Two titans of Italian football go head to head in one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the Serie A schedule. With both teams level pegging on points, defeat for either side may well see them cast adrift in the title race and with Inter expected to collect all three points in their game home game against Chievo, the leaders could be nine points clear and out of reach for Juventus or Milan before Christmas. As things stand, here we have a game neither side can afford to lose and a point shared would be pointless. To prevent a one horse race for the Scudetto, this game needs a winner. With two of the most potent attacking forces in the world, it promises to be an absolutely mouth-watering prospect.
Claudio Ranieri vs. Carlo Ancelotti
A couple of months ago Ranieri was a defeat or two away from sacrificing his tenure in Turin, but a run of nine victories in 11 outings has secured his charge at the helm – at least for the time being. His 4-4-2 formation has strengthened the Bianconeri’s resilience whereas Ancelotti’s men have looked vulnerable at the back when put under aerial pressure. After a promising start and topping the table, the Rossoneri have looked far from convincing of late and have subsequently slipped behind Juve into third, albeit on goal difference. On paper Milan look a formidable outfit, a frightening attack ahead of an industrious midfield and an experienced back four, yet they are not producing on the field the promise they perceive on the page. Whereas the former Juventus Coach is searching for the right formula to make his Milan superstars explode, the Tinkerman needs to make sterner decisions and take a few risks if his Juve side are to stay in the hunt.
Zdenek Grygera vs. Ronaldinho
Bianconeri right-back Grygera may well be expecting a torrid time when he faces Ronaldinho, though depending on the tricky Brazilian’s mood, the confrontation may not be too concerning for the Czech defender. With the ball at his feet, the former World Player of the Year is undoubtedly a world-class entertainer, quick, insightful and unpredictable making him a sheer delight to watch. However, his approach to games can determine how effectively he can impress his influence on a game. On occasion, the Milan maestro appears nonchalant and in that frame of mind is less of an asset to his teammates than when he shows desire and determination. Against one of their title challengers however, Grygera can expect the smiling assassin to be deadly.
Nicola Legrottaglie vs. Alexandre Pato
At the tip of Milan’s trident attacking force is the latest in a long line of exciting talent to come off the Brazilian production line. At only 19 years of age, Pato is proving to be an outstanding asset and in confronting Juve’s towering centre-half we have the classic battle of youth versus experience. The Rossoneri man can not be expected to win anything in the air against The Duke, but with his lightning pace and close ball control he can be devastating on the ground. The saving grace for Legrottaglie and Juventus is that Pato has not been firing on all cylinders so far this season and with only three goals to his credit in 15 appearances he may be lacking a little confidence. The worrying factor though is last term the striker bagged a goal every other game and it’s only a matter of time before he starts finding the net again. Legrottaglie will use his physical presence to try and intimidate the youngster and snuff out the threat.
Mohamed Sissoko vs. Kaka
One of the problems for Ranieri’s men is not only how to mark Kaka, but who from his lineup will be able to shut the Brazilian out the game. The answer to that particular poser could well be the imposing figure of Juve’s lanky Malian. Sissoko is strong in the tackle, quick over the ground and an intimidating presence. He will look to hit the classy No. 22 with a few hard challenges early in the game in the hope he withers like a shrinking violet. However, the former Ballon d’Or winner has so many attributes to his game he can adapt in an instant. Not only is he a genius with the ball at his feet, his intelligent runs can drag defenders out of position and open gaps for his teammates to exploit. Sissoko is not the most disciplined of players and if he roams from his position as anchor, he could leave The Old Lady adrift.
Alessandro Del Piero vs. Paolo Maldini
Two of Italian football’s talismans go head-to-head in what should be yet another enthralling encounter. The old stalwarts have squared up to each other on more than twenty occasions and having played together for the national side know each others strengths inside out. At 40-years-old, Maldini is still no slouch and Del Piero will never lose the deft touch that has sliced open many a defensive backline. It will take a moment of sublime brilliance from Pinturicchio if he is to outwit the Milan No.3.
Amauri vs. Daniele Bonera
The Rossoneri have looked fragile in the air of late and with Amauri’s power and height, Juve could take advantage. The 6’2” Brazilian forward already has eight goals to his credit this season and at a rate of a goal every other game could prove key to the home sides success. Bonera is such a talented defender he is as capable of slotting into the centre-back position as he is at full-back. With Alessandro Nesta still sidelined through injury, the Italy international looks set to continue the partnership alongside his captain. One-on-one with Amauri, the defender can come out on top, but at times is found wanting on crosses. If Bonera doesn’t show more desire and determination to win the ball than his opponent, the Juve striker will punish him.