Juventus and Milan Continue Battle for Serie A Title
Milan only managed a point after a 1-1 draw at Catania but the Rossoneri remain on top of the league standings by two points despite Juventus recording an impressive 3-0 win over Napoli.
On Paper, Milan’s schedule is much easier due to two main reasons- the Rossoneri will play 6 of their final 8 matches at the San Siro, including the away clash against city rivals Inter, and have no matches left against top 5 sides. Playing Inter will likely be Milan’s toughest fixture left since the Nerazzurri will be desperate to to not only beat their neighbors but also to deprive the Rossoneri from glory in Serie A.
On the other hand, Juventus must still host Lazio and Roma while a trip to Palermo might be tricky. The Bianconeri have obtained better results against stronger teams but this does not mean beating both Lazio and Roma will be an easy task. Both capital clubs are battling for the precious third spot which allows for competing in the qualifying stages of the Champions League. Juve still have to play Cesena, Novara and Lecce with all three clubs in the relegation zone and expected to drop down to Serie B. Nevertheless, the Bianconeri have struggled to break the defensive lines of weaker sides so these three clashes could turn out to be tougher than expected.
Against the visiting Partenopei, Juventus managed to secure a morale boosting win as the final score could have seen the Bianconeri win by an even bigger margin. For coach Antonio Conte, the positives from the clash are too many to count but some of his decisions remain questionable such as starting with Marco Borriello in attack. The striker who is on loan from Roma does not seem to be on the same wavelength as any of the other attackers on the squad. Borriello showed a lack of understanding with Mirko Vucinic before he was subbed by Conte and during his time on the pitch, Marco barely linked with Vucinic.
When club legend Alessandro Del Piero and unpredictable substitute Fabio Quagliarella were introduced by the coach, the two immediately changed the complexion of the match and showed a more decisive touch around the penalty area. It is true the duo were able to take advantage of Napoli pushing forward in an attempt to achieve a draw, but Borriello looked ineffective and seemed very unlikely to find the target even if given the opportunity to finish the match.
In future matches, starting Alessandro Matri would be the ideal option unless Conte wants to use Quagliarella and then bring on Matri. Quagliarella seems to be inching closer to his best after looking sharp against Napoli. Conte must also use Del Piero in late game situations not because he is a legend but due to the fact he adds another dimension to Juve’s approach with his set of skills, passion, inspiration and experience. Del Piero has been in fine form in recent matches and it might be time for Conte to give him more playing opportunities. Del Piero can be useful if he is brought on during the last 30 minutes with the team in need of a goal.
The Bianconeri appear solid on the defensive end and do not need to make any major changes to their lineup except for giving Simone Pepe the chance to regain his early season form and providing Martin Caceres with more playing time. Caceres appears to be more relaxed and fresher than Stephan Lichtsteiner who might be better served if given a break this weekend or the next one.
As for Milan, the club remains in a solid position considering the ease of the remaining fixtures and the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has produced the goals whenever the Rossoneri were in desperate need of a breakthrough. The Rossoneri received good news with talented forward Antonio Cassano edging closer to a comeback following the heart procedure. Cassano was in fine form prior to the surgery and his return will serve as a boost to the squad even if he cannot perform a full 90 minutes every match. His presence provides coach Massimiliano Allegri with more options and means the Rossoneri can rely on a talented player who is capable of changing the result of a match with his passing and skills.
Cassano is still the leader in one category for Milan with 7 assists in just 9 Serie A matches. He will be similar to a new signing since he has not played in 2012.
Milan’s experienced side, with veterans such as Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta and Christian Abbiati to name just a few, has the edge over the Bianconeri who will rely heavily on Andrea Pirlo, ironically allowed to leave by Milan during the summer.
The presence of Ibrahimovic gives Milan another advantage since the Swedish star relishes the challenge of winning another Serie A title and is more than capable of delivering the goals as shown by his impressive tally of 22 goals in just 24 league appearances. The Rossoneri have coped well despite the injuries to some key players. Alexandre Pato and Kevin-Prince Boateng have missed many matches and there are others such as Nesta who have missed their fair share of games. This shows the quality and depth of the squad at the disposal of coach Allegri.
Finally, Milan’s hope of retaining the league title will be better served by an exit from Europe since overcoming Barcelona this week will likely require considerable mental fortitude and physical energy from the Rossoneri. The longer the Rossoneri remain in Europe, the more the likelihood that fatigue, injuries and other concerns can have a negative effect on the league run. While Milan have been dealing with a congested schedule, the Bianconeri have been able to focus on Serie A and do not have to worry about the Coppa Italia at this stage since the final against Napoli is scheduled a week after the end of the season.