Thursday, February 23, 2012

Milan vs. Juventus: It’s Always the Quiet Ones

If you’ll remember back to the end of September when I previewed the away fixture, I live in a home with a couch divided. Our two teams have a lot in common – both are very successful, both have rich histories, and both are vying for the Scudetto this year. And yet there are obvious differences, too. This year, I would say the biggest difference is the coaches. Both are young and dynamic and enjoying success at big clubs not always afforded so early in their careers. But while Allegri is relatively reserved with both his emotions and his words, Conte is very expressive and vociferous. Conte and Juventus have certainly been making a lot of noise about a lot of things lately, and personally, I hope that Milan can fill those loud mouths with some humble pie. For once, I hope it’s true what they say, “It’s always the quiet ones.”

Special thanks to Sposato al nemico for the artwork

Conte leads a team that had star-sized transfer fees last summer without too many actual stars, but Juventus did manage to reinforce many of their weak spots, even if it cost them. They are the only team in all of Europe to be undefeated, and Conte is largely credited for this success. He is passionate and inspiring, if you call giving your players the fear of God inspiring. In fact, as my husband was recently musing, it may be this fear that has given Juve the stamina that has helped them play for 90 minutes in every match, even if they have the most draws and perhaps should have pulled off more wins. Conte is flexible in his formations and his lineups, but has been guilty of snubbing certain players and starting others who were not necessarily in good form.

Allegri is also passionate, but he does not wear his heart on his sleeve. He is stubborn and slow to change, even if he has done wonders with the 2nd year running that Milan have been the walking wounded of Serie A. He prizes fitness, but usually more in the form of physique, stamina is not a quality that permeates the squad, even if the lack of it is his excuse for not playing certain players. And while he is stubborn in his formation, his lineups are often a bit of a surprise, even if injuries are the reason for that. It truly begs the question as to what he would do with a reasonably healthy squad week after week.

If this is how Juventini see us, they're in for a big surprise. Noise.

Juve have been making a lot of noise lately. First there was that horrible finger that Ibra put on Storari’s face that Chiellini hysterically claimed was a slap. And Juve stood behind him. Then came the figures that Milan had more penalties given them than the other teams at the same time Pirlo cried about not being given a penalty that, shown in 360 degrees on the replays, looked like a very soft penalty at best. But again, Juve stood behind him, as well as the remarks of Conte and others. It all seemed quite hypocritical to me that they should start a witch hunt when it was another witch hunt that wrongfully landed them in Serie B and stripped them of two titles. One would think that by now they would know that it is prudent to look at the evidence before crying wolf. I much prefer my noise to be generated on the pitch instead of press rooms and the interwebs.

But Saturday should be all about 90 minutes on the pitch, hopefully all of the noise will subside for the sake of sport. Juve won the reverse fixture 2-0 in their new stadium at the beginning of October. It was a bit of a wakeup call for Milan, and a huge confidence boost to Juventus, and it was probably where their Scudetto dreams really took shape. Now we meet where Milan are one point ahead at the top of the table with Juve having a game in hand. The winner of this match goes top of the table, leaving the other team to wait for dropped points to be able to take the lead again. For whomever wins, it will be a huge confidence boost, whereas the loser will have to win at all costs just to keep up.

"Italian Gothic" by Sposato al nemico

Tactically, I would expect Conte to go back to his 4-4-2 formation or something similar if he’s done his homework. But lately he’s favored the 3-5-2, which may work well for them against some teams, but Milan has decimated most of the 3-man back lines we’ve faced this season. It would take some sort of miracle for Allegri to change formation, although he has successfully taken the risk of switching mid-game to more of a 4-3-3 when necessary.

Juve will absolutely line up their best players. Conte started an all Italian 11 last week vs. Catania, but some of the regulars were seemingly rested, presumably for this match. If he goes with a 3-5-2, perhaps a lineup of Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pirlo, Estigarribia, Vidal, Giaccherini; Quagliarella and Matri. Although he may capitalize on the havoc that Caceres wreaked on us in the Coppa, and has been stubbornly putting out Vucinic, who despite not being able to convert, has been a tremendous creative force up front.

If scoring is just like, well... scoring, we'd prefer you do more of the first.

Meanwhile, Allegri’s  starting lineup will hinge upon extraneous factors, such as if Ibra’s ban is reduced later today or not, and whether or not Boateng has recovered from Melissa’s post Valentine endeavors. He has said that Pato is fit and that he will play on Saturday, but who his strike partner will be an whether or not he’ll start is yet to be determined. While many of us would like to see an El Shaarawy-Pato combination, I would expect Robinho, who has been on amazing no-more-sitter form lately and has played well with Pato in the past. Or perhaps if there is no Ibra, the most Ibra-like backup of new acquisition Maxi López will be given the start. But if I were a betting girl, it would be Ibra if available, Robinho if not.

With Seedorf on the injury table and Boateng doubtful, it is likely he will turn to the blossoming Urby Emanuelson to play behind the strikers, even if one week Allegri says he’s not a CAM, and the next week he’s doing very well at that spot. Allegri’s new thing is to play Nocerino on the right again, unless Aquilani manages to make it back, I expect van Bommel at DM, and possibly the new-to-us Muntari on the left. The back line should be Abate, Nesta, Silva, Mesbah, but with recent form, Mexes could start ahead of Nesta, depending on how his ankle has healed by then. (I would still go with Nesta, personally.) Obviously, Abbiati in goal is the ideal choice.

It's always the quiet ones.

This match is not necessarily a must win on paper, the Scudetto race still has 3 months to play out, and anything can happen with that many matches. But emotionally, a win for either side will give them added momentum and bragging rights, not just in the league, but for the return Coppa semifinal match in a month. A draw will likely further tensions between the two clubs, and maybe heat up the race a bit. But a loss is more likely to humiliate than it is to inspire, so it’s an understatement to say that both teams are in it for the win.  I hope for our sakes that the adage “it’s always the quiet ones” applies to this match.

Milan vs. Juventus
Saturday, February 25 • 20:45 CET (2:45 EST)
This match will be shown on FSC, RAI International,
and ESPN3 in the U.S.

For our last matchup, my husband and I had a wager over who made dinner. This time, we’ve upped the ante to torture. If Milan lose, I will have to listen to Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” 10 times in a row. If Juventus lose, he will have to listen to the Bolshoi’s “Waspy” 10 times in a row. I hate Air Supply. Please, Milan for the love of torture, please pull this one off for me.

This post inspired by the music of the Bolshoi