It seems as though we approach the final stretch of the schedule before the annual holiday break arrives the same way every season. This is when the official end of the first half of the Serie A schedule approaches, the final Champions League group stage games quickly pop up on us and whole lot of the season's future can be determined within a four-week period of time.
That, of course, leads right into where we're about to begin.
Juventus are about to open up a crucial pre-holiday break stretch that will go a long way in determining both their European and domestic future. There's Manchester City to deal with a couple of days, as everybody is well aware of, but first there's a little thing we like to that first meeting of the season against AC Milan. And while this Milan doesn't have the same kind of clout that the Milan of many of our youths had, it's still the first game out of the international break and a rivalry that may be showing signs of life again.
And, well, Juventus continuing this upward trend in the Serie A table sure would be nice. But you probably already knew that by now.
Juventus comes out of the international break in seventh place. Milan comes out of the international break in sixth place. This is as close the two clubs have been in the table in a handful of years, if I'm not mistaken, which means this game has a little added sizzle to it compared to previous seasons when Juve were running away with the Serie A title. Lately, it's been a one-sided kind of matchup — one because Juventus has been so good and one because Milan have been so meh — that has seen Juve win five out of the last six games against their arch-rivals from Milano.
.@OfficialAllegri: "#JuveMilan is one of the most important games in the Italian football calendar. We want to keep climbing the league."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) November 20, 2015
And that's the crucial part in all of this. Juventus, the picture of inconsistency this season, has gone from 14th to 12th to 10th to now seventh in the span of a couple of weeks thanks to some positive results. The gap between the top three and where Juventus currently is might not be able to be closed in one or two weeks, but it's certainly looking more of a realistic thing compared to months prior.
So when Juventus take the field Saturday night, they'll know full well what a win over Milan would mean. It's that time of year, after all. And I'm not talking about rushing the outlet stores for good deals on the day after Thanksgiving, you silly Americans.
Remember when we all thought nearly half of Juventus' starting lineup came back from international duty with injuries? Well, that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Thank goodness.
Juventus have been behind Milan in the standings for the entire season. /insert crying emojis/
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Old School vs. New School: Gianluigi Buffon vs. Gianluigi Donnarumma
Yeah, sure, I'm pulling out the goalkeeper bias card on this one, but I'm definitely not the only one talking about it. This is the easy narrative to talk about, and probably for good reason. Donnarumma has been really good in his short time as Milan's starting goalkeeper, while Buffon has been amazing for pretty much his entire 20-year career. The fact that this game is happening one day after Buffon made his Serie A debut is convenient yet kinda-sorta a little creepy kind of thing. Nevertheless, this is exactly what a lot of people are calling it — the current, legendary Italian goalkeeper facing the new kid on the block who's become the darling of the 2015-16 season so far. Donnarumma is being tipped by just about everybody to be the next hot shot youngster to take Buffon's No. 1 jersey whenever he retires. And there might not be a better stage to show that than against the GOAT himself.
2. Who starts up front for Juventus?
This, of course, is dependent on what formation Max Allegri actually goes with. Seeing as most of the mock lineups in the Italian media I've seen is saying 4-3-3, then I guess we'll just pretend for our sake that it will be 4-3-3. And that means that we could be in another Álvaro Morata out on the wing kind of situation. Or maybe Paulo Dybala will get the start. I really don't know. The only thing for certain is that if Allegri goes 4-3-3, it will involve a hot-and-cold Juan Cuadrado and then one of Morata, Dybala and Mario Mandzukic being the odd man out and starting on the bench. That's the unfortunate thing in this. Each of those players have plenty of value. It's just hard to measure it when they're not actually playing on the filed or being deployed in their not-so-best position. Minor details, I know.
3. Can Juventus come out of the international break the same way they went into it?
The million-dollar question, really. Juventus has been fighting the inconsistency bug all season long. We know that. But could they have actually turned some kind of corner with their comeback win over Empoli two weeks ago? That's the hope — not just from us, but certainly from everybody in Juventus colors as well. So far this season, when they've looked to be taking one step forward, they've immediately gone back to the team that's frustrated the living hell out of us all. We thought that might be happening again when they fell behind 1-0 to Empoli, but luckily that was squashed and Juve went on to pick up three points. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if the 1-0-against-Empoli version of Juventus shows up, then there's a problem here. If there's the one that scored three unanswered goals, then things might actually be okay against Milan.
My starting lineup
Juventus XI (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Patrice Evra; Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Stefano Sturaro; Paul Pogba; Paulo Dybala, Alvaro Morata
How to watch
TV: beIN Sports, beIN Sports en Español (United States); beIN Sports Canada, beIN Sports en Español (Canada); BT Sport 1 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Supercalcio HD (Italy)
Online: beIN Sports CONNECT (United States and Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom) Sky Go Italia (Italy)
Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live on Twitter. If you haven't already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.