TOUCHLINE UI: DERBY D’ITALIA: WHICH TEAM WOULD LAY DOWN THE GAUNTLET?

BY UMEIKE, TIOLUWANI CHIKE

First meets Second in the Third Round of fixtures of the Serie A 2014/15 Season! Battles between A.C. Milan and Juventus, two of the most successful sides in Italian Football have always been breathtaking and at times, heartbreaking (remember the 2003 UEFA Champions League Final?). This fixture ticks all the boxes when it comes to tactical battles, entertainment, and flair and of course, goals!

This season’s first meeting on Saturday at the San Siro will bring an extra edge of intrigue as new Juventus Coach, Massimiliano Allegri brings his troops to his old stomping ground for the first time since he was dismissed in January, while for new Milan Boss, Filippo Inzaghi, who played for Juventus in his playing days, this is his first big test as manager.

Both sides have begun their Serie A campaign in brilliant fashion. The Rossoneri defeated Lazio 3-1 on the opening round of matches and edged Parma in a nine goal thriller, 5-4. The victories make it the first time in eight seasons that the Reds and Blacks have won their first two games of the domestic season. Juventus have also begun their Serie A season impressively as the Bianconeris seek their fourth consecutive Serie A title. They saw off Chievo Verona 1-0 before downing Udinese 2-0 in matchday two. They also got off to a winning start in the Champions League, beating Malmo of Sweden 2-0. The Whites and Blacks are yet to concede a goal and in fact, they’ve not leaked in a goal in any competitive fixture since April. Ruthless! A.S. Roma is the only other Italian team that is yet to drop points.

With both sides 2-0 in the Serie A and set to meet this Saturday, something obviously has to give way. Would League Champions and Favorites live up to the billing as match favorites or would Inzaghi’s men upset the odds and show that they are ready to dine with the big guns and show the world that victories over Lazio and Parma were not smoke screen. Come Along!

  • VENUE: Stade Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy
  • Day: 20th of September, 2014
  • Time: 19:45 or 20:45 ( It depends on your local time)

TOP SCORERS

A.C. MILAN

  • Menez- 3 goals
  • Honda- 2 goals
  • Bonaventura- 1 goal
  • Del Jong- 1 goal
  • Muntari- 1 goal

JUVENTUS

  • Caceres- 1 goal
  • Marchisio- 1 goal
  • Tevez- 1 goal

TEAM NEWS

A.C. MILAN

  • Summer signing and Former Real Madrid Goalie, Diego Lopez will miss the game due to a hamstring injury he picked up while trying to reach a goal bound back pass in Sunday’s 5-4 win at Parma
  • Defender Alex and Midfielder Ricardo are big doubts going into the game on Saturday
  • The Hosts will also be without suspended Daniele Bonera who received his marching orders in the 5-4 win at Parma.
  • However, strike duo of Fernando Torres and Stephan El Shaarawy have recovered and should play on Saturday with the former set to make his debut albeit from the bench against Juventus.

JUVENTUS

  • The Old Lady is set to welcome back Arturo Vidal and Andrea Barzagli after spells at the sidelines.
  • Andrea Pirlo is nearing a return and faces a race against time to face his former side
  • Giorgio Chiellini would make his seasonal debut on Saturday having been previously suspended.

MANAGERS AND THEIR TACTICS

FILIPPO INZAGHI

After a terrible last season, Milan turned to former Milanese, Filippo Inzaghi to get the Rossoneri back to the top in Italian football. After a difficult pre-season, Pippo looks to have got the team playing some good football and scoring goals The rewards have certainly been imminent as A.C. Milan have found the back of the net eight times in just two matches. This approach adopted by the Famous Number 9 of Milan should not come as a surprise as the man labeled by Sir Alex Ferguson to have been “born offside”, was a prolific goal poacher in his playing days.

Pippo has deployed an expansive and attacking-minded 4-3-3 formation with Jeremy Menez the focal point of a very flexible and pacey attack. The Frenchman currently has three goals including that cheeky backheel against Parma which symbolizes the confidence in the Milan camp. Also, Honda who looked every bit of a flop last season has been rejuvenated and plundered in two goals of his own. Inzaghi would be banking on the front three to cause lots of trouble for a Juventus defence that lacks pace.

In the midfield, the trio of Muntari, Poli and Nigel Del Jong, although, nowhere near the class of Pogba,Vidal and Pirlo, would make up for that deficiency in hard work,steel and physical presence and also provide protection for a troubled backline that has shipped in five goals already.

I’m of the view that Milan could struggle in midfield should one of Torres or El Faraone get to start which means Bonaventura would then most likely drop back into midfield. Containing the likes of Pogba and Vidal with him in the middle of the park could be a problem and where would Honda get to play should one of the aforementioned duo make it back to the team. Honda, for all is brilliance and creativity is not particularly known for his work rate and might not fit in a 4-3-3 formation.

Would a change of tactics be necessary? Maybe a change to 3-4-1-2 disguised as 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 or even a 3-4-3 could just do the trick and give them a bit of solidity in the midfield and help out defensively. Inzaghi and A.C. Milan would have to be tactically disciplined.

Over to you Pippo!

MASSIMILIANO ALLEGRI

Despite losing charismatic manager, Antonio Conte who led the Turin side to three consecutive Italian League titles, Juventus have hardly missed a step under pragmatic and conservative, Allegri.

Allegri has also wisely struck to the tested, proven and successful Juventus formation of 3-5-2 despite saying he would alternate from time to time something his predecessor spectacularly failed to do.

The three-man defence which was a rock in Juventus three year reign in Italy has kept clean sheets in their three games till date (including Champions League) and with Chiellini set to come back from suspension, it can only get better for the Zebras.

In the midfield, the Old Lady managed to hold on to the likes of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal not forgetting the ageless and evergreen Andrea Pirlo. Unfortunately, the trio has hardly featured together with Claudio Marchisio and Pereyra deputizing. However, with Pirlo back in the squad and Vidal having overcome his knee injury, we could for once witness the best midfield trio in Italy and one of the best in Europe take to the field at San Siro.

Up front, Llorente is yet to open his account but Tevez already has three goals to his name which includes a brace against Malmo, his first goals in the UEFA Champions League since 2009. The controversial Argentine would lead the line against a very leaky Milan defence.

The 3-5-2 formation gives them that edge in the midfield battle, also allows the likes of Evra and Stephan Lichtsteiner to provide width and most importantly make the team defensively solid and compact.

On the down side, it could leave gaps at the back and a team with pacey attack like Milan’s could hurt the slow Juventus defence.

POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN

A.C. MILAN: Abbiati, Abate, Rami, Zapata, De Sciglio, Poli, Nigel De Jong, Muntari, Honda, Menez, and Stephan El Shaarawy

JUVENTUS: Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra, Pereyra, Marchiso, Pogba, Lichtsteiner, Llorente and Tevez

KEY BATTLES

A.C MILAN DEFENCE V JUVENTUS ATTACK

While A.C Milan has hit eight goals in two games, they have also conceded an amazing five goals. With Bonera out due to suspension, that could just be a blessing in disguise as Rami who would most likely be his replacement is an upgrade on the Italian. With Alex likely to miss out, Zapata would likely come in.

Goal-scoring would not be a problem for the Diavolo but if they are to come out tops, the defence would have to be on top of their game especially from the set-pieces which I noticed they struggled to deal with against Parma. Fernando Llorente does not need any second invitation when it comes to the air.

On the positive, Juventus attack is not blessed with pacey forwards and the Milan defence should be comfortable in that aspect.

THE MIDFIELD BATTLE

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In Vidal, Pogba and Pirlo, Juventus has one of the best midfield trios in European Football. Unfortunately for the Girlfriends of Italy as they are fondly called, Vidal and Pirlo are big doubts for the clash which should be a boost for Milan because in Vidal, you have one of the best box-to-box midfielders while in Pirlo, one of the best deep-lying playmakers in the game. Carlos Marchiso and Pereyra should come in and while they are capable midfielders, they are not quite the same as the Chilean and Italian.

Milan would fancy their chances of winning the midfield battle, it however remains to be seen who does the job of the playmaker as Muntari, De Jong and Poli are all too similar in their style of play.

It is going to be an intriguing battle in the middle but I fancy the current Italian champions to just about edge that battle thanks to a particular Frenchman called Paul Pogba.

A.C. MILAN ATTACK V JUVENTUS DEFENCE

Juventus three man defence of Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini boast of one thing most defences in Europe do not have; UNDERSTANDING. Under Conte, it was difficult to get past them and when any team did, they came face to face with one of the greatest shot stopper of this generation, Gianluigi Buffon.

The three man defence provides cohesion. However,unlike a two man defence, it needs a high level of understanding and anticipation amongst the trio. That’s probably why it has been a success at Turin while somewhere in Manchester, till date it has been close to calamity. Most teams that employ the three man defence ensure that there is a ball-playing defender (Bayern Munchen for example), another reason why it has not worked at United. Apart for the need of understanding, another negative is that it leaves so much space behind the wing backs could be exploited by the opposition who could then stretch the defence.

Looking at the blockbuster on Saturday, Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra would most likely play the wingback roles. While the Swiss is adept in the role, the Frenchman is still a new bird and unfortunately for everyone except Milan, he has lost yards of pace. This is one area Milan would need to exploit with their fullbacks running at Juventus wingbacks.

I give Milan the edge in this area and despite the fact Juventus has not conceded a goal this term, they should ship in a few on Saturday.

MATCH FACTS

  • Juventus have won their last 9 matches in Serie A.
  • Juventus have kept a clean sheet in 8 of their last 9 matches in Serie A.
  • C. Milan has won their last 6 matches in Serie A.
  • C. Milan has won at both halftime and fulltime in 5 of their last 6 home matches in Serie A.
  • Juventus have won at both halftime and fulltime in their last three matches in Serie A.
  • C. Milan has scored at least 2 goals in their last three matches in Serie A.

Source: whoscored.com

PREDCITION

It is a home game for A.C. Milan and some sort of homecoming for Allegri so expect a fully charged and intimidating San Siro atmosphere.

The visitors played in the UEFA Champions League and could feel a little leggy but since it was a home fixture, it should not really be drama.

Both teams have shown that they can score but I feel respect between these two sides could kick in and we might not get to see a goal-laden game

I go with a 1-1 draw.

Who do you think will come out top on Saturday?

TOUCHLINE UI: BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE – WHO WILL MAKE THE TOP FOUR?

BY OSHO SAMUEL

Aftermath of a busy and enthralling transfer window in Europe yielded more buoyant clubs in the English Premier League. The influx of record-breaking players with record-breaking fees signaled the beginning of a fascinating season, pregnant with twists and suspense. It is the beautiful game in England but the clime of suspense which comes with each game makes the future unpredictable. Four sets of matches played already and the glimpse of what looks like a bright future awaits a couple of clubs as they jostle for the top four positions. Defending champions, Manchester City managed to get a draw against Arsenal at Emirates after Arsene Wenger’s men dealt with them in the curtain raiser which ended 3-1 in favour of Arsenal. A rejuvenated Liverpool side under the watch of Brendan Rodgers came into the new season with so much gusto and energy despite the absence of Luiz Suarez. Manchester United looks to be on the path to success after gaining their first win of the season with a 4-0 victory over QPR in their fourth fixture of the season. A concise analysis of the top clubs likely to finish in the top four:

  • Chelsea:

The Blues had what could be regarded a dismal performance last season despite having the much-revered Special one, Jose Mourinho as their gaffer. It was a ‘trophyless’ season for them and two years in a row in which Jose Mourinho will be without a silverware (the first in his career). The huge mountain to climb was to find a perfect solution to the misfiring attacking department.

Diego Costa

Mourinho had to acquire the services of a couple of fantastic players; Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid, Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona, Loic Remy from Queens Park Rangers, Didier Drogba from Galatasaray and a couple of others.

The new signings paved way for the exit of Demba Ba to Besiktas, Torres to AC Milan and Eto’o was not fortunate to get a new contract as he joined Everton. With the trio of Demba Ba, Eto’o and Torres producing a total of 31 goals for Chelsea last season and Diego Costa while in the colors of Roji Blancos in Spanish La liga netting 31 times, it was obvious that the signing of Costa was a tow in the right direction for them. With four matches played, Chelsea stands tall amongst the other teams as the only club with 100% winning record as they got maximum 12 points from all their four games. The excellent goal poacher, Diego Costa got the first hat-trick of the season with a master class display against Swansea in a 4-2 win. Former Barcelona midfielder and former Arsenal skipper, Cesc Fabregas has carried Chelsea on his shoulders with his midfield creative acumen having created 6 assists while the Spanish forward, Costa has 7 goals from 4 matches. Torres managed to score only five for the blues in 43 games last season. With huge and brilliant resources at the disposal of Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea fans can expect to finish in the top four or perhaps win silverware or a double.

  • Arsenal

For the optimistic fans of Arsenal, a wind of change is blowing over the Emirates Stadium as their silverware drought ended with a historic FA Cup win over Hull City in May 2014. It was indeed a great moment for them but they were lost in the overwhelming showers of mirth as they got a second trophy 85 days later.

The Community Shield victory over Manuel Pellegrini’s side at Wembley Stadium was a perfect start to the season. Apart from these sudden clinching of trophies was the decision of the ‘renowned economist’, Arsene Wenger to spend as much as close to 77 million pounds during the transfer window and also starting the spending spree as early as July.

He strengthened the team by reinforcing several departments of the team. The new signings are; Chilean forward, Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), David Ospina (Nice), Calum Chambers (Southampton) and transfer deadline day signing of Danny Welbeck (Manchester United). With French striker, Olivier Giroud out for four months due to injury, Wenger might need to explore other options in attack with Welbeck or Sanogo through the middle while Mesut Ozil is deployed to the left as Alexis Sanchez routs in from the right.

After the Gunners struggled to defeat Crystal Palace at home during the league opener they have settled for draws in their three consecutive matches which placed them in seventh position. With the amount of funds invested on new players by Wenger, the fans are anticipating a better display with lot of goals and wins in the future. The fans have backed the French tactician as they believed in the wealth of experience he has garnered over the years being the undisputable longest serving manager in the English Premier League at the moment.

  • Manchester City

The ‘engineer’ from Chile who provided a pertinent panacea to the maladies of Malaga was able to lead Manchester City to a Premiership League victory in his first stint. The Eastlanders could not spend much during the transfer window due to the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules which they must strictly adhere to in order to avoid some sanctions.

They got a couple of new players; Willy Caballero, Fernando, Frank Lampard, Bacary Sagna and a host of others. The team seems to be a shadow itself as they were overpowered by Arsenal at the curtain raiser and they were narrowly defeated by Stoke City in their third fixture of the season.

They settled for a draw in their away fixture to the Emirates and they have just managed to get 7 points from their last four games which placed them in the sixth position on the table. A lot is expected from Manchester City if they want to win the EPL and successfully defend their title.

  • Liverpool

The Reds from Merseyside returned to the palace of fame and the lofty heights of stardom with an outstanding performance last season. With Brendan Rodgers calling the shots and Uruguayan Striker, Luiz Suarez netting the goals it turned out to be a fantastic season for the Reds.

They finished second on the table, narrowly losing the league to Manchester City, and qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 5 years. Barcelona striker, Luis Suarez scored a total of 31 goals in 32 matches for Liverpool despite missing the first six matches of the season. The exit of this diminutive striker might cost the Reds more than the 75 million pounds they got from the Catalan giants. Will they get another goal poacher like him? New signings are; Adam Lallana, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Dejan Lovren amongst others.

Liverpool had a shock defeat by Aston Villa in their fourth fixture which has dampened morale but they would be expected to bounce back to winning ways.

  • Manchester United

The Red Devils started their Premiership campaign in a highly unprecedented manner as they were defeated by Swansea at Old Trafford during the league opener. They were expected to bounce back to winning ways under new manager, Louis Van Gaal in an entirely new season after enduring a lacklustre performance last season with David Moyes.

Their second and third games of the season ended in draws and they were tipped to re-ignite their Premiership campaign after acquiring the likes of Marcos Rojo, Blind, Luke Shaw, Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao. The fans had to wait till the fourth game of the season in front of their home fans in the historic grounds of old Trafford against Queens Park Rangers.

The most expensive player in the English Premier League, Angel di Maria justified his price tag (59.7m pounds) with an impressive display which earned him his first premiership goal and assist. The enthralling match ended 4-0 in favour of Louis Van Gaal’s side with Spanish players – Ander Herrera and Juan Mata on target while skipper Wayne Rooney was not left out of the party as he also found the back of the net.

It is too early to conclude who carts home the English Premier League title or who finishes in the top four. An interesting season awaits all as we keep our fingers crossed to watch one of the best seasons ever.

Who do you see finishing in the top four?Kindly drop your comment!