Juventus V AC Milan
Serie A – Week 22 [Saturday, 7th February – 19:45 GMT] – Juventus Stadium
Last week’s Udinese draw was, thanks to Roma, ultimately not that impactful on Juve’s league standing. Still, dropped points are dropped points. This upcoming match versus Milan is both an opportunity to make up for those points, and of course another chance for Max Allegri to get revenge on his ex-employers. Obviously, Juventus beat Milan in the fall, but the game was shockingly close and the scoreline was only 1-0. Since then, the two teams’ fortunes have gone in opposite directions.
Unfortunately Allegri does have a few injuries to fret over: Martin Caceres is most likely going to miss the game. Additionally Arturo Vidal is not confirmed to return from his latest knock either. Vidal’s status is questionable, but if he is healthy he will likely start. Caceres’ status, while more doubtful, is also more important in regards to the formation. If Caceres is healthy, the 4-3-1-2 is likely to appear. If not, Max Allegri will probably go with a 3-5-2. As of now, I am going to assume that Allegri is using a 3-5-2. If this were to change, the starting lineup wouldn’t necessarily, with the exception of Caceres and of course a midfielder being swapped – in a sense – for a centerback.
In a 3-5-2, expect to see Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini to start with Angelo Ogbonna. While Ogbonna has seen his playing time a bit limited so far in 2015 – he has still performed consistently. Coincidentally, Ogbonna substituted Martin Caceres in the first game versus Milan, after Caceres came off with an injury.
On the flanks the choices are limited. Stephan Lichsteiner is suspended, and while Roberto Pereyra can sort of play right wing back – as Simone Pepe has a few times, but, not for years – Martin Caceres is really the only available player who is comfortable there. So, if it’s not Caceres and we see a 3-5-2, Roberto Pereyra is expected to be on the right flank. A caveat, as well: Simone Padoin could be picked to start at right back, in a four man backline, But this is the least likely outcome
Now, out left there is finally a new option in addition to Patrice Evra and Simone Padoin: Paolo De Ceglie. Not really an exciting name or great player, but, at least Evra can get some rest once in a while. Versus Milan though, Evra will start. He will probably play the full match, as well.
Due to Vidal’s injury the midfield picture is cloudy. Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, and Paul Pogba should start. Simone Padoin will probably start in place of Vidal if he the Chilean is still hurt. Though again, one could swap Pereyra and Padoin in these scenarios and still have a realistic guess. For now, assume Padoin in the midfield.
Finally the striking corps is another area where it’s not clear who will start. Carlos Tevez is a guarantee, per usual. However it now seems we have a legitimate battle between Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Morata for that other starting striker spot. I think in some ways, for the next match at least, the decision again lies on the formation. If there is a 3-5-2, I expect Llorente. If there is a 4-3-1-2, I expect to see Morata. But that could be wrong! Again, we will need to see who Allegri picks on Saturday.
3-5-2: Buffon; Ogbonna, Bonucci, Chiellini; Pereyra, Evra, Pirlo, Marchisio, Pogba; Tevez, Llorente
Kwadwo Asamoah and Romulo (Both undergone knee surgery)
Arturo Vidal and Martin Caceres
After the winter break, Milan won only one Serie A match out of five, the most recent one against the wrecked Parma. In the other four, they have been defeated by Sassuolo, Atalanta and Lazio and they tied against Torino. In the meantime, they beat Sassuolo in Coppa Italia, but Stefano Pioli’s squad crushed their hopes of winning a title two weeks later. It’s been an awful month for them and the rookie coach Filippo Inzaghi is on the hot seat, with the rumours about his potential replacement at the end of the season gaining more and more steam.
As always, the coach is only part of the problem. Inzaghi prefers an offensive-minded approach, but he probably doesn’t have good enough roster to deliver it as he would like to. The defensive blunders have been countless, especially on set pieces, and the midfield just lacks the needed quality, quick-thinking and sharp passing. The attack is loaded and Jeremy Menez has been a star this season (even though sometimes he holds the ball too long), Keisuke Honda has been very prolific early in the season.,Giacomo Bonaventura has been a useful jack-of-all-trades that allowed them to switch comfortably from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 when they wanted to. We’ll see what kind of contribution Alessio Cerci and Mattia Destro (suspended for this match) will be able to provide. On paper, it looks good, but the problems lie elsewhere.
The defense probably started to tail off when Alex first got injured and then had some small relapses and never quite managed to play as well as he was doing in the very first part of the season. Due the suspensions of Philippe Mexes and the injuries to Ignazio Abate, Mattia De Sciglio, Cristian Zapata and Daniele Bonera, they’ll be forced to field a four-man defensive line composed basically by four centre-backs. They blew the dust off Zaccardo against Parma as they had run out of right-backs (he played fairly well, but, then again, it was just Parma) and Salvatore Bocchetti made his debut as left-back. Alex and Adil Rami will be in the heart of the season. Certainly a very muscular defense, but not very quick and it could easily slip on one of those usual mistakes that happen when the defenders aren’t familiar with each other. The other newcomer Gabriel Paletta has a chance to start (maybe replacing Zaccardo, with Rami on the right), but that wouldn’t change much, while Luca Antonelli would add some pace. We’ll see whether Pippo will trust them already.
With Riccardo Montolivo and Nigel De Jong unlikely to play, Andrea Poli, Micheal Essien and Sulley Muntari (or Marko Van Ginkel) will have the task to hold the fort in the middle of the pitch. It’s blatant that there’s not much creativity there and this is where, in my opinion, Milan have struggled the most (and should have addressed the issue in the January window). The presence of Montolivo doesn’t even remotely solve the issue too. Honda and Bonaventura are slated to flank Menez in the trident, even though it’s possible that Cerci will be able to win the starting spot in the next two days, in place of Bonaventura, who’s nursing a bummed shoulder, or with the former Atalanta player in the midfield.
The numbers of Milan aren’t horrible: 31 goals scored (5th best in Serie A) and 26 conceded (tied-8th), but the last few performances have been frankly disheartening and they inexplicably dropped too many points that would have been very helpful in the race for a Champions League spot (that was wide open until Napoli broke away from the pack). They are in eight position, ten points behind Benitez’s side and five points behind the fifth place occupied by Sampdoria, which guarantees the qualification to Europa League.
Milan have quality, especially up front, but they have been a one-trick pony so far. If you take away the counter-attacking game, the first option, they become predictable due to the lack of a harmonious team play and of a smart distributor in the middle: 52% of ball possession per game is historically abysmal for possession-oriented team like Milan. When they can’t run-and-gun, Menez tends to be too stubborn, Honda disappears, Bonaventura can’t make sneaky cuts and so on. They usually don’t play with a true centre-forward, so they don’t score cheap goals.
Their defense, not only their defenders, is pretty sloppy and suffer when put under pressure. They concede more than 14 shots per game, which is worse than Empoli, Parma and Empoli (13th overall). As far as performances on the road are concerned, they are in the middle of the group with two wins, six draws and two losses. In the first match of the season, when both teams were still searching for their identities, Juventus won 1-0 with a Tevez goal in the second half, but the performance of the Allegri boys was convincing.
Diego Lopez; Zaccardo, Alex, Rami, Bocchetti; Poli, Essien, Muntari; Honda, Menez, Bonaventura.
Cristian Zapata (foot), Mattia De Sciglio (foot), Daniele Bonera (thigh), Stephan El Shaarawy (foot), Ignazio Abate (thigh), Ricardo Montolivo (thigh), Nigel De Jong (thigh), Hachim Mastour (knee).
Phillip Mexes, Mattia Destro.