Juventus have set the pace in Serie A yet again. The Old Lady of Turin currently hold a 9 point lead over second placed Napoli and could see this increase if results go their way tonight. The Juventini will be looking to get back to winning ways after suffering elimination from the Champions League in the hands of Bayern Munich.
The German club destroyed their Italian counterparts, 4-0 on aggregate (2-0 H&A) to set up a mouth watering, eagerly anticipated, block buster clash with almighty Barcelona in the semis. Lazio on other hand, know that tomorrow’s game is the one of the last few opportunities to secure qualification to the next season’s Champions League.
Anything less than 3 points tonight and things will become very, very delicate. A.C Milan are one of the most in-form teams in the Italian League and it is no surprise that they have maintained third place for a long time now.
Victory over 2nd placed Napoli will take the Berlusconi owned outfit to within one point of tonight’s opponents and a chance to claim 2nd place in the next couple of weeks.
The Milanese have won 4 and drawn of their last 5 Serie games and lie third in the League standings, four points behind 2nd placed Napoli. This would have been inconceivable at the beginning of the season with poor result after poor result coming for the 2011 Italian Champions. Allegri was on brink of a sack and things were going from bad to worse.
However, the ship has steadied ever since and it is a different Rossoneri now. The purchase of Mario Balotelli coupled with the rise to prominence of ‘Faraone’ Shaarawy has been very crucial to the Milan resurgence. El Shaarawy has carried the team all on his way at various times this season. The Egyptian-Italian’s phenomenal form has seen him earn caps with the Azzurri.
Today’s opponents, Napoli, also possess some of the deadliest footballers in Serie A. It is no accident that they sit a place ahead of Milan and still harbour the ambition of winning the Scudetto despite the 9-point lead Juventus have.
The Neapolitans, who have won three of their last 5 games, know that a win over the red and black will all but ensure 2nd place is theirs to lose. Edinson Cavani leads the scorers chart with 22 goals already this season. This means that two Uruguayans comfortably sit atop the marksmen list of two of Europe’s best leagues (England and Italy). He went scoreless for some time, but has come back strong to bang in the goals as he so regularly does.
Marek Hamsik provides the needed creativity from attacking midfield and chips in with some vital goals. Milan know all about these two guys. Stopping them tonight will not be a piece of cake.
Allegri must come to terms with the fact that ‘bad boy’ Mario will not be available for the next 3 games after he was suspended for collecting his 5th yellow card and insulting match officials in Florence. He is also set to face the disciplinary committee of his club for allegations of smoking on the train to the Artenio Franchi.
Consequently, ‘II Pazzo’ will lead the line with El Shaarawy and teenager, M’baye Niang. The EL-BA-NI partnership will have to wait until Mario returns from suspension.
Ricco Montolivo has been exceptional in the last month or so. The midfield pearl’s displays have caught the eye. A superb one again today and Milan could be singing the glory song.
Abbiati, Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Constant, Montolivo, Boateng, Flamini, Niang, Pazzini, El Shaarawy
The absence of Balotelli is a huge loss for Milan. Stephan El Shaarawy has not scored since the end of January. Well, Pazzini has goals in him.
De Sanctis, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Britos, Maggio, Behrami, Dzemaili, Zuniga, Hamisk, Pandev, Cavani
Walter Mazzarri’s men use the wing-back system like Juventus. With Maggio and Zuniga marauding down the wings. Swiss duo, Behrami and Dzemaili will take the midfield roles with Hamsik ahead of them. Blerim Dzemaili has scored 4 goals in his last 2 Serie A games. He is a man in form.
The meeting at San Paolo ended all square (2-2).
Prior to midweek, the Laziali and the Bianconeri were Italy’s last two representatives in European Competitions. However, both of them have been thrown out with the Biaconceleste at least earning a creditable 1-1 draw at home to Fenerbahce. The extra motivation will be with the Rome based club.
The 5th placed team have lost three of their last five games. A draw in last weekend’s Rome derby was seen as two points lost. Hernanes has been tremendous for Petkovic’s side this season, but he let himself and Lazio down in that game by missing a penalty and conceding one at the other end that Er Pupone duly dispatched.
Miroslav Klose is back and that is a bonus for the Biancoceleste. His 10 goals before the long layoff helped the Sky Blues to Champions League places. They have since capitulated afterwards. The much travelled Sergio Floccari has deputised at times for the German Legend. It hasn’t been enough nonetheless.
Hernanes has been the shining light all season and bar the 2nd half performance v the Giallorossi last time out, he has rarely put a foot wrong. Federico Marchetti in goal has been one of the Aquile’s most consistent performers. The Italian goalie’s exploits haven’t gone unnoticed by Cesare Prandelli. Only that Gigi Buffon will be very difficult to displace. PSG’s Salvatore Sirigu has found that a futile mission too.
If the Coppa Italia finalists still want to qualify for the UCL, today’s game is a must win.
Juventus are no easy ride for anyone. Well, except you are Bayern Munich. Apart from the German destroyers, no side has been so dominant against the Old Lady since Antonio Conte took over and came back from a 4 month suspension in December.
Tomorrow night against the Biancoceleste, the league leaders have it all to do in order to restore the confidence that was nowhere to be found on Wednesday. Andrea Pirlo will not want to see Bastian Schweinsteiger anytime soon. The German midfielder gained revenge over the Italian master in both legs of the European tie. It was a performance that drew comparisons with some of the very best ever. A virtuoso display of excellence.
Marchisio cut a forlorn figure in both legs and his ineffectiveness when playing against Europe’s finest footballers showed to a great extent. The absence of Giorgio Chiellini is another minus for the Juventini. The defence without him have coped….with him, they are water tight.
Mirko Vucinic and his strike partners were no match for Dante and Danny Van Buyten who effortlessly kept them very quiet. A Cana-Ciani partnership might be weaker on paper, but can put on a similar show. Tonio Candreva is that stunning winger these days. He knows the Old Lady very well, having spent a season there on loan some seasons ago. His form this campaign has been great.
Ogenyi Onazi has shown flashes of what he is capable of, especially in the European stage. A vital squad member who can come in handy at any time.
Marchetti, Gonzalez, Cana, Ciani, Stankevicius, Candreva, Ledesma, Onazi, Hernanes, Mauri, Klose
The prominent Senad Lulic is suspended for this tie, so Alvaro Gonzalez comes in for him. The return of the imposing Klose is a massive boost for Vladimir Petkovic’s team.
Buffon, Peluso, Bonucci, Barzagli, Asamoah, Marchisio, Vidal, Pirlo, Lichtsteiner, Vucinic, Matri
The return of Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner will be music to the ears of Conte. Although Chiellini is out through suspension, the old lady have enough in their arsenal to wreck havoc at the Stadio Olimpico.
Alessandro Matri is set to replace the Quag in attack, while Kwadwo Asamoah at left wing back is an automatic choice when fit.
Written by Ohireime Eboreime
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