bump on the road, big or small which accounts for their precarious 6th position in the table.
Juventus won the reverse fixture in Turin by a slender one goal margin taking Juventus’ tally of wins against Milan in the last 10 meetings to 7, with Milan having won 2. That coupled with Milan’s form, which is as reliable as a politician’s promise, it is safe to look forward to an impetuous and brusque knock back for Milan.
Mihajlovic vs Allegri
On several occasions this season, the players have shown and have been vocal about their complete commitment to Sinisa Mihajlovic, something that the Milan president really ought to take a cue from. The latest show of support was from club captain Montolivo, who will be missing out the game due to injury.
“When the results don’t come a lot of names are mentioned, but the club and the team have full confidence in Mihajlovic and I hope to continue next year with him.” (via FourFourTwo)
The Serbian is very different in his approach to the game to his opponent number who will be occupying the Juve bench on Sunday. Having grown up in war-ravaged Serbia, a fact which he often recounts while talking to the press, the former Inter player is a tough disciplinarian with an attentive eye towards small details which he is very meticulous towards.
His fiery passion, zeal and earnestness, all of which are missing in Allegri, compliments his style of being the hard taskmaster. Allegri, on the other hand, is the peninsula’s best tactician, his demeanour is that of a quintessential gentleman, although occasionally the refinement makes way for the ruffian coarseness which Juve fans welcome.
Bonaventura vs Alex Sandro
Arguably Milan’s best player of the last two seasons combined, Jack Bonaventura is yet to perform consistently in big games.
Because of his pace, composure, trickery and quick feet, Allegri will perhaps turn to Brazilian Alex Sandro who was brought on from Porto this season to be Evra’s understudy and eventual replacement.
Sandro adds more dimension to the Juve attacking threat alongside Pogba who also operates on the left flank and will look to test Antonelli with his dribbling and crossing. However Sandro’s defensive depth has not been adequately put to test in Serie A.
The 26 year old Bonaventura who has 7 goals to his name this season will probably see to it that analysts will have an opinion on Sandro’s defensive capabilities by the end of the night.
Bacca vs Bonucci/Rugani
Carlos Bacca, Milan’s prized possession, who has on occasion carried the team on his shoulders, is coming off the back of an excellent international outing. At times however in Serie A, Bacca has been inadequate when Milan needed him the most. He was completely subdued in the reverse fixture against Juventus back in November.
Having acknowledged at times that being a striker in Serie A is very difficult, he will look to get the better of Leonardo Bonucci and young prodigy Rugani, who hasn’t featured much this season. Rugani had a difficult start to his Juve career but has done relatively well since then. Allegri is, for some reason, very protective of the youngster and is only forced to field him now because all his other options are unavailable – Caceres and Chiellini both being out with injury.
The prolific Milan centre forward will look to target the young ex-Empoli player and will use his experience well.
Mandzukic vs Romagnoli
The meeting between the two teams will finally see Romagnoli reunited with his Italy U-21 defensive partner Rugani, albeit as rivals. Romagnoli is undoubtedly the more mature of the two centre backs, and definitely more daunting, tall and imposing as a presence.
He will find his likely match in the experienced Mario Mandzukic. The contest between these two footballers will be a showcasing of strength with a likelihood things turning ugly. Dybala who scored the decisive winner in the reverse fixture had bested Romagnoli on several occasions during that game by virtue of his sheer pace and trickery. Dybala is facing a race against time to be fit for the match and there is a probability of him missing out.