Over the last few days, I've had this inner monologue or thought process running through my head on a regular basis. Am I supposed to get truly hyped up because it's Milan-Juventus like the good old days? Do I forget about how much Milan has struggled as of late because this is one of the best historic rivalries in Italy's history?
Juventus vs. Milan isn't the glamorous fixture it was 10 or 15 years ago when the Scudetto truly did hinge on its outcome. Milan enter the weekend as many points away from the relegation zone as they are to pulling even with third-place Napoli and a Champions League qualification spot. This current Milan truly isn't anywhere close to the level that Milan was at when they were challenging for European glory on a regular basis. And, to be honest, who knows how long it will take the club to get back to that level the way they're going these days.
But it's hard to not look forward to Juventus and Milan squaring off against one another — especially when it's being played at Juventus Stadium and all the excitement that comes with rivals making the trip to Turin. There's going to be no awkward and long-winded "It's Max Allegri's comeback and first game against his former team!" kind of talk this time around. It's more about the game itself rather than the guy who is managing his current team against his former team.
That means it's first-place Juventus against Milan, which currently sits in ... ninth? Yeah, ninth.
.@OfficialAllegri: "Milan may have had a few problems in January but played well in December, beating Napoli and drawing with Roma."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) February 6, 2015
Who knows what kind of team will show up wearing Milan jerseys on Saturday night. It could be the one we've seen over the last month, it could be the one Allegri spoke to from the final games of 2014.
Here's something I do know: Juventus Stadium will be packed to the roof because Milan-Juventus is still a pretty big deal no matter where each team is in the table. And those fans will be looking for their bianconeri to provide a subsequent performance that makes Milan remember who the best team in all of the country is.
Why? Because extending the Milan slump will be just as satisfying as getting another three points and momentarily extending the lead over Roma. That is fun, really fun.
Milan's form the last six games: D-L-D-L-L-W. That's not very good. At all.
Resident Swiss badass Stephan Lichtsteiner is suspended after his yellow card last weekend against Udinese. Martín Cáceres, as noted by Max Allegri in his pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon, is a 'big doubt' after training separate from the group during the week. You know what that means, people.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Can Juventus snap out of this recent funk?
Juventus' recent funk is different than that of their opponent Saturday night. MIlan are just flat out struggling this season and not getting results on a regular basis. Juve are getting points — for the most part — but just not playing all that well at the moment. Allegri's men have won two of their last three in all competitions, but haven't been all that convincing against teams you would think they might be. The Juventus offense has been just a bit off its usually high standard in those games, and because of it, the scoring chances haven't been so plentiful as a few weeks ago when they were running wild on Hellas Verona in back-to-back games. Maybe a Milan defense that is far from stellar will be the cure. I sure hope it is considering the month of February is easily the most important four-week stretch to date this season.
2. The Simone Padoin extravaganza at right back.
With two right backs likely out tomorrow night, it's time for the latest edition of the Simone Padoin Show. And, oh what a wonderful show it is. Okay, maybe not wonderful, but just unspectacular and easy going. Padoin has been the ultimate utility man for Allegri this season, playing at left back one week and now (likely) shifting across the back four this weekend. Padoin won't wow you, won't do amazing runs down the right wing like Lichtsteiner or Cáceres, but he has also proved to be a solid replacement for whomever he's replaced in the lineup this season. This is the world of Padoin, where things are more about not majorly screwing up rather than doing a ton of amazing things. That's just Padoin in a nutshell.
3. The Arturo Vidal extravaganza at trequartista.
Just when you thought Arturo Vidal was starting to turn a corner form-wise, he gets hit in the face (no pun intended) with tonsillitis and has to spend time in the hospital. Vidal's first two games back in the starting lineup against Chievo and Parma in the Coppa Italia haven't been all too impressive, and missing out on the scoreless draw with Udinese due to a minor knock on the knee wasn't too helpful in its own right. But the other three midfield standouts are healthy and likely to start, and that means Vidal will almost certainly play behind the two starting strikers whomever they may be. As much as we want to give him the benefit of the doubt because of what has happened to him over the last couple of weeks, Vidal needs to be the kind of player we saw at the beginning of January more often than not going forward. That Arturo Vidal is better than just about everybody else.
4. Keeping Jérémy Menez under wraps.
Without looking, who is the No. 2-ranked scorer behind Carlitos Tévez this season? Go ahead, guess away. Think about it for a second or two. Did you have Mr. Menez as the second-best scorer in Serie A through 21 games this season? Probably not, but that's what we're seeing in the race to be the capocannoniere. Menez has accounted for over 40 percent of Milan's goals this season with his 12 goals and two assists. That's easily the best season of any individual Milan player, no matter how depleted their roster is compared to years prior. And a lot like Toto Di Natale last week, you don't need to look far to see who is priority No. 1 for the Juventus defense. Simple is as simple does.
My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Padoin, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba; Vidal; Morata, Tévez
OFFICIAL KICKOFF TIME: 8:45 P.M. IN ITALY; 2:45 P.M. ON THE EAST COAST; 11:45 A.M. ON THE WEST COAST