Juventus have the opportunity to move a whopping 11 points clear at the top of Serie A on Friday night when they welcome historical rivals AC Milan to the J Stadium.
The league leaders actually slipped up in their previous outing, saved by a second-half goal from Leonardo Bonucci and stumbling to a 1-1 draw against Udinese. However, they were still able to extend their lead, with nearest challengers Roma slumping to a 2-1 defeat at home to third-place Napoli.
On home soil, Massimiliano Allegri’s team have had very few problems anyway, winning their last 35 domestic matches on their own patch; they haven’t suffered a defeat in their last 44 games there. It’s a measure of the challenge facing Milan.
The visitors will approach this clash with confidence, though, after winning their last three Serie A games in a row. Vincenzo Montella’s side may be sat in seventh place, but with just nine points separating themselves and Roma, there’s still plenty to play for for the Rossoneri between now and the end of the campaign.
It means they will go to the home of the champions looking for a way to get a positive result. After all, earlier in the season Milan beat Juve 1-0 on their own patch, while they also edged out the champions in the Supercoppa Italiana after a penalty shootout.
Juventus did triumph in the Coppa Italia meeting, although a 10-man Milan team were unfortunate not to tie that one at least. Given this will be the fourth meeting between the two rivals this season, perhaps Montella has had time to fashion a formula to halt the Juventus juggernaut in their tracks.
Where to watch the game on US TV and streaming
Date: Friday, March 10, 2017
Time: 2:45 p.m. (ET), 11:45 a.m. (PT)
US TV: beIN SPORTS
US Streaming: fubo Premier (7-day free trial)
Things have been going so well for Juventus in recent weeks, so much so, that even when they did struggle at Udinese, they still pulled clear.
The draw at the Stadio Friuli was the worst performance turned in by Allegri’s men for a long time. They were poor in the final third, fractured in midfield and their usually impeccable defence struggled to contain the opposition. In the end, the visitors might have considered themselves lucky to get a point.
Although Allegri fielded a full strength side in the main, there was a sense that Juve may have been a little jaded. After all, they’ve been involved in some intense clashes lately, in Serie A, the Coppa Italia semi-final with Napoli and the UEFA Champions League showdown with Porto.
With this match to come as well as the second leg with Porto, perhaps Juventus did take their eye off the ball a little bit. However, while they have been a bit disjointed on the road this season, in front of the Juventini they’ve excelled, maintaining stunning technical standards and unbending energy.
The beauty of playing on a Friday is that Juventus can really heap pressure on their rivals and with that in mind, expect no slacking off in standards from the champions when Milan come to town.
Lately, Juventus have been so quick out of the traps at the J Stadium, with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala proving far too vibrant for their opponents to handle. Should they hook it up in the final third, Milan, or any side for that matter, could quickly be blown away.
Although they clearly still have a long way to go before they’re challenging for titles on a consistent basis, there have been some big positives for the Milan faithful to take from this season.
The most pertinent is that an exciting spine of players is beginning to flourish. Gianluigi Donnarumma, who only just turned 18, continues to amaze between the sticks, Alessio Romagnoli is growing into a leader at the back and Manuel Locatelli, who bagged the winner against Juve in the 1-0 win in Serie A in November, is becoming increasingly influential in the heart of midfield.
Lately, there’s been a spark in the final third as well. While he’s been far from his best so far this season, Carlos Bacca has returned to form with three goals in his last two games, while the Spanish wing duo of Gerard Deulofeu and Suso has left full-backs with twisted blood.
Even so, it’ll take a monumental effort from Milan to end Juve’s winning run in Turin. The XI selected by Montella will need to show immense concentration, incredible work-rate and must be ruthless when their chances do come about.
For the players and staff at the club, focusing fully on footballing matters must be difficult at the moment, as the speculation over a takeover continues to rumble on in the background. That’s after the Sino-Sports Group, said to be interested in buying the San Siro outfit, missed another deadline in their efforts to acquire the club.
It’s clear Milan require that financial backing if they’re to eventually go toe-to-toe with the likes of Juventus again. However, their burgeoning crop of starlets can take a major step forward in their own development by acquitting themselves well here.
Key Battle – Suso vs. Alex Sandro
The star man for Milan for much of the season has been Suso, although on Friday he’ll be facing the finest left-back in world football at the moment in Alex Sandro.
Suso has really found his feet at the San Siro having left Liverpool and is now showing why so many were so excited about his talent in the early years of his career. The Spaniard is so dangerous floating infield from the right side, as his six goals and seven assists this season illustrate.
If any left-back is capable of containing Suso in Serie A, it’s Sandro. The Brazil international may get overshadowed by the array of stars in the Juventus team, but his influence in both attack and defense is so crucial to the way Allegri’s side play.
Not only will Suso need to find a way of getting around the diligent Sandro, he’ll have to be alert in his defensive duties too and willing to make a lot of vertical forays back towards his own goal. If he doesn’t the Juventus man has shown he’s capable of owning an entire flank of the pitch.