Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
It’s always a big occasion when Juventus visit the San Siro. They head to AC Milan on Sunday night for the weekend’s biggest Serie A game, a match which wraps up a weekend of heavyweight encounters from around the world. Hopefully the barrage of derbies and top of the table clashes around Europe this weekend won’t wear you out ahead of the final Serie A clash of the weekend, as there’s plenty riding on this one.
The game has even more importance when you consider recent events for the pair, and the player rivalries which have arisen of late. Both teams had midweek setbacks, and they’ve both been set huge hurdles to overcome this season, of their own making. All of that pressure could be condensed into this clash, which is likely to send us into the international break on a high.
Can Juve Produce United Front?
The Italian champions have to respond to their first loss of the season, which put them on the back foot coming into this clash. One defeat isn’t the end of the world, but the club have put their aspirations sky high this season. They are aiming to deliver the treble this season, after winning the league and cup double in four straight seasons. As Jose Mourinho likes to remind them, his Inter are the only side in Italy who have managed to achieve that feat.
With their superstar squad, dominating Europe is what Juve fans now demand. They’ve waited over 22 years for a European title, with their near miss in Manchester in 2003 against AC Milan among many heartbreaks. That’s part of being one of the continent’s super clubs, and it comes with the terrain after they made winning the league routine. That doesn’t reassure fans who expect them to lift the Champions League, with defeat at home to United putting them under pressure.
Juventus are still thriving in Europe, along with the rest of Italy’s Champions League entrants. AC Milan come into this one aiming to join them next term, having moved fourth in the table of late. Gennaro Gattuso went from under pressure to delivering when three wins shot them from 12th to the top four, but the jury is still out on him as a manager. The Rossoneri have been tactically inconsistent all season, and he is now left to navigate an injury crisis.
Also See: Juventus Too Strong for Their Own Good?
The Spectre of Wenger
With Milan having their struggles this term, reports that Arsene Wenger has been sounded out to take charge are certainly believable. It may have been premature, but the story does add up. Ivan Gazidis has taken charge at the San Siro, the former Arsenal Chief Executive. He’ll know all too well how consistent Wenger is at taking clubs into Europe’s biggest competition, and that’s been set up as the only aim for the Rossoneri this season.
The club are desperate to return to the top four, as their results lag far behind their stature. Talk of a place in the rumoured European Super League showed the force of Milan, but they need to back that up on the pitch. At times this term, Gattuso’s side have looked muddled. They kicked off the season trying to emulate the Arsenal of old, while they went into the derby playing like a side coached by Jose Mourinho. Gattuso doesn’t know his strongest side, and has no idea how to set them up. Wenger may have left the Emirates with his critics, but he’d arrive in Milan with a plan already set.
The pressure on Gattuso has grown with their injury list, with Mateo Musacchio, Hakan Calhanoglu and Patrick Cutrone now doubtful for their clash with the champions. Gattuso does have a decent squad at his disposal, but with no clear plan in place, injuries set him even further back. As a result, his job of guiding the Rossineri into the top four keeps getting harder.
Also See: Napoli Behind, but Improving
Old Friends and Familiar Faces
Over the weekend, news broke that we could see a move between these clubs, and it wouldn’t be the first. With Juventus being linked to Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt, it seems like Medhi Benatia could be the latest player to depart Turin for Milan. He certainly won’t be the highest profile, following the big moves between the pair in the summer.
Gonzalo Higuain left Turin after the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, and Milan took advantage of a Juve side who needed to balance the books. The champions let go of the Argentine forward and defender Mattia Caldara just to bring Leonardo Bonucci back. That sets up a clash of familiar faces this week, when these players come face to face again.
Bonucci meets the club he spent an ill-fated season with last term. It’s hard to see many of the Rossoneri stars giving him a warm reception here. Meanwhile, Higuain has an axe to grind with his former side. He was shipped out to make room for Ronaldo, so he goes up against former teammates, along with his ex-Real Madrid strike partner. Milan were seen as the winners of that deal, but it’s not closed the gap on the champions.
One big returning face which is being slightly left out is manager Max Allegri. The Juventus boss has overseen an unprecedented period of success in Turin, with four consecutive league and cup doubles. He’s also the last man to win the league with Milan, after leading them to success in the 2010/11 campaign.
The club’s decline started after that, while Allegri has kicked on to join the world’s elite managers. Allegri has claimed seven wins against his old club since, so if any returning face can haunt the other, it’s his latest visit to San Siro.
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