The last few seasons have not by very kind to AC Milan. As dominant and living in a trophy-filled world as Juventus has under both Antonio Conte and Max Allegri, the same can’t be said for the second-most successful club that Italy has to offer.
But if you look at the Serie A table after the first eight games of the season, this is what you’re going to find:
- Juventus — 21 points
- Roma — 16 points
- AC Milan — 16 points
That’s not exactly where we’re used to seeing Milan since Allegri was relieved of his duties at the San Siro and took over roaming the sidelines at Juventus Stadium. Not even close. This is a Milan side that has finished outside a European spot for the last three seasons. No Champions League, no Europa League, nothin’. It’s so very unlike Milan teams of the past where they enter the season knowing that the best — and probably only — shot for silverware comes courtesy of a potential Coppa Italia run.
Is this Milan surge up the table for real?
This is what we’re about to find out on Saturday night at the San Siro.
Juventus, even though they haven’t come close to playing their best ball on a consistent level this season, are the gold standard in Serie A. For all we know, by the time October comes to an end just after next weekend, Juventus could have close to a double-digit lead atop the table. To say that would be a completely opposite kind of scenario of where things stood last season, the word “understatement” comes to mind.
So while people are out here praising Milan for a good eight-game stretch to start the season — and it’s one of the few good things to happen at the club considering what the last few years have been like — we know that Juventus are the favorites no matter what kind of form the opposition is in. This will be Milan’s measuring stick and biggest test to see what this start is actually like. Allegri knows how tough this game can be; he’s been on both sides of it for the better part of the past decade.
I mean, there are only two teams in Serie A who have four wins in their last five games. One is Juventus. The other is, you guessed it, Milan.
.@OfficialAllegri: "#MilanJuve is always a big match and it'll be a tough contest. We need to be strong and play well technically."— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 21, 2016
Strong is good. I like a strong Juventus. That usually means a winning Juventus, too. And who around here doesn’t like a winning Juventus? I know I want my Juventus a winning Juventus.
Plus-5 in the table, suckas.
Players who weren’t included in the squad list for the midweek Champions League game against Lyon like Mario Mandzukic, Daniele Rugani and Claudio Marchisio are back for the trip to Milan, so this is really bad news? No, it’s not.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. What does this four-man backline entail?
We know this is legitimate, because of this:
.@OfficialAllegri: "We'll play a back four tomorrow with @andreabarzagli2, @MedhiBenatia, @bonucci_leo19 and @Evra." #MilanJuve— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) October 21, 2016
Okay, so this is the first time in a long time that we’ve gone into a match knowing for sure that Allegri is going to use something other than his tried and true 3-5-2. But the question is easy to figure out now: What is the team going to look like after the four-man backline? Zona mista? Christmas tree? 4-3-3? So many options! Based on the fact that Allegri has used a 4-4-2-ish formation in recent weeks, I’d say that is the kind of setup that leads the pack of potential options. And considering that Allegri has included three center backs in that quote above, I’d say a zona mista type of setup sounds like what the third-year Juve manager is thinking of utilizing in his latest return to the San Siro.
2. Battle of the Gigis: Buffon vs. Donnarumma.
If not for the fact that this is suddenly a clash between teams in the top 3, this would probably be the thing that everybody was talking about front and center. Ever since the start of the international break, the talk surrounding Buffon and Donnarumma has been how amazing the two of them are. Well, outside of people declaring Buffon was losing it based on a two-game sample size, that is. But, beside that, praise has been pouring down on the younger Gigi, that’s for sure. If it’s not somebody associated with Milan, it’s current Italian national team coach Giampiero Ventura. There’s a reason why people love them some Donnarumma — at the age of 17 (!!!) he’s simply a downright beast. And, I for one, I do look forward to watching him play opposite of the guy everybody is comparing him to. I would like to assume that’s not just because they play the same position and have the same first name, but I’m not going to judge anybody.
3. Juventus’ defense vs. Carlos Bacca.
I like to have fun with stats, as many of you probably know. So here’s some fun with stats...
- Juventus goals allowed in Serie A this season: Five
- Carlos Bacca goals scored in Serie A this season: Six
That’s pretty remarkable for a couple of reasons. Juventus’ defense is good. Bacca, currently tied with two other players for second on the Serie A goal-scoring list behind Edin Dezeko (wut), is pretty good, too. As much as Alexandre Lacazette was a threat midweek with Lyon, the same can be said about Bacca. Different kind of striker, sure, but the same kind of player in the sense that he’s capable of putting together a difference-making kind of performance when his team may not be at their best. We know the overall talent level certainly sways in Juventus’ favor tomorrow night. But when you see somebody like Bacca lining up against you, that’s the first name you circle to try and stop. Luckily for us, Juventus has Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Medhi Benatia on their side. That, my friends, is never a bad thing.
4. Milan’s defense vs. Gonzalo Higuain.
For all of the good Milan has done to be able to get into third place entering the weekend, I think it’s safe to say that their defense has been a little shaky in recent weeks. They’ve allowed 11 goals this season. That’s the same amount of goals allowed as Empoli, Sampdoria and Pescara. Those three clubs are currently 19th, 15th and 16th in the Serie A table, respectively. So what does this mean? Well, that Milan’s defense has a lot of room for improvement. But it also means that they’re going to have to be on top of their game considering one of the best strikers in the game, Higuain, is coming to town. The same Higuain who bagged a brace in his last Serie A start. The same Higuain who is amongst the league leaders in goals despite only starting four Serie A games this season. We know there’s always going to be a chance for Higuain to explode with a goal-scoring splurge that will make his €90 million transfer fee look like absolute peanuts. And if that Higuain wants to show up at the San Siro, I’m cool with it.
MY STARTING LINEUP
Juventus XI (4-3-2-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Medhi Benatia, Leonardo Bonucci, Patrice Evra; Sami Khedira, Hernanes, Miralem Pjanic; Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: San Siro Stadium, Milan, Italy
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in England; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: beIN SPORTS USA (United States); beIN Sports Canada (Canada); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport 1 HD Italia, Sky Supercalcio HD, Sky Calcio 1 (Italy)
Online: fuboTV, beIN SPORTS CONNECT U.S.A. (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, fuboTV Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); SKY Go Italia (Italy)
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