We're only two rounds into the 2014-15 season, so there's no need to seriously jump to conclusions on what exactly is going in the calcio world right now. But let me post this question to all of you: Did we really expect the top of the Serie A table to look like this after two games?
Here's my personal short answer: "No."
Yeah, it's early and the way the table looks right now isn't that important in the grand scheme of things. It's not much of a surprise to see Juventus and Roma a perfect 2 for 2 to start the Serie A season because they clearly entered the season as the two best teams in Italy. But there's Milan on six points as well — not exactly where a good number of people would have pegged them to be after the first couple of weeks this season.
In that sense, it's rather convenient that Juventus and Milan highlight the third round of Serie A action this weekend. The question has already been posed by many: Can Milan hang with Juventus? One team has the superiorly talented squad, and I'm fairly certain we all know which club that is. Milan, however, is getting a lot of attention right now — and probably deservedly so for how they've started a season where expectations from the media and other folks were as low as they could possibly get.
And did I mention that there's also the whole managerial storyline going on here, too?
Once we figured out Max Allegri would be Juventus' manager, we knew this day was going to arrive sooner or later. It just so happens that the Mad Max comeback tour is rolling through the San Siro on the third week of the season instead of a later date on the calendar. Better to get it out of the way early on in the season, I guess. Especially so since Allegri isn't that far removed from his dismissal as Milan manager last season.
All of this added to a matchup between two teams that have had a number of memorable encounters over the years.
Three games played in all competitions, no goals allowed. I'm not just saying this because I'm a former goalkeeper. Although I'm sure San Gigi appreciates the three straight clean sheets to start the season.
Arturo Vidal may be back on the callups list for tomorrow night, but there are still big names missing the trip to Milan. The main names are the two bearded Andreas, Pirlo and Barzagli, who are still working their way back from their respective injuries. Also out injured is Luca Marrone, who has yet to appear in a game so far this season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Milan's newfound life under Pippo Inzaghi.
I would go on and on about Inzaghi and what has impressed me the most thus far. Or, I can just start this thing off with what James Horncastle had to say about Milan's first-year manager.
Inzaghi's philosophy is his personification. As a player he recognised he wasn't the most technically gifted. This Milan isn't either. He had to work harder to be successful. This Milan does, too. He acknowledged his limits and rather than operate within them, tried to push them. Ditto for Milan.
As much as we want to talk about how this is Allegri returning to his old stomping ground — and it is, no doubt about it — this is also Pippo's biggest test to date as Milan manager. Are Juventus vastly superior and more talented than Milan on paper? Well, yeah. But this game isn't simply won by writing names down and that's it. If anything, Inzaghi is trying to do what Antonio Conte did when he first took over at Juventus — re-instill a mentality, a certain kind of grinta and passion, of years past at the club he loves so much. Milan clearly don't have the big names that they did five, six, seven years ago, but Inzaghi has certainly made Milan into an entertaining watch thus far. That's more than a lot of other teams wish they could say.
Y’all, AC Milan are appointment viewing under Pippo Inzaghi this year.— Kevin McCauley (@kevinmccauley) September 14, 2014
2. How will Arturo Vidal factor into Saturday night's game?
The King is back, and now we wait to see how exactly he will be used. Allegri was asked about Vidal during his pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon. This is what he had to say (although who knows if he used Twitter handles):
Not exactly the answer we were looking for, but it's better than nothing ... right? With Vidal being called back up for the first time since Juve's opener against Chievo, it's the green light that says he is at least available to play against Milan. Who knows, maybe it's just a decoy by Allegri to put the thought of Vidal playing into the head of Inzaghi and Milan. "Oh, Arturo's here! Watch out now, you guys!" We'll have to wait until the starting lineups come out to know for sure what Allegri's plans are for Vidal. But he's back — and hopefully healthy for a good amount of time, too.
3. Juventus' defense vs. Milan's attack.
If you had Milan leading the league in goals after two rounds of play, you'd probably be swimming in a nice pile of cash right now. I don't think anybody who isn't named Pippo Inzaghi or is associated with Milan could have imagined that kind of start with everything that has gone on at the club in the last few transfer windows. But pretty much like everything else related to Juventus, this will be the best defense — at least on paper — Milan will be seeing in the early stage of the season. Juve's defense is playing well to start the season, with three straight shutouts out of the gate. But Milan enters will a ton of confidence after dropping a five spot on Parma last weekend.
4. The service to Fernando Llorente.
There is no doubting Llorente is quite good at what he does as a striker. There is also no doubting that even though Juventus totally dominated possession against Malmö on Tuesday night, Llorente was left isolated at the top of the attack for a good portion of the game. It's not exactly the easiest thing in the world to try and send in a cross to Fernando when there's three, four, or even five defenders around his general vicinity. He may be really good in the air, but even those odds aren't very good. The Juventus wingbacks — Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah/Patrice Evra — can send in all the crosses they want to Llorente, but if they don't reach their intended target, then the idea and effectiveness is basically killed off straight away. We know Llorente will do his usual work holding up play. There's just the added dimension to the attack when he gets the chance to take advantage of his prowess in the air.
Oh yeah, one more thing: #vamos.
5. If Carlos Tévez finally scoring in the Champions League the start of something completely awesome.
Guess what we don't have to talk about anymore? Yeah, Carlos Tévez and the Champions League bugaboo. Two goals right out of the shoot against Malmö in the group stage and all the talk from the last five years is thrown right out the window. Count me in as one of those folks who is quite pleased that narrative has been killed. Move on, shall we? Like a lot of other strikers, when Tévez gets rolling, the goals will come in bunches. The hope is that Tévez breaking his long duck in the Champions League will be what kickstarts the Argentinian's form into overdrive. And the last thing Milan wants to see is Carlitos repeating what he did the last time Juventus visited the San Siro.
My starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon; Cáceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pereyra, Marchisio, Pogba, Asamoah; Tévez, Llorente
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 P.M. ON THE WEST COAST
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