In dire times, even a natural win like the Malmoe one feels like an oasis in the desert. Hopefully, it starts building some positive momentum. However, Juventus are immediately in for a treat as they will host one of the hottest sides in the League.
The problem for the Bianconeri was not dropping the Napoli clash, which was totally predictable given the circumstances. Arguably, that game went better than imagined considering all the absences. The Partenopei pulled the strings, but they did not create several major chances. They might not have even come out on top if it were not for the usual self-inflicted howlers. But the meager haul in the first two matchdays makes every contest a must-win and any further misstep a significant blow. Therefore, Juventus will be in desperate need of the three points this weekend and in all the other fixtures before the next break. And that will be a tall order.
Massimiliano Allegri appears to have settled in on his early scheme. Unfortunately, it is similar to the hybrid 4-4-2/3-5-2 used by Andrea Pirlo for most of the past campaign. There is no longer the need for the Old Lady to have an asymmetrical tactic anymore. Hopefully, it is just a product of the absences, but it is time to trot out two proper wingers out there. Juan Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa work hard enough defensively to make it sustainable.
Instead, every manager seems to have a weird fascination with Adrien Rabiot, who must look like Godzilla in practice. His supposed skills came out once every four or five matches, and then he goes back to his underwhelming and slow self. Deploying him as ‘fake’ left winger is just baffling. It holds the team back offensively and does not add a whole lot in the passive phase. Even fielding a purer although unexciting option like Federico Bernardeschi would yield better results. Or Weston McKennie, who might be a little chaotic but is dynamic and masterful in sneaking into the box. Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur should simply alternate in the middle now that Manuel Locatelli is in town. Thankfully, he has fitted right in and is already showing good command.
Milan are significantly further along in their process of building an identity than Juventus, which will give them an advantage Sunday night. But the Bianconeri will eventually have to show some progress in that regard. There is no looming drama, nerve-wracking departures, or injury crisis marring the lead-up of this one; therefore, it will be the first real uncontaminated test of the campaign. The injuries to the Rossoneri leave an intriguing opening for the Old Lady, more in terms of charisma than technically speaking, because the opponents generally adapt masterfully to the men they have at their disposal in any given match.
Chiesa is back for this one, but it remains to be seen whether he will actually start. He could replace either Danilo, with Juan Cuadrado at right-back, or Rabiot. But the coach heavily suggested he prefers him on the right flank. Usual three-way duel in the back, with Giorgio Chiellini likely the favorite to start, although Milan will not have a big bad center-forward to go mano-a-mano with.
Juventus: (4-4-2) Szczesny; Danilo, De Ligt, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Cuadrado, Bentancur, Locatelli, Rabiot; Dybala, Morata.
Injuries: Kaio Jorge (thigh strain), Arthur (lower leg ossification).
Milan have had a jam-packed summer, with changes in a few key positions. However, the early matches suggest they have been able to retain their identity and strong suits. Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu were certainly major losses. However, they bounced either with a quality replacement, Mike Maignan, or by rejiggering their scheme.
In the end, they could not land a proper substitute for the Turkish midfielder. Junior Messias will eventually be useful once in shape. He was great at Crotone last season, but, also considering his age, he is probably going to be more of an elite bench option at this level. Brahim Diaz is mostly shouldering the responsibility of filling in. He is not the same type of player, as Calhanoglu was a pivotal offensive hub and a fantastic distributor. Instead, the Spaniard has a more straightforward style and can bend opposing defenses at will with his supersonic speed. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Olivier Giroud, and the midfielders make up for what they lost from the creative standpoint.
The management added a lot of depth across the board, and they took advantage of it right away. Ibrahimovic was not available to open the season, but Giroud picked up the slack seamlessly. Then the Frenchman went down with COVID, but they did not skip a beat going with a light attack featuring Ante Rebic as a mobile no.9. Rafael Leao is still a boom-or-bust player, but he has been pretty good at the start of the campaign. They have given him plenty of reps as a left-winger, and he has gotten accustomed to it. Since he is not a finished product yet, that is more helpful than being tossed around in multiple positions. And it allows them to use Rebic as a jack-of-all-trades.
The most impressive aspects about Milan in their resurgence since Stefano Pioli took over have been their maturity and versatility. They can win matches in any method. They can either take command from start to finish, smothering the opponents, or they can sit back and wait for an opportunity to strike quickly. With Leao and Diaz in more prominent roles and Theo Hernandez and Alexis Saelemaekers featuring in most matches, they have more explosivity than in the past. They can switch field position in no time, and they have a bunch of clever finishers. Therefore, they are never really out of a game, as it transpired in Liverpool. Even though they seemed outmatched for most of it, it takes them just a couple of well-put-together interplays to score. If the defense is stingy enough, and it usually is, that is a nice formula for success.
Sandro Tonali has gotten off to a great start, while Ismael Bennacer has been slowed down by an early bout with Coronavirus. The Italian midfielder is starting to show the same quality that made him a highly coveted player in Brescia. And that goes to show that it often just takes some time with youngsters, especially when they make a big jump.
They are dealing with a few injury problems in this one. Ibrahimovic and Giroud are both out of commission, therefore they will go with a quick attack spearheaded by Rebic. Davide Calabria is likely out as well, and Alessandro Florenzi will get his first start as right-back, as he has played as a winger thus far. There is also a change Fikayo Tomori is adapted there for more stability, making room for Alessandro Romagnoli in the middle. The captain could also play over Simon Kjaer due to the tight schedule. Maignan is slightly in doubt due to a hand problem.
Milan: (4-2-3-1) Maignan; Florenzi, Kjaer, Tomori, Hernandez; Tonali, Kessie; Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, Leao; Rebic.
Injuries: Ibrahimovic (Achilles soreness), Giroud (back pain), Krunic, Bakayoko (calf injury), Calabria (thigh pull).