Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Frank Lopapa On September - 30 - 2011

Italian Serie A Week 5 Preview: Juventus vs Milan

On Sunday Juventus host Milan in the first big competitive match at their shiny new stadium. In lieu of writing a traditional preview, I’ve decided to take a look at some points to watch out for during the course of the match.

1) Which lineup will Antonio Conte deploy?

During the first three games, Conte used his favored attacking 4-4-2 against teams that played similar formations in Parma, Siena, and Bologna. During last weekend’s match against Catania, however, Conte used his alternate 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 against a Catania side that employed three in the midfield in a classic 4-3-3; however, the formation did not lead to much success as Juventus reverted back to their usual setup towards the end of the match. This isn’t to say that the three man midfield is gone forever for Juventus, in all likelihood Conte will continue to use the formation based on the opponent. The decision on the formation directly leads to the next point…

2) The battle for control of the midfield

This point is largely dependent on the first. It would clearly make more sense for Conte to send out a Vidal-Pirlo-Marchisio midfield in light of Milan using three (even four) central midfielders. Much also depends on the availability of Kevin-Prince Boateng for Milan, as he is often deployed as a psuedo-trequarista in Max Allegri’s preferred 4-3-1-2. Milan tend to use three physical, dynamic midfielders in the center plus a more strictly holding player; the starting midfield will probably be composed of Boateng (if he’s back from injury by Sunday) as the “trequarista” with Alberto Aquilani, Antonio Nocerino, and Mark van Bommel as the central trio. The looming question is whether Juve’s more lightweight, technical three can compete with the more physical four of Milan; for me, this is probably the most important battle, especially if Milan can mark Pirlo out of the match (aside: who would ever have thought that sentence would ever be written?).

3) Milan’s strikers vs. the Juventus defense

Or more specifically, Ibrahimovic and Cassano versus Chiellini and Barzagli. With the long-term injury of Alexandre Pato, Milan are a little light in the attack and will more than likely be fielding Ibra and Cassano as the starting forwards. The duo are coming off a good midweek Champions League fixture that saw both scoring for Milan in their 2-0 win over Viktoria Plzen. As Ibrahimovic and Cassano are starting to get into form, it will be interesting to see how they match up against a defensive duo that given up only one goal from the run of play. Barzagli is enjoying a renaissance season so far, impressing mightily at the expense of Leo Bonucci. On the other hand, Chiellini has had a slow start to the season and it will be up to him to keep an eye out for Ibra. These two have enjoyed some good duels in the past, as Zlatan seems to being out the best in Giorgio. For Milan, having Ibrahimovic back is great news as he was so instrumental in last year’s titled-winning squad, as well as it allows Antonio Cassano to play his game as a seconda punta. In reserve Milan can count on promising Stephan El-Shaawary, who scored his first goal in Serie A against Udinese, and the ageless Pippo Inzaghi. If Chiellini can find his best form, and Barzagli continues his impressive start to the new season, then we could have a great battle on our hands.

4) Narrowness vs. Width

The two managers, Conte and Allegri, play two very distinct formations that are in stark contrast of each other. Conte heavily relies on the pace and skill of his wingers whether it is in a 4-4-2, 4-3-3, or 4-2-3-1. Allegri, on the other hand, uses a narrow 4-3-1-2 that employs that fullbacks as a means for more width. The key here is that the Juventus wingers will probably stay high up on the field in order to pin back the Milan fullbacks, thus forcing Milan to play solely through the center. From a tactical point of view, this plays into Conte’s hands perfectly. If he can stretch play high and wide via the wings, it will leave more space open in the middle, which in turn would benefit Juve’s central midfielders, especially Andrea Pirlo. Rest assured, however, Allegri has a contingency plan in place to counter this.

Final Thoughts

The key point for me is the formation Conte chooses to use, as Allegri tends to stick with the same tried-and-true setup. It is more than likely that Juventus will use three in the midfield and try to stretch play through the wings. The important thing here is that Matri does not become an isolated figure as in the Catania match. For Milan, winning the central midfield battle is key, especially if they can mark Pirlo out of the game, then it forces Juve’s wingers (who have had a bit of an inconsistent start) to become the primary creative outlet. Both teams will want to win; for Juve it is to make sure they stay at or near the top of the league, and for Milan, it is an opportunity to move back into the higher end of the table.

Probable Formations

Juventus (4-2-3-1): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Chiellini, De Ceglie; Pirlo, Marchisio; Krasic, Vidal, Elia; Matri

Milan (4-3-1-2): Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Silva, Antonini; Nocerino, van Bommel, Aquilani; Boateng; Ibrahimovic, Cassano

By the way, haven’t seen the new stadium yet? check this out

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