A big week for Milan
Although AC Milan, unlike their French counterparts Lille, don’t have to worry about the possibility of being overtaken at the top of their division this weekend, they will want to maintain the five point cushion which currently separates them from Internazionale. The Nerazzurri have been enjoying a new lease on life since the much maligned Rafael Benítez’s departure, with his replacement Leonardo having overseen ten victories in the twelve league matches since his appointment. The only two teams in Serie A to have beaten Leonardo’s Inter have been Udinese and Juventus, the team that Milan will face this weekend.
Juventus, whose performances have often been abject this season, do still possess the talent to upset Milan, as they proved earlier in the season when they beat the Rossoneri by two goals to one at San Siro. Milan’s chief tormentor that night, Fabio Quagliarella, won’t be able to rub salt into the wounds he opened as he is currently recovering from a cruciate ligament injury. However, in January signing Alessandro Matri, with eleven goals in twenty-two matches for Cagliari and a subsequent three in five for Juventus this term, Juventus may not only have a man with the talent to score the goals they so badly need but also the requisite motivation. Matri was formerly on the books of AC Milan, and is reportedly keen to demonstrate to the Piedmontese club that they made an error in letting him go.
Milan, of course, are coming off three successive league wins of their own, including Monday’s dismantlement of surprise title contenders Napoli, which saw goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the increasingly impressive Kevin-Prince Boateng, and this gem from Alexander Pato:
Milan’s next match will not be in Serie A but the Champions league, where they will have to travel to White Hart Lane to face a Tottenham side with three points and an away goal in the bag. Milan’s precarious position in the tie will necessitate a strong starting line-up against the London club, but how many of his heavy hitters can coach Massimiliano Allegri afford to leave out against Juventus? Gennaro Gattuso’s lengthy suspension in the Champions league surely increases the likelihood that he will start on Saturday, but will any other switches be made with Wednesday’s game in mind? Surely Allegri will not want to dispense with Ibrahimovic’s contribution for either match; the striker’s twenty-five league goals are a testament to his coach’s determination to build a team around him, as are the 2194 minutes of playing time he has received thus far, second only to goalkeeper Christian Abbiate. With theories of Ibrahimovic and Pato’s alleged incompatibility still circulating, the young Brazilian might well make way in one of the matches, particularly with the availability Robinho and Antonio Cassano, both tricky forwards with the ability to drop deep and drift wide to devastating effect.
Inter take on Genoa on Sunday, and will do so with the luxury of knowing Milan’s result. Milan will therefore want a victory, not only for the boost to collective morale it will bring before the Tottenham fixture, but also to keep the pressure firmly on an Inter team who have their own deficit to overcome, away to Bayern Munich. Indeed Inter’s problems are very much akin to those of their fierce neighbours and title rivals, with the exception of course that they still have those five points to make up. Defeat in the Champions league for either side, demoralising though it might be in the short term, would mean fewer matches and a greater ability to focus concentration solely on the domestic front. Of course teams of the stature of the two grand Milan clubs are expected to be able achieve success in more than one theatre of battle. And a team of similar rank will be lying in wait for the red and black half of Milan this weekend. Milan will want to win this match to prove they are the team to beat this season. Juventus will want to win not just for pride, but also because they still retain hope of a European place this season. Inter will have to wait and hope that Juventus will have lightened their mood come Saturday night.