This post was guest-blogged by Vittorio Pazzini. Follow him on Twitter (@vittoriopazzini)
In the wake of what is certainly their most disconcerting loss in recent memory, Juventus will hope to regain a much-needed drive and tactical focus in the TIM Cup Quarter-Final Coppa Italia knockout round fixture with old archenemies AC Milan. The winner of this match will advance to the Semi-Finals to face Lazio or Catania.
Antonio Conte’s men are determined to immediately bounce back from the Sampdoria fiasco in the midst of a veritable gauntlet of upcoming clashes in three different competitions. For the moment, thoughts of Serie A and the Champions League will be put aside in order to focus on returning to the Coppa Italia final.
Milan are slogging through a patchwork, injury-plagued “transitional” season. The sales of first Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris St-Germain, and more recently of Alexandre Pato to Corinthians, have all diminished their attack. In addition, Robinho has been on and off the transfer market, although recent reports suggest he is back with the team and may feature against Juve.
However, Stephan El Shaarawy and Giampaolo Pazzini are no slouches themselves, and can always threaten the Bianconeri back line if deployed. They did just that to Siena this weekend during the Rossoneri’s hard-won 2-1 victory.
Meanwhile, Milan’s defense is riddled with injury, and taking into consideration any midweek squad turnover, expect at best a makeshift back line to greet the Old Lady on Wednesday night. It will most likely feature one of our favorite villains, Phillipe Mexes, who is fresh from his Serie A suspension this past weekend.
But despite their precarious state, Milan are especially dangerous in this fixture for three reasons:
1) matches against Juventus are, as a rule, highly contentious;
2) they are in the business of avenging their loss to the Bianconeri in last year’s Coppa Italia and their second-place finish in the campionato;
3) they have likely bonded over the Kevin-Prince Boateng/anti-racism stand, and thus could show more fighting spirit than their previous exploits this season would suggest.
Antonio Conte’s bizarre team selection and uncharacteristically desperate tactical shifts against Sampdoria have seemingly upset the balance and chemistry of the squad. On Wednesday, expect a bit of order to be restored, with the return of Arturo Vidal to the midfield and Stefan Lichtsteiner to the right wing. In addition, Conte has stated that he will start Luca Marrone in Andrea Pirlo’s position to give the latter a rest.
The bad news is that Claudio Marchisio will be out for at least 10 days, and thus out for this match. Normally, Paul Pogba would be a strong candidate for his replacement, and despite his lackluster performance on Sunday, Vidal’s restored presence shoring up the midfield should work in the young Frenchmen’s favor. Also expect either Simone Padoin or Emanuele Giaccherini, or both, to feature at some point in the match.
In defense, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci will hopefully be joined by Martin Caceres on the back line, as at this point, he is much better equipped to cope with the absence of Giorgio Chiellini. The left wing is more uncertain, and the ultimate selection will depend on whether Conte will stubbornly persist with Peluso or warily place his trust once more in Paolo De Ceglie. At this point, it looks like he will stick with Peluso.
In attack, Mirko Vucinic is relatively rested, though he’s recovering from an ankle injury; nevertheless, he could possibly feature from the start with Sebastian Giovinco, who despite his inconsistency still must be regarded as a primary threat in an all-too-frequently toothless Bianconeri attack. Also, Giovinco and Vucinic have proved to be the most simpatico pairing upfront thus far. Conte’s erratic use of Fabio Quagliarella this season, combined with Fabio’s underwhelming half-hour on Sunday, does not bode well for his chances to start. A similar rationale should also apply to Alessandro Matri. However, if Vucinic is unable to start, I imagine Fabio has the advantage.
Expect Conte to be more confident in his tactics against Milan. Hopefully, his uncertain situational responses against Sampdoria will not be repeated, and Juve will still look to dominate possession and constantly press Milan’s shaky defense. Fortunately, the presence of Vidal and Lichtsteiner should naturally brighten attacking prospects down the middle and right channels, respectively—in addition to their galvanizing effect on Juve’s defensive scheme. Overall, look for an aggressive, determined Juve, even without some of their absent warriors.
If it’s true that even great teams experience the occasional blip or misstep, then it’s also true that truly great teams don’t make a habit out of it. During the Antonio Conte era, Juventus has certainly been tested, but the Sampdoria loss was uniquely disconcerting not for the loss itself, but for the unconfident, dazed performance of a Juve squad who pride themselves on playing in the opposite fashion.
On Sunday afternoon, the specter of the last few catastrophic regimes felt uncomfortably close. And while it’s surely nowhere near the time for panicking, Juve must rebound against Milan, who in addition to winning their last encounter with the Bianconeri, are also looking to capitalize on a newfound sense of camaraderie.
A great team responds. We will expect nothing less from our beloved Vecchia Signora.