Juventus and Milan are two giants of Italian and European soccer, but when they face each other on Saturday, it will be the first time since 2001-02 that neither club has occupied a top four position in Serie A.
On the bright side there are finally signs that Milan and Juventus have established some traction and are looking to aggressively track down the current top five. Two draws and three wins have lifted Milan to sixth with 20 points, while a draw and a loss in their last six matches means Juventus are only one place and two points behind Milan.
An added bonus for both clubs is that the top of Serie A is congested, with just five points (27 points to 22) separating the top five clubs in what looks like the makings of a great title race: Three of the top five teams are looking to break extended scudetto droughts (Roma last won in 2001, Napoli in 1990 and Fiorentina in 1969); Inter finished top of Serie A in 2010; while anyone looking for a comparative Premier League performance to unlikely challenger Sassuolo who sit fifth need only look as far as Leicester City.
SEE MORE: Serie A’s all-time best starting XI.
As for Juventus and Milan, though, Saturday’s match brings some interesting side bars:
Gianluigi Buffon was only 23 years old when he became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper after transferring from Parma to Juventus in 2001. Fourteen years on, Buffon is still the world’s costliest goalie, though he has repaid the $50 million fee and more. When Buffon does retire – he’s currently 37 – he will go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest goalkeeper the game as ever seen.
Buffon made his Serie A debut by keeping a clean sheet against Milan. On Saturday keeping goal for Milan will be someone even younger. Gianluigi Donnarumma will not turn 17 until Feb. 2016, but already he has two clean sheets in four games, and Milan is unbeaten with him between the sticks.
Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic had his hand forced after first choice keeper Diego Lopez performed poorly in the opening games, but so far there has been no regrets about blooding one so young.
Experience is regarded as particularly important for goalkeepers, but so many of the truly great goalkeepers (Buffon for one, Peter Shilton for another) have been prodigies. On Saturday, we may catch a glimpse of what the post-Buffon era may look like.
Replacing Carlos Tevez’s 50 goals in less than 100 appearances for Juventus was never going to be a simple or easy. Juve opted to pay $36 million rising to potentially $46 million for Palermo’s Paulo Dybala this past summer. Dybala just turned 22 this week and he has made a solid start to his Juventus spell with five goals (including two from the penalty spot) in his seven starts and four substitute Serie A appearances.
While Juventus opted for relative youth, Milan took another route and signed a 29 year-old striker, Carlos Bacca. The scorer of 49 goals in 108 games over the previous two seasons for Sevilla was thought by Milan brass to be a player who could make an immediate impact. Six goals in 10 starts and two appearances from the bench have reinforced that notion.
The fee of $35 million for a player who will turn 30 next year raised some eyebrows, but there is something of Didier Drogba or Diego Costa about Bacca. All late developers, it seemed to take a while to click, but once the goals started to come, they haven’t stopped.
SEE MORE: Why Paul Pogba isn’t worth €100 million.
After having a cup of coffee at Stamford Bridge after being sold by Fiorentina in January, Colombian Juan Cuadrado has recaptured his form at Juventus and has become a regular Man of the Match in his 10 Serie A appearances. Scoring a 92nd minute winning goal in the Turin derby at the end of October was the icing on the cake, and if Cuadrado can maintain his form, Juventus would be crazy not to make his move a permanent one.
The much maligned Mario Balotelli is in his second spell with Milan although this time he is on loan from Liverpool, the club Milan sold him to for $25 million in 2014 after paying Manchester City $23 million in Jan. 2013.
This generation’s “enfant terrible” of world soccer, Balotelli is considered to be on his latest last chance. However, this time he has fallen victim to injury rather than any self-inflicted wounds. Balotelli had only started two games with two appearances off the bench before a groin injury sidelined him at the end of September. Things got even worse earlier this week when it announced that Balotelli required an operation and could be out for three months.
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