What: Italian Serie A
Who: Juventus vs AC Milan
When: Sunday 2nd October, 2011, at 19:45 UK time
Where: Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy

First Real Test

Leading the Serie A pack, Juventus welcome reigning champions and heavy favourites AC Milan to the first ever historic derby to be played at the Bianconeri’s new stadium. Games between the two Italian giants rarely fail to thrill, and an early clash between the pair does not mean an action-free encounter. A win over Milan would surely skyrocket morale in Turin, even at such an early stage of the season.

Already leading Milan by three points, club captain Alessandro Del Piero knows what to expect from a game of this magnitude, as the Bianconeri legend is in his 18th professional season as a member of the senior squad. However, Del Piero was quick to claim that the game itself will not be crucial: “This game has always been a Scudetto clash and it marks the race for the title. I am sure it will be the great league clash we all expect, but I don’t think that it will be decisive.”

While Del Piero’s statement does offer some truth, the morale gain in such a game remains of equal importance to the numerical spoils, if not more so early in the season. It has been a very long time since Juventus have flexed their muscles in Serie A, and this game could offer a clue as to whether they are indeed title challengers.

Getting Back on Track

AC Milan will be hoping to utilise their recent Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen in order to kick-start their season domestically. Having secured four points in their last three league games, the onus is on Massimiliano Allegri and the rest of the squad to come up with the goods, despite an ever-growing injury list.

Freshly back from injury for midweek Champions League action, Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved to be the driving force for a Milan side that has failed to shine ever since the 3-1 defeat to Napoli almost a fortnight ago. Having a hand in both of his team’s goals, the towering Swede was praised by team-mate Luca Antonini, who labelled him as the difference-maker in the clash: “Ibrahimovic? He was fundamental for us and we saw him in action tonight. He was a reference point for us and he made the difference with [Antonio] Cassano.” concluded the full-back.

With Silvio Berlusconi boasting Milan once more as “the best club in the world”, the Rossoneri have a lot to live up to. It is true that injuries have plagued the side recently, but the current crop of players available is more than good enough to grab three points here.

Recent form

Siena 0-1 Juventus (18/09; Serie A)
Juventus 1-1 Bologna (21/09; Serie A)
Catania 1-1 Juventus (25/09; Serie A)

AC Milan:
Milan 1-1 Udinese (21/09; Serie A)
Milan 1-0 Cesena (24/09; Serie A)
Milan 2-0 Viktoria Plzen
(28/09; Champions League)

Key absences

Juventus: Vincenzo Iaquinta; Andrea Barzagli (doubt)

AC Milan: Alexandre Pato; Gennaro Gattuso; Philippe Mexes; Robinho; Mathieu Flamini; Kevin-Prince Boateng (doubt)

Players to watch

Juventus – Andrea Pirlo: All eyes will be on Pirlo as he makes his first official appearance against the team at which he made his name. Having clocked up ten seasons as a Milanista, Pirlo revolutionised the role of deep-lying playmaker, ironically known as the “quarter-back”. Pulling the strings from a regressed position, it will be curious to see if the Italian international still has what it takes.

AC Milan – Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Spells at Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and now Milan make Ibrahimovic one of the most famous and lethal finishers out there. Blessed with superb ball skills and a dominating stature, the Swede comes back to where his name shone as part of the Calcio-winning Juventus of Fabio Capello. Having unceremoniously left the club, he will be met with jeers by the Bianconeri fans though.

Match Prediction

The victory over Plzen should have given a Milan side who have performed well below their best a real boost. Juventus however are league leaders and appear to be more determined than ever; but that will not stop Ibrahimovic and co. from stealing the spotlight. Juventus 1-2 AC Milan.

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