Fittingly, old rivals AC Milan and Scudetto – holders Juventus meet on the Epiphany this Wednesday. It is traditionally a day of revelation and celebration that carries great significance in Italy.
AC Milan have arguably their greatest challenge in their unbeaten run so far as they play yet another crucial game on Wednesday night as they welcome fierce rivals Juventus to the San Siro. The Rossoneri know that with a win they will stay top of the Serie A table and extend the gap to Juve to 13 points.
However, a slip up could see them surrender first place to city rivals Inter. The Bianconeri have had a turbulent start to the season under new boss Andrea Pirlo, whereas Milan under Stefano Pioli is roaring with all their cylinders blazing.
Game date: Wednesday 6 January
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Massimiliano Irrati
After another win on Sunday, league leaders Milan remain top of the pile – just ahead of relentless city rivals Inter Milan – with an impressive 37 points already accrued. It was a strong-willed performance by the Rossoneri to take all three points against promoted Benevento at the weekend, as midfielder Sandro Tonali was sent off in the first half, with Milan already a goal to the good through Franck Kessie’s penalty.
A 2-0 win, sealed by Rafael Leao – still deputising for the injured Zlatan Ibrahimović – proved not only the mental mettle of Stefano Pioli’s side but also their ability to absorb pressure against the odds. They are unlikely to face 25 shots on Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal again this time out, even against far superior opposition. However, they are equally unlikely to take a totally gung-ho approach to their encounter with the Old Lady of Turin.
Although their scintillating attacking stats draw most attention, AC Milan also have the third-best defensive record in Serie A this term. Even since the absence of ‘King Zlatan’, the Rossoneri have also maintained their remarkable run of scoring at least two goals in their past 35 league games. Remarkably, they have been avoiding defeat in the league since last March. AC Milan would definitely not want to lose their precious record against Juventus. They would love nothing more than holding off Inter and denying the Bianconeri a tenth successive title in May.
AC Milan are without the services of Gabbia, Bennacer, Saelemaekers and Ibrahimović who are still recovering from their respective injuries. In addition, Sandro Tonali will not be eligible as he picked up a red card in Sunday’s win over Benevento. Simon Kjaer recovered for the game in Campania though. He might be ready to start again in a 4-2-3-1, while Theo Hernandez is back after serving a one-game ban.
According to all the major sources it is being predicted that it will be Davide Calabria on the right ahead of Konti, Kjaer and Alessio Romagnoli as the centre-backs and Theo on the left protecting Gianluigi Donnarumma. Rade Krunic is expected to partner Franck Kessie in the midfield. Castillejo is expected to start on the right, Calhanoglu down the middle and Rebic on the left side of attack . Leao is expected to lead the line once again.
Probable AC Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez; Krunic, Kessie; Castillejo, Calhanoglu, Rebic; Leao.
Juve had a rough beginning to their 2020 – 2021 Serie A campaign under new boss Andrea Pirlo that saw them draw three of their opening four games . However, they’ve begun to click a bit more in recent weeks. They have lost just one of 14 Serie A fixtures though which came in their 3-0 home loss to Fiorentina.
However with their recent 4-1 win over Udinese they’ve reasserted themselves. The Bianconeri finished top of their Champions League group too, beating Barcelona 3-0 in the final group game to leapfrog the LaLiga giants into first spot. Their over-reliance on one man to carry the attack though – as Juve have only the sixth-best goal scoring record in Serie A this season and Ronaldo has scored nearly half of them – has undermined any sustained attempt at catching up with the leaders.
In Andrea Pirlo’s first season in charge, Juventus must not only resist Milan’s super-efficient attack on Wednesday, but also break a notable current run of failure against the league’s bigger boys such as Roma, Lazio and Atalanta. There are some problems for Pirlo to deal with, however.
Sky Italia (via Milan Live) confirmed yesterday that Alvaro Morata is injured and will not take part in the game. Furthermore, the club confirmed that Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado have tested positive COVID-19 and will therefore skip the game. Pirlo revealed earlier today that Dybala also might not be fit for the trip because he currently has a fever.
Probable Juventus XI (4-4-2): Szczesny; Demiral, Bonucci, De Ligt, Danilo; Chiesa, Bentancur, Rabiot, Ramsey; Dybala, Ronaldo.
Head to head
AC Milan’s record against Juventus is as follows: 217 matches, 62 wins, 69 draws, 86 losses, 282 goals for, 324 goals against. The Rossoneri have won just one of their last 13 fixtures against Juve in all competitions. That came last season. Before that ,they secured a 1-0 win thanks to Locatelli’s screamer back in October 2016. In fact, AC Milan met their Turin opponents 30 times between 2010 and 2020 across all competitions. In that period, they have won just four times, losing 21 of those games.
The best memory from this fixture is last season’s game post-lockdown at San Siro. Milan overturned a 2-0 deficit having conceded to Rabiot and Ronaldo, roaring back with Ibrahimović (penalty), Kessie, Leao and Rebic to win 4-2.
Match facts (via Who Scored):
AC Milan have scored at least 2 goals in their last 17 matches (Serie A). They are undefeated in their last 27 matches and have been winning at both half time and full time in 6 of their last 8 matches (Serie A).
Juventus are undefeated in 13 of their last 14 matches (Serie A). There have been over 2.5 goals scored in 5 of Milan‘s last 6 home games (Serie A).
There have been over 2.5 goals scored in 5 of Juventus‘s last 6 games (Serie A).
Ones to watch
For Milan, they look to continue their excellent goal scoring run and keep the away side at bay at the other end. Rebic enjoyed this same fixture earlier in the year and will be key, as will Hakan Calhanoglu. However, Rafael Leao’s exploits will be very important in determining the outcome of the game as he must once again try and step into the shoes of Ibrahimović.
Meanwhile, it will be yet another big test for the Romagnoli-Kjaer centre-back pairing as both have simply one job: keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet.
It is the Portuguese superstar who is undoubtedly the main threat for Juve with 14 goals in the league and 18 in all competitions already this season. However, attention must be paid to their right side now where Theo could find some joy.
This fixture between two old rivals of the Serie A, promises to be a fascinating encounter. While both sides are suffering from injuries/suspensions, they still have enough quality left to provide us an entertaining fixture.
To read more about Serie A teams, click here.