Milan and Juventus are currently the top two teams in the Italian league with the Rossoneri ahead by two points but the Serie A champions have played two more matches than their rivals Juventus. Juve’s positive run, the club is undefeated this season in official play, is due to a number of factors such as a solid defensive record and a midfield marshaled by veteran Andrea Pirlo with the aid of Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal.
As for Milan, the league champions are dependent on the volatile star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and an experienced squad spearheaded by savvy veterans such as Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf.
Below is a glance at what makes Antonio Conte’s Bianconeri prime candidates for the Italian league title:
1) Hunger: There is a hunger among established Juve players, particularly Marchisio and Giorgio Chiellini, who have yet to win a major trophy with the club. In addition, Pirlo has a point to prove after his free transfer from Milan during the summer.
2) Balance: The proper blend between the old and the young players. Older stars such as Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon offer the experience and stability needed at a prestigious club (such as Juve) while emerging players such as Vidal and Marchisio provide the energy and enthusiasm.
3) Pirlo: Midfielder Andrea Pirlo has been one of the most successful stories of this season after some pundits and fans wrote him off following his reduced role with Milan due to injury in 2010-11. Pirlo has been both decisive and crucial in leading Juve’s charge with his pinpoint passing, calm demeanor and his ability to keep the ball as well as dictate the game when needed. While Vidal provides non-stop running and Marchisio knocks in crucial goals such as his late winning double against Milan, the rejuvenated Pirlo orchestrates the attacks and serves as the focal point of Juve’s possession game.
4) Spirit: Prior to Calciopoli, the Juve squads were often defined by their fighting spirit and other related intangibles. Juve players often conjured their never-die attitude to pull famous wins and avoid defeats in some tight clashes. The determination and dedication were hallmarks of the Marcello Lippi era yet the Bianconeri lost such priceless qualities in the previous couple of years. During this season, former Juve captain Conte, who played under Lippi, has worked hard on restoring the club’s pride. Conte has done a phenomenal job up to this point and it would not be surprising to see Juve end up with the title once the season is over. One great example of Juve’s fight was the 3-3 draw with Napoli after the Bianconeri trailed 1-3 to the dangerous Partenopei side.
5) Stadium: The new Juventus arena has been a decisive factor in helping the club with the supporters playing a positive role in spurring the players forward when the visiting teams were attempting to force a draw on the Bianconeri. Juve did draw 4 home games but these games came against weaker sides which opted to close shop and pack their area in order to prevent the Bianconeri from scoring.
Below is a list of factors which could tip the title in Milan’s favor:
1) Ibrahimovic: The Swedish star has weighed in with 15 goals and 4 assists in league play. Zlatan is Milan’s focal point in attack and is often the key player when the Rossoneri are looking for an opening against tough opponents.
2) Experience: The Rossoneri squad is composed of experienced players in every position starting with goalkeeper Christian Abbiati and centre-back Nesta as well as midfielders Massimo Ambrosini and Mark Van Bommel. These players have won the league title last season so they have the knowledge of what is needed to win trophies.
3) Depth: Despite the injuries and absence of key players such as Antonio Cassano (heart issue), Alexandre Pato (injury) and now Ibrahimovic (suspension- did not feature against Udinese), the Rossoneri squad has shown it is deep enough to cope with such emergencies. The Rossoneri have been without injured goalkeeper Abbiati as well as Alberto Aquilani, Gennaro Gattuso and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
4) Attack: The Rossoneri have Serie A’s best attack having registered 45 goals, 8 more goals than Lazio, while by comparison Juve have managed only 33 goals.
5) Nocerino: The midfielder signed from Palermo was signed to replace the aging Gattuso yet Antonio Nocerino has proven to be a very important player for Milan having played 20 league matches so far, including 19 as a starter. However, the biggest surprise has been Nocerino’s scoring exploits as the midfielder, not known for his goals, has managed to register 7 goals so far.