AC Milan have 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, but a slip up could see them surrender first place to city rivals Inter.
It has been a turbulent start to the season for the Bianconeri under their new head coach Andrea Pirlo, but Stefano Pioli is expecting a tough game against a difficult opponent as he revealed in his pre-match press conference.
Game date: Wednesday 6 January
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Massimiliano Irrati
Matteo Gabbia, Ismael Bennacer, Alexis Saelemaekers and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are still recovering from their respective injuries and will miss the game. 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 and he both be ready to start again in a 4-2-3-1, while Theo Hernandez is back after serving a one-game ban.
All major sources are predicting that it will be Davide Calabria on the right, 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, with Samu Castillejo on the right, Hakan Calhanoglu down the middle and Ante Rebic on the left of the three behind the centre-forward Rafael Leao.
UPDATE: Rade Krunic and Ante Rebic have both tested positive for Coronavirus and will miss the game.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Dalot, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez; Calabria, Kessie; Castillejo, Calhanoglu, Hauge; Leao.
Juve have begun to click a bit more in recent weeks after a stuttering start under new boss Andrea Pirlo that saw them draw three of their opening four league games.
They have lost just one of 14 Serie A fixtures though that did come in the round before their recent 4-1 win over Udinese as they were beaten 3-0 at home by Fiorentina to close out the year.
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.
There are some problems for Pirlo to deal with, however. Sky Italia (via MilanLive) confirmed yesterday that Alvaro Morata is injured and will not take part in the game, while 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 Paulo Dybala might not be fit for the trip because he currently has a fever, with Sky predicting the following line-up…
Probable Juventus XI (4-4-2): Szczesny; Demiral, Bonucci, De Ligt, Danilo; Chiesa, Bentancur, Rabiot, Ramsey; Dybala, Ronaldo.
Head to head
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, and that came last season, with the victory before that a 1-0 win thanks to Locatelli’s screamer back in October 2016.
In fact, Milan met their Turin opponents 30 times between 2010 and 2020 across all competitions and won just four times, losing 21 of those games.
Of course the overriding memory from this fixture is last season’s game post-lockdown at San Siro, when Milan overturned a 2-0 deficit having conceded to Rabiot and Ronaldo, roaring back with Ibrahimovic (penalty), Kessie, Leao and Rebic to win 4-2.
Match facts (via Opta):
➤ Having won 4-2 back in July 2020, AC Milan will be looking for back-to-back wins against Juventus in Serie A for the first time since 2010, under Leonardo.
➤ Milan and Juventus will meet in Serie A with the Rossoneri ahead of the Bianconeri in the table for the first time since November 2015 – however, Juventus won that encounter 1-0, courtesy of a goal scored by Paulo Dybala.
➤ The last draw between Juventus and AC Milan came back in February 2012 (1-1, goals scored by Antonio Nocerino and Alessandro Matri) – since then, there have been three wins for the Rossoneri and 13 for the Bianconeri.
➤ Milan have scored 2+ goals in each of their last 17 Serie A games, in the history of the top five European leagues only three sides have had a longer such run: Bayern Munich (20 in 2014), Barcelona (18 in 2013 and 2006, and 19 in 1948) and Manchester United (22 in 1959).
➤ Milan have scored in each of their last 17 home games in the top flight, a record for the Rossoneri since 2010 – the last time they failed to net in a home Serie A game came exactly one year ago (0-0 v Sampdoria on January 6).
➤ Having won 4-0 at the Stadio Ennio Tardini against Parma, Juventus will be aiming to keep consecutive away clean sheets in Serie A for the first time since September 2019, the first two away matches under Maurizio Sarri.
➤ 41% of the games won by AC Milan in Serie A in the 2000’s have come with Andrea Pirlo on the pitch (167/407). After leaving the Rossoneri, Pirlo won five of his seven league games against AC Milan as a player with Juventus (D1 L1).
➤ Against Benevento, Rafael Leão became the second youngest foreign player to score 10 goals for AC Milan in Serie A (21 years and 207 days), after Alexandre Pato (19 years and 19 days) – the Portuguese has been involved in seven goals in 11 appearances in Serie A this campaign (four goals and three assists), as many goal involvements as he managed in 31 appearances last season.
➤ Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 64% of his goals away from home in Serie A this season (9/14): this is his highest such ratio in a season in the top five European leagues.
➤ Paulo Dybala has scored seven goals in 11 Serie A games against AC Milan, despite failing to score at the San Siro against the Rossoneri with Juventus.
Ones to watch
For Milan, it feels like the attention will be fixated upon both ends of the field as they look to continue their excellent goalscoring 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, but there is the impression that 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 Ibrahimovic.
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, but attention must be paid to their right side now where Theo could find some joy.
While Juventus have problems going into this game and haven’t looked the same beast this season, the Rossoneri are still a wounded animal themselves really and beating the nine-time-in-a-row Champions is going to be very difficult.
We want to predict a win, but a game like this is just so big for both teams (for various reasons) that a draw seems the most likely outcome.
Prediction: Milan 2-2 Juventus