Juventus have turned things around in the matches against the minnows, which, considering their history, was a bizarre problem. The squad now plays with authority and pulls strings more often than not. It will never have spectacular style, but it can indeed be effective.
Two more steps are missing to achieve an elite level of consistency and performance. There are still 10/15 minutes blackouts in most matches, where the Bianconeri risk throwing away what they have been so patiently building. It happened even in the Coppa Italia against Sampdoria. It is striking how the team can squander everything in a blink of an eye because they lower their level of focus. It is not a new problem, and it should have been solved a while back.
Secondly, it is crucial to rack up points against the second or third-tier sides, and such haul will end up deciding the Champions League race. Still, a signature win against a top club would do wonders for the outlook of the whole campaign. This clash represents a ripe opportunity in that respect.
The late January break is a nice touch, as teams are more focused on the transfer market anyway. It is nothing new for Juventus, but this window has felt like a long tease, and we will see whether something will actually happen down the stretch. The roster needs real investments and not just slapdash loan deals to be improved.
The rumours are all over the place. Technically speaking, it does not make a ton of sense to give up on Arthur now that he is finding some consistency. The partnership with Manuel Locatelli is working, and it frees up the former Sassuolo man, who can be a decent weapon of offense too. If the management has the funds they should go out and get a top striker, but it is not an easy proposition. A pure left winger, somebody like Juan Cuadrado but on the other flank, would help the formation look a lot less makeshift and unbalanced all the time.
Speaking of the front office, the handling of the new contract of Paulo Dybala is beginning to look like a total debacle. It is not entirely up to the current brass, but some unnecessarily snarky remarks have made things worse. The matter should have been wrapped up years ago, and it is a further signal of how the club descended from the pedestal where it spent almost a decade. Results are not just a product of what happens on the pitch, and so the recent slide, although due, is not shocking since a lot of stuff has been bungled by the bigwigs. Negotiating is fine, but it takes just a quick look at the payroll to see that there are a few other areas where the directors should be counting their pennies rather than on the salary of one of the cornerstones.
The gaffer did not give many hints about the line-up, but it is most likely going to be again an asymmetric 4-2-3-1 with Weston McKennie on the flank since it has worked pretty well. Three men are competing for one spot next to Locatelli, while the other question marks are the role of Cuadrado and who will get the nod at left-back.
Juventus: (4-2-3-1) Szczesny; De Sciglio, De Ligt, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Locatelli, Rabiot; Cuadrado, Dybala, McKennie; Morata.
Absences: Chiesa (ACL tear), Ramsey, Bonucci (thigh injury).
In the last couple of months, Milan have lost some of the continuity that made them the early favourites for the Scudetto. They could not have possibly imagined winning most matches as it was the case in the early going, but some slip-ups and showings have been hard to explain. The most recent one versus Spezia falls in such a category, and while the referee made a blatant mistake, they should have put the game away beforehand.
Maybe absences caught up to them while they had navigated them brilliantly at the start of the campaign. While one can pinpoint some flaws here and there, in the end, their biggest issue is that Inter are so rock-solid. You have to be nearly perfect to keep up with them, and they have not been lately.
COVID-19, injuries, and AFCON are not a swell combination, but they had won three matches in a row before things came to a head last week. Pierre Kalulu and Matteo Gabbia had fared well in relief up until that match. Alessio Romagnoli is back for this one and will replace one of the two. Their defense is inevitably weaker and less muscular without the commanding Fikayo Tomori.
The same goes for the midfield, as Franck Kessié is taking part in the international competition. Sandro Tonali has been brilliant and has often been able to sustain it on his own. As far as his potential partners are concerned, Rade Krunic and Tiemoué Bakayoko have completely different traits. The former does not have a great ceiling but has been steadier, while the latter provides a ton of physicality, but is also very sloppy and outright poor at times. Ismael Bennacer, who is superior to both, is available due to Algeria’s early elimination, but it would be a surprise to see him start immediately.
Rafael Leao has been tremendous since recently returning from injury, and they will be whole once Ante Rebic fully gets his legs underneath him too. Alexis Saelemaekers will probably man the right flank, as this one figures to be a clash where they need more work rate. His competitor Junior Messias has outplayed him, but he is a pure attacker, differently from the Belgian. He can be a devastating weapon off the bench, though.
Other than Kessié and Tomori, they are almost all their pieces, although some not at 100 percent. Theo Hernandez has had a few slow weeks, but he roared back at the start of 2022, resuming being a force down the flank and being a major factor in the final third. Instead, Brahim Diaz, one of their top contributors in the first few matches, has gone in the opposite direction, maybe because opponents have figured him out or since his role has been de-emphasized with the ball gravitating more towards the flanks and the striker, and he does not do as well with limited touches. Still, his speed is a big asset between the lines, and even when he has been underwhelming, they have had no benefits from subbing him off or taking him out of the line-up. Krunic is an option for this role too in a more defensive posture.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud have both been prolific when healthy, which has not been the case very often. They are both available for this one, which is a rarity, and the coach could be tempted to use them together, at least for a chunk of the match. They are still exploring the pairing, but it is not particularly difficult to deploy since the Swedish ace has always been a playmaker and a willing passer. There is a slight speed deficit though.
It is unfortunate, but San Siro not being packed goes in Juventus’ favour. After being terrific at home for more than a calendar year, they have won in just two of the last four matches, losing to Sassuolo, Napoli and Spezia. In the two recent stumbles, they botched the mental approach, so there could be an opening for Juventus to pick up the full spoils if they came to play with the right attitude.
Milan: (4-2-3-1) Maignan; Florenzi, Kalulu, Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez; Bakayoko, Tonali; Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, Leao; Ibrahimovic.
Absences: Kessié, Ballo-Touré (AFCON), Tomori (meniscus tear), Kjaer (ACL tear), Pellegri (thigh injury).