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Juventus vs. AC Milan Preview: Round 7 — Dancing with the Devils

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Dino Panato

Juventus isn't playing well. Milan isn't playing well. It doesn't take a football insider to figure out that those two sentences are, in fact, true. Each team has their own respective problems, some that can be fixed, while others weren't signed this summer and are currently sitting in Russia waiting for their contract to expire in January so they can move to Serie A.

I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

Juventus may be struggling, but they enter the weekend's action only two points away from the top of the table. Milan, on the other hand, are struggling and are still suck in the middle of the league table and haven't even cracked double digits in points on the season yet. Two different scenarios, each with their own unique twists and turns and will obviously continue — or end — in different kinds of ways.

What do they have in common? Well, they'll be playing tomorrow night at Juventus Stadium, for one. And when it comes to the clash of the Italian football titans, form doesn't always matter. Just look at the first time the two teams met last season — Juventus were riding high after beating Chelsea in Turin and then laid a complete egg at the San Siro.

And what do ya know, Juve are coming off a Champions League game again. But this time, they're coming off an incredibly disappointing result rather than, as The Rock would say, putting boots to asses and dominating the then-defending European champions in front of a raucous Juventus Stadium crowd.

So maybe this is the game that Juventus need to snap back into some kind of shape before we all head into the two-week international break. It'd be nice to talk about Juve doing something nice for the first time in a couple weeks. Lord knows it'd also be nice not to have the desire to smash my head against a wall. (Yes, the same wall I mentioned during those whacky post-Galatasaray shenanigans.)

But this isn't all about me. This is about Juventus trying to get a win against one of its biggest rivals. There, that's more like it. Juventus vs. Milan: Maybe not getting the same amount of hype as previous editions, but still important. That sounds good to me.

On with the show.

GOOD NEWS

I'll get back to you on that.

BAD NEWS

Milan will get a penalty in the 92nd minute. It won't be deserved, but they will be awarded one by the referee. Juventus players will swarm him in protest to no end. Mario Balotelli, who nobody knew actually made the trip to Turin, will come out of the stands in some kind of whacky outfit, step up to the penalty spot, and then give the lead two seconds before the final whistle is blown.

Or something like that.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

1. Who starts alongside Carlos Tevez?

This is becoming a regular thing, isn't it? Maybe we should look at the candidates.

Fernando Llorente: It took the big Spaniard all of about a minute to come close to getting a goal against Galatasaray on Wednesday night. That was just the beginning of another step forward in his adaptation to Italian football. He obviously isn't close to being in top form, but he's showing glimpses of the productive player we saw all those years with Athletic Bilbao. The process and acclimation was never going to be a quick one, but it's nice to see it actually begin to happen in front of our eyes.

Fabio Quagliarella: Mr. Champions League had what looked to be the game-winning goal until Juventus' defense forgot to, well, defend a minute after Juve took the lead. Whenever he has been on the field this season he has produced. Okay, so maybe not all the time, but a good portion of it. He's earned the chance to get more playing time and he's done it the way you like to see — taking advantage of the playing time Antonio Conte has given him thus far.

Decisions, decisions, Mr. Conte.

2. The impact of one Claudio Marchisio.

There will always be the argument about just how important Claudio Marchisio is to Juventus. And there will always the argument about why Paul Pogba should start over Marchisio. But the fact that Juventus struggled in a sans-Principino midfield against Galatasaray on Wednesday shows that maybe, just maybe, Marchisio is as important as some of us around here think he is. Pogba has played as much as anybody this season and has been the one player who hasn't been rotated out for a rest by Conte this season. Sunday night might be that game, as some are predicting. And if it is, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the left side of Juventus' midfield and defense plays a little bit better than it did on Wednesday.

3. Who will start on the right wing?

If he was healthy, Stephan Lichtsteiner would start and there would be no second guessing whatsoever. But because he had to come off at the break against Galatasaray and is looking like a doubt for tomorrow night. That means it's either Mauricio Isla coming off one of the worst games of his career as Lichtsteiner's replacement or Mr. Ordinary Simone Padoin on the right flank. Those options are...uninspiring? Maybe you've got a better way to describe it. All I know is that I wouldn't be opposed to Padoin playing from the start after the way Isla proved to be completely worthless against Galatasaray. Maybe he'll even be able to put in a couple decent crosses or two. That'd be nice for a change.

4. Stupid refereeing decisions.

Why? Because the Vegas odds aren't going to be a good investment when it comes to something happening. It's Italy and the refs are terrible. What a perfect time to have it magnified even that more than during Juventus-Milan match.

5. How Milan will survive with out Mario Balotelli.

With all of Milan's issues this season, they could always hang their hat on Super Mario doing something — good, or bad. But as we know, there will be no Mario Balotelli because of his latest dust-up and subsequent suspension. That means our old friend Alessandro Matri, who hasn't had the best of starts to his second go-around at the San Siro, will get the start as Milan's prima punta. While I'm still a fan of Matri, it's pretty easy to say that he's no Balotelli. And with Stephan El Shaarawy also out of the lineup, who knows what Milan's attack is actually capable of at this point.

My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Isla, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah; Quagliarella, Tevez

OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 ON THE WEST COAST