AC Milan v Juventus Preview
San Siro, Milan
by Jerrad Peters (@peterssoccer)
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: With AC Milan struggling and Juventus leading the league, the principals of last season’s title race are headed in distinctly different directions ahead of their Sunday engagement at the San Siro.
BREAKDOWN: It was in the corresponding fixture last season that the title race took its most decisive twist. With Scudetto holders AC Milan having taken the early lead through Antonio Nocerino’s opener, Sulley Muntari appeared to have headed the Rossoneri into a 2-0 lead midway through the first half, only for the goal to be disallowed.
Alessandro Matri’s impressive volley from in close following Simone Pepe’s cross in the 83rd minute ensured Juventus would take a point off the champions, and while Milan continued to deflate over the ensuing weeks Juventus only grew in strength and ended up winning the league by four points.
Juventus are once again four points clear atop the table, but it’s Inter Milan who are their most significant challengers this time around. AC Milan, meanwhile, are presently 12th in the standings and have won just three of seven matches at the San Siro so far this season.
Nevertheless, Rossoneri manager Massimiliano Allegri is promising a “new” Milan will take the field against Juventus on Sunday, and has hinted that Robinho may be among the starters when the players take the field.
“It is possible there will be a few changes compared to the most recent games,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “I am thinking about some changes in midfield and will evaluate what is the right move [Sunday] morning.”
Allegri was also asked about the players he lost over the summer who contested this fixture last February, most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva.
“There’s no point talking about them now,” he replied. “I must work with the ones we have.”
Despite the different, perhaps weakened, squad his side will face on Sunday, Juventus manager Antonio Conte insisted in his pre-match remarks that Milan still have enough strength to put up a fight.
“This is an important game against a side that right now might not be among the top teams, but has a squad of real quality,” he said.
Juventus are coming off a 3-0 win at home to Chelsea in the Champions League that all but sealed their progression to the Round of 16 and have lost just once in all competitions this season. That defeat was administered by Inter on November 3, but in their three matches since the Bianconeri have outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 9-1.
ESSENTIALS: AC Milan’s injury list is long and includes defenders Daniele Bonera, Djamel Mesbah, Didac Vila, Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini and midfielders Sulley Muntari and Rodney Strasser. Club captain Massimo Ambrosini is doubtful, although Alexandre Pato has been cleared to play.
Juventus could be without Giorgio Chiellini, who picked up a knock against Chelsea on Tuesday, although a decision on the defender will be made closer to kickoff.
When asked how he and his teammates would defeat Milan on Sunday, Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal answered, “With our heads, hearts and legs.”
AC Milan owner Minister Silvio Berlusconi has visited his side’s training facility twice in the last two weeks, leading to increased speculation that it’s only a matter of time before the former Italian Prime Minister shakes things up at the San Siro.
KEY BATTLE: Stephan El Shaarawy is the forward pulling all the strings for the Milan attack at the moment. The 20-year-old newly-capped Italy international has bagged 12 goals in his last 14 matches and will play on the left of the forward line on Sunday. He’ll see a lot of Juventus defender Andrea Barzagli, and the Bianconeri’s right-sided wing-back (either Mauricio Isla or Stephan Lichtsteiner) will have to keep an eye on El Shaarawy as well.
FORMATIONS: Allegri will deploy a 4-2-3-1 with Riccardo Montolivo and Nigel De Jong in the two central midfield positions. Bojan Krkic will start up top, and El Shaarawy, Kevin-Prince Boateng and either Urby Emanuelson or Robinho will operate in support.
Conte will send out a 3-5-2 formation with Kwadwo Asamoah working the channels on the left and Fabio Quagliarella and Sebastian Giovinco up top. The midfield trio of Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio will operate in the centre of the park.
BETLINE: 23/10; Draw 23/10; Juventus 6/5. These sides met four times last season (twice in the Coppa Italia) with Juventus winning twice and the other two matches ending in draws.