Juventus was out to silence it’s critics last week but came up agonisingly short once more as lowly Lecce grabbed an injury time equaliser to heap yet more pressure on the under-fire Claudio Ranieri. Following three successive draws that have seen Juve fall further behind Inter, it is now time for the Old Lady to salvage something from a season that once promised so much. And no better time than this Sunday, where they will not only be in direct competition with eternal rivals Milan on the pitch, but also in the race to secure second place.
At Milan, on the other hand, confidence is high. Five successive wins have propelled them up the table to the point where they currently sit in second place – four points ahead of the Bianconeri. Buoyed by recent displays from Kaka and Filippo Inzaghi who between them have scored nine of Milan’s last 13 goals, the Rossoneri will be looking to continue their superb run of form.
A major injury doubt surrounds goalkeeper Dida, having pulled up in training this week at Milanello with fears he will miss Sunday’s showdown. With Christian Abbiati ruled out through injury for the rest of the season, Coach Carlo Ancelotti will be forced to give Zeljko Kalac his first appearance of the season in Serie A.
The rest of the team is likely to remain as it were, continuing with the tried and trusted 4-3-2-1 formation. The defence remains unchanged, while Massimo Ambrosini retains his place in midfield as reward for his recent outstanding performances, ably supported by Andrea Pirlo and David Beckham, whose cross last week led to Filippo Inzaghi scoring the opening goal in last week’s game against Catania. Inzaghi’s form has been so good of late that he continues to keep Brazilian wonderkid Alexandre Pato on the bench.
15 Zambrotta – 3 Maldini – 19 Favalli – 18 Jankulovski
32 Beckham – 21 Pirlo – 23 Ambrosini
22 Kaka – 10 Seedorf
Much to Ranieri’s annoyance, Pavel Nedved and Olof Mellberg picked up bookings in Sunday’s disappointing draw, which have ruled them out for Sunday’s encounter. While there is no direct replacement for Nedved on the left, the Tinkerman may adopt a 4-3-3 formation, which he started against Lecce, and move Mauro Camoranesi out to the left, thus bringing in Marco Marchionni to play his favoured right-wing role. Up front, Amauri will spearhead the Juve attack, supported by Alessandro Del Piero and an in-form Vincenzo Iaquinta. At the back, Nicola Legrottaglie will be brought in for the suspended Mellberg. Juve have no new injuries to report, and besides the aforementioned bookings and long-term injuries, Ranieri has a near complete squad at his disposal.
21 Grygera – 3 Chiellini – 33 Legrottaglie – 29 De Ceglie
32 Marchionni – 6 Zanetti – 16 Camoranesi
9 Iaquinta – 8 Amauri – 10 Del Piero
Due to the quality of players at both clubs, games between these two sides have always been a close affair, however, when one side is on form, the margin of victory can be quite remarkable. When the two clubs last met back in December, Juventus demolished Milan 4-2 in Turin with an outstanding display by Amauri who was in red-hot form at the time, and will need to adopt the same strategy if a win is to be achieved again. Milan’s defence have never really coped well with aerial threats posed by opposing attackers, and with the height and power of both Amauri and Iaquinta (not to mention David Trezeguet, if and when brought on) this weakness could be exposed yet again. What will work in Milan’s favour this weekend is the fact that Nedved is suspended, while on the other flank, Marchionni does not provide as many pin-point crosses as Camoranesi – something that the Old Lady’s strikers thrive on. All this means they will have to play a more pressing, compact and patient game, however, Juve will look to capitalise on a possible lack of understanding between Kalac and his colleagues in front of him.
Milan may adopt a quick passing game to breach the Juve defence, and while Giorgio Chiellini is strong in the air and quick on the ground, the Rossoneri will look to expose Legrottaglie’s weakness in both pace and intercepting balls in and around the box. The movement of Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Inzaghi will be crucial to allow the likes of Beckham to deliver the perfect cross or for the deep-lying Pirlo to thread through that killer pass. While Ancelotti sticks to his preferred formation, he has been known to switch to a three-man defence, thus freeing one of his defenders (normally Gianluca Zambrotta) to push up and support the midfield with Ambrosini sitting in front of the defence – however, all this depends on whether he wishes to start pressing the Juve midfield and/or defence or if his team are behind in the game.
The bigger picture is that while the Rossoneri can do no wrong at the moment, Juventus are a club lacking in confidence. All the signs point to a home win, but Ranieri and his troops must rally in the face of adversity in a show of unity and commitment. Ancelotti has also faced plenty of adversity this campaign but recent showings has seen him bowl over critics and end the season on a high. Whether these two wily old Tacticians will be meeting again next season will be a question on many a Calcio fan’s lips – Sunday may well provide some answers.