The biggest clash in Serie A this weekend is upon the world of football. Juventus host rivals AC Milan at their new stadium in a bid to continue their unbeaten run in Calcio this season. Juventus sit pretty at the top of the Serie A table while reigning champions Milan are languishing in 11th place after a disappointing start. In the big build up to this massive game, TheHardTackle brings to you another edition of our Rival Rendezvous series. In Juve’s corner, will be our resident Juventus author Chelston D’souza (CD) who’s wearing an Andrea Pirlo Juventus jersey, probably just to tick off our Milan correspondent. In Milan’s corner, is our resident Rossoneri author Parth Pandya (PP) with his Ibrahimovic jersey whose intentions surely match those of Chelston’s.
Juve are the home team, so Chelston will begin his round of questions to a very calm looking Parth.
CD: Milan have started their season off in terrible fashion. Last season’s Scudetto triumph was built on a solid defence while this year the team have conceded fair amount of goals and haven’t been as watertight as they were expected to be. What do you make of their not so impressive start to the campaign?
PP: The emergence of Thiago Silva was one of the primary reasons for our success story of last season and quite expectedly we were counting on the defence producing the goods right away this season too. Sadly, the title defence hasn’t begun in an exactly great fashion but to tell you frankly, things do not worry me already. Teams like Napoli, Juventus and Udinese have started better but I believe the depth in our squad will eventually determine the difference and we boast of the perfect mix in our pack to defend the title. Our defence will shape back to its reputation sooner than most expect and you must not forget their performance at Camp Nou. Not even a Vidic and a Chiellini could be confident enough of owning the Barcelona attack with the supremacy Nesta demonstrated that day. So, if it is a slow start, it better be. We will peak at the right time and I am more than confident about it.
CD: What do you reckon will be Milan’s objectives for this season? A second consecutive Scudetto is an obvious priority but is the Champions League a priority as well? Galliani always claims Milan have the Champions League DNA in them and Allegri in the summer stated that only Barca are superior to them in Europe. Will Milan mount a serious challenge in the Champions League? Do you think they have the squad to do so?
PP: Realistically speaking, our squad rebuilding is still an article in progress, one which is strongly being versed but an unfinished one yet. However, Galliani’s claims aren’t baseless considering our history in the competition and the number of titles we have secured. Even Juventus legends like Gigi Buffon have admitted Milan are Italy’s strongest representation when it comes to Europe. But I am not shy to acknowledge the shortcomings of our squad and hence I am only hopeful we would go far enough in the tournament without losing focus on the Scudetto one bit. While Allegri’s claims might have gone slightly overboard, he is very certain of the priorities and ambitions and we are confident he will mean business without getting carried away.
CD: Do Milan fans blame Galliani for allowing Pirlo to join Juve? Had Pirlo still been around, do you think Milan could’ve started off their season better? Are you happy with Aquilani as his replacement or disappointed that he’s Milan’s Mr. X given the hype that surrounded the whole ‘Mr. X’ saga?
PP: It has taken us time to get over Pirlo’s departure as he was synonymous to the Milan of the last decade. He never failed to provide us with astounding moments one after another and frankly, it is sad to see him play for a rival club especially when he definitely has got four to five good years by his side to play at the top of his game. However, this is are all part and parcel of club football and fans have no choice but to move on accepting it. Yes, I do believe with Pirlo we can be an even better side and it is not the easiest job to find an ideal replacement for a player of his caliber, not to suggest our current midfield is not potent enough. We are certain, Galliani will eventually acquire services of a player who can dictate terms of the field as effectively as Pirlo used to, if not more. Alberto Aquilani is one such player with immense potential but his love-affairs with injuries are secret to none now. He has definitely under-achieved for his talent and we are simply hopeful he will be able to deliver his best for us, if his stay is planned to be prolonged. We were surely expecting a much bigger name, given the hype around Mr. X but like always, ‘In Galliani, We Trust.’ He must have some plans in his mind for the times to come.
CD: How do you think Allegri will approach this game tactically? Will he try to attack Juve from the outset or hit them on the break? What do you make of Juve’s revolutionary stadium?
PP: Ibrahimovic’s return allows Allegri to switch back to his favored tactical diagram of 4-3-1-2 where Cassano will definitely start alongside the Big Swede and Aquilani may be deployed behind the two strikers. Another option is to bring the midfield further up and field three forwards where Ibrahimovic is supported by both Cassano and Emanuelson on flanks. Considering Antonio Conte’s 4-2-4 leaves a lot of space in the middle of the park, I believe Allegri will stick to his usual choice and our current midfield trio of Seedorf, van Bommel and Nocerino have pretty much gelled together to deal with Juventus’ in-form attack. I am certain, the Dutch beast will deal with Pirlo, much like he did against Sneijder earlier this year in the derby.
Coming to the new stadium, well, it is entirely grand in all senses. I am happy an Italian club has taken an initiative towards what I believe, is going to be the only viable path for economic sustenance for any club. The stadium boasts of state-of-art facilities and I am sure fans must be loving it. I particularly appreciate your club’s gesture to invite Notts County to play the inaugural game to acknowledge their presence in the club’s history. I hope the stadium brings in the much required light to what has otherwise been a dark period lately for Juventus.
CD: If you had the option of picking one Juve player (except Pirlo) to play for Milan, who would that player be? Who do you think is the greatest threat to this Milan side?
PP: Milos Krasic and Mirko Vucinic do scare me honestly. I am not sure whether they will start against Milan but if they do, then we better remain alert. Vucinic is one guy who is rarely at his best but the day he is, he ensures the outing eventuates as a nightmarish one for the defenders. Krasic is an extremely talented winger who is yet to excel enough in Italy but he has given glimpses in bits and pieces of what he is capable of doing. Both players are an immense threat and given the current vulnerability that Milan have shown while defending, Vucinic, in particular has a good chance of stamping his authority on proceedings. Also, no one can ignore your captain, the legendary Alex Del Piero. He might come on as an impact substitute and we can’t forget the goal he scored at San Siro last year to give your side all three points. Giorgio Chiellini too loves playing against Ibrahimovic and has owned the Swede too many times for my liking. All in all, there are many in Juventus colors who can give Milan a run for their money and from where I see the contest prospects to be a highly intense one.
Those were some pretty good replies from Parth. Now, it’s time for Parth to fire away his questions to Chelston, who is in a very confident mood. Let’s see how he does.
PP: Juventus have had a torrid two years time, speaking the least and in the process have overhauled the squad along with the manager for nearly three times. The spending spree executed by Beppe Marotta is secret to none however the world class players couldn’t have made it clearer that Juve is nomore their preferred destination. How did the fans take the idea of setting dreams of Aguero, Rossi and eventually ending up with Vucinic?
CD: The fans were disappointed with Vucinic’s arrival when it did look all but certain we would end up with one of Rossi or Aguero. With Rossi, we simply weren’t prepared to meet Villareal’s humongous asking price and the same goes for Aguero and Atletico. While Vucinic is in his own right a very good player, he isn’t in the same league as Aguero and Rossi, and has a lot to prove this season and vindicate Marotta’s decision.
PP: How exactly do you think Antonio Conte is different from the likes of Ciro Ferrara or Gigi Del Neri? Both managers failed not to impress with their not-so-impressive squads early in the season but the lack of depth was ever so visible as their seasons progressed and the very same may happen with Conte’s men too. Do you think the current Juve roster is finally ready to challenge for the Italian title or at least reclaim the prestigious European spot?
CD: Conte has coaching experience when you compare him with Ferrara who didn’t have much. The former’s spells with clubs like Atalanta and Siena has helped him gain vital experience and prepared him for his dream job at Juve. As for Del Neri, I don’t think he is good enough to manage a team of Juve’s stature and is more suited to provincial teams like Chievo and Sampdoria. But as you pointed out, Del Neri didn’t have the luxury of real depth in the squad like Conte has right now.
Historically, Juve are always Scudetto contenders, that title comes with the name. Realistically, I don’t think we are good enough to challenge for the Scudetto this season. There has been a bit too much chop and change to the squad for me. Granted, the season has started favourably but there are plenty of games left and it while it would be fantastic to win the Scudetto in the new magnificent stadium, I don’t think that will happen.
PP: Coming to the game now, do you think Conte will dare deploy an attacking 4-2-4 against Milan knowing fully well the amount of space he may end up offering to Milan’s centre midfield? At the same time, Milan’s so called best defence has so far looked pretty vulnerable in Italy. Do you think Conte would cash in on such an opportunity presented to his way by fielding two inverted wingers on each of the flanks?
CD: I do think Conte will revert back to his favoured formation. It has worked for him this season. I wouldn’t be too considered with offering space to Milan’s midfield as our midfield does tend to narrow down when not in possession but Milan could hit ous hard on the counter and we could suffer, that’s my main worry. As far as wingers go, Krasic will start on the right and might fancy his chances against Milan’s weakest position on the field. I expect Pepe to start on the left; he has been impressive in the past few games. His exceptional work-rate will certainly help the team out and might also offer a bit of solidity to the left flank. He can cover for De Ceglie who hasn’t started the season off brightly.
PP: Andrea Pirlo will of course be the attraction factor, as Milan play their first match in the brand new Juventus stadium. Do you think his knowledge of the Milanese game and a decade long experience to play alongside the likes of Nesta and Seedorf will come in handy to Conte? How influential, do you think he will be to the eventual result of the game?
CD: Definitely. Pirlo’s experience with Milan can be vital to Juventus. He has the know-how of Milan’s style, in fact he was Milan’s style for so many years. The inside information that he may have on Allegri and Milan, can only help Conte prepare his side. As far as influential goes, Pirlo right up there with the most influential players of the past decade. He was the catalyst to Italy’s 2006 World Cup and also Milan for the best part of a decade. When Pirlo plays well; his team plays well. And he has proved in these opening weeks, he’s by no means a ‘finished’ player. The prospect of playing against Milan will no doubt give him motivation and enthusiasm.
PP: Last season Juventus stunned the entire country by beating Milan at San Siro at a time when the latter were in rampant form. This season, the story however, is different as Milan aren’t exactly enjoying a rich run of form and half their squad is engaged into a prolonged love affair with injuries. As a fan, do you concede the fixture couldn’t have come at a better time for Juve? What’s your prediction by the way?
CD: I wouldn’t say it’s the best time to face Milan. To be fair to them, they’ve lost only one league game this season and that was at the San Paolo which is one of the most intimidating venues in Italy. Milan’s fixture list hasn’t been kind to them but having won against Cesena and during the week against Victoria Plzen, they have gathered themselves and are back on the winning track. As far as injuries are concerned, Milan have recovered two important players in Ibrahimovic and Boateng which definitely will come as a boost to them. Juve do start this game off as favourites and I expect the atmosphere and the fans to act as Juve’s 12th man. I do think Juve can win this game but it won’t be a walk in the park.
Chelston’s replies were just as impressive as Parth’s. Our authors have had their say, it’s now up to the teams to fight it out on the pitch.