This weekend sees in-form Milan host a troubled Juventus as both sides look to consolidate their claims for Champions League football next term.
Last weekend saw Milan continue their devastating form, with goals from the in-form Filippo Inzaghi and Kaka giving them a comfortable 2-0 win over lowly Catania to extend their lead over Juve to four points and consolidate their claims for second place. The Rossoneri has now won seven from their last eight and scored 10 times in their last three, conceding just once in the process. Much of il Diavolo’s recent good form has been down to the devastating partnership of Inzaghi and Kaka.
The duo have been responsible for nine of Milan’s last 10 goals and Carlo Ancelotti looks certain to continue with both and will be confident they can take advantage of the Bianconeri’s defensive frailties and take a giant stride closer to securing second spot. Inzaghi, in particular, has been in incredible form, helping himself to 11 goals in his last eight games – including a hat trick against Palermo, and the veteran will no doubt be looking to pile further misery on his former side on Sunday. Inzaghi’s run is likely to again keep Ronaldinho warming the bench, whilst Clarence Seedorf, who seems to relish playing Juventus, should start. So too should the impressive on-loan midfielder David Beckham – who has been constantly linked with a permanent move to the San Siro, and claimed three assists in the recent 5-1 rout of Palermo.
While Milan extended their impressive run, it proved another weekend to forget for Juve as they conceded yet another stoppage time goal to draw 2-2 at home to relegation threatened Lecce, extending their dismal run to seven consecutive games
without a win. The visitors took an early lead through Axel Konan, before a second-half brace from Pavel Nedved looked to have saved their blushes. However, Castillo’s late show earned the visitors a deserved point and sent a chorus of disapproving jeers echoing around the Olimpico.
Victory this weekend is now a must for under fire Coach Claudio Ranieri and his faltering side, as they attempt to reclaim second place and repair some of the damage inflicted on their disgruntled fans after a bitterly disappointing end to the campaign. If rumours are to be believed, even three points may not be enough to prevent Ranieri becoming the first Juve managerial casualty for 40 years come the end of the season. Just nine weeks ago and before their recent capitulation, Ranieri led the Bianconeri, albeit briefly, to the top of the table but now rumours of changing room bust-ups and Gianluigi Buffon’s bizarre decision to return to the pitch long before his team mates against Lecce, indicate his team have lost patience and did little to dispel the black cloud looming over the Old Lady. Even Alessandro Del Piero, so influential for Juve this season, looked strangely out of sorts and was replaced by Christian Poulsen at half time.
If the task of stopping the Rossoneri’s potent attacking threat in their current form wasn’t daunting enough, The Old Lady will be without a host of players for Sunday’s trip. They are still without the injured trio of Momo Sissoko, Claudio Marchisio and Hasan Salihamidzic, who all look unlikely to recover in time to feature, whilst the experienced Olof Mellberg and last weekend’s saviour Nedved will both miss out through suspension.
Barring a late slip by rivals Inter, any hopes of a long awaited title look extremely unlikely for Milan. However, a win against the Bianconeri this weekend would open up a seven point gap between themselves and Ranieri’s side, all but securing second place and at least delaying Inter’s title celebrations for another week. Should Juventus end their torrid run and leave Milan with a much-needed victory, Inter will have the opportunity to secure the Scudetto if they manage to overcome lowly Chievo.
The Rossoneri will be eager to prevent that happening and will be looking to avenge the 4-2 defeat they suffered in Turin in the reverse fixture that put a significant dent in their title aspirations. A brace from Amauri as well as goals from Del Piero and Giorgio Chiellini gave the Old Lady the premature advantage in their title race that day. The roles, however, have now been firmly reversed and Ancelotti’s side will be confident of recording another win. Defeat for the Bianconeri would be catastrophic and could allow fourth placed Fiorentina the chance to reduce the gap to just two points – spelling more pressure for Ranieri and his charges.
Whilst fourth place would still ensure Champions League qualification, it would mean they would face a qualifying round and a potential tie against a top four side from England or Spain and an earlier start to next season. Matters could get even worse for La Vecchia Signora should fifth placed Genoa win at Atalanta and potentially close the gap from third to fifth to just three points. Failure to qualify for the Champions League would be an unthinkable proposition for a club such as Juventus, but one that could become a worrying possibility if they leave Milan empty handed.