In the past, this matchup would be talked about just as much as the Derby d'Italia or Juventus vs. Chelsea in the Champions League. It had as much clout as any game out there in Europe. It was the meeting of Italy's two biggest teams, the two most historic clubs out there in the country.
Well, maybe not this year.
Juventus are still Juventus. They are the ones with the Scudetto patch in the middle of their chests. Milan, on the other hand, aren't exactly the same Milan from five or 10 years ago. Heck, they aren't even close to the same team as last season.
Change is a natural occurrence. For AC Milan, club-rattling changes came in just one swift, fast-acting summer of seeing a whole bunch of players walk out the door. No more Ibra. No more Thiago Silva. They're off partying with just about half of last year's Serie A in Paris right now.
But you know this by now. Milan's struggles this season aren't some new-found discovery that I used my investigative journalism class skills to uncover. This kind of season was kinda expected once the last few big names walked out of Milanello and went off to sign new contracts that stuffed their pockets full of cash. But to the extent of the struggles — so incredibly roller coaster-like — is a surprise to some.
So, because of this, a derby that has been so important has lost a little bit of its juice. Certainly not all of it, but doesn't it seem like it's lacking that so-called flair it once did? It was so competitive, so intense last year. Now, it seems like it just needs Milan to be more like, well, Milan.
For one, Juventus are back to being Juventus — crushing the opposition and allowing no goals at the same time. The post-Inter world is a beautiful one. There are wins — sans the scoreless draw with Lazio — and then there are the wins Juve have recorded the past three weeks. We need to look no further than the goal differential Juventus has put up since the loss to Inter the first weekend of November: Four games, 13 goals scored, 1 allowed. That's beautiful stuff. For somebody who loves them a combination of offense and stellar defense, that's some good lookin' stuff right there. If you need a minute, just see yourself out...
I want a Stephan El Shaarawy — and that's obviously because he's not on the Juventus roster. He probably won't be for quite some time — or ever — and that sucks. That just means Juventus are just gonna have to keep him from finding the back of the net, right? Yeah, that sounds like a fantastic idea. Go do that, fellas.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. What the starting defense looks like. There have been rumblings, as many of us know, that Juventus' rock-solid defense may look a wee bit different come Sunday night at the San Siro. Leo Bonucci is battling the flu, while Giorgio Chiellini is showing a few after effects — a calf strain — of is his awesome play the last few weeks. In other years, I'd be freaked the hell out if a defender was sick and/or injured. Now, with the kind of options available to Antonio Conte, things are a little bit calmer as I type this preview out for all of you. If Luca Marrone has to take over for Bonucci, so be it. If Martin Caceres has to step in for somebody, that's okay, too. While they aren't starting on a regular basis, there a still some darn good players on the Juventus bench.
2. How said defense, regardless of its arrangement, contains Sonic the Egyptian-Italian. As I said, Stephan El Shaarawy is good. Really, really good. And of all the strikers scoring a bunch of goals to start the season, he is probably the most surprising. Not because he's doing so — the boy has talent. But it's the simple fact that he's currently one of Serie A's most consistent goal scorers and he's only 20 years old. Yeah, I don't really want to imagine how good he'll be in a few years, but I guess we're going to find that out soon enough.
3.Which Milan shows up. A lot of this season at Milanello can be described with one word: Inconsistent. It's had it's moments, but also it's extremely low points. Obviously the media is going to concentrate on the valleys rather than the peaks because, well, that's what sells papers and gets ratings. But if you didn't know any better, you wouldn't know that Milan are coming off a win in the Champions League and a 2-2 draw against Napoli. So it's not all bad, I guess.
4. Strikers! Let's talk strikers! Vucinic-Quagliarella? Vucinic-Giovinco? Quagliarella-Giovinco? None of the above? Yeah, a talking point every week has become that much more important now that Mirko's kicked his cold and was back in the lineup against Chelsea. We all know about the rotation Conte employs, we just don't know the exactly details of it. Quagliarella is the in-form player at the moment and this seems like another chance for him to shine. Maybe Conte has found a situation that works for him? I dunno. I'm still trying to figure this thing out.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Quagliarella, Giovinco
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon, Barzagli, Marrone, Caceres; Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Quagliarella, Giovinco
Gotta be prepared for last-minute changes, right? Right.
WORLDWIDE KICKOFF TIMES: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY, 2:45 P.M. KICKOFF ON THE EAST COAST, 11:45 A.M. OUT WEST