“Professional football is something that is like war”. The words of legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels were particularly poignant at the San Siro on 25th February when AC Milan and Juventus collided. Indeed, the Dutchman’s statement describes the ongoing battle that has broken out between the two Italian powerhouses.

In the weeks leading up to the clash Juventus coach Antonio Conte suggested to Marcello Nicchi, president of the referees association, that Serie A officials have an issue giving decisions the Bianconeri’s way. “Referees have problems when they have to referee Juventus”, said the former midfielder. “They have problems giving us penalties. Have a look at what happened against Siena and Parma. They are frightened to whistle in our favour. This is probably a consequence of Calciopoli, but this is not good for Serie A”, he added.

And it was in this climate, with AC Milan wary of Conte’s accusations, that the vital clash at the San Siro approached. Before the match the Rossoneri held a one-point advantage over Juventus, but the Bianconeri had a game in hand.

Milan started the evening without talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was suspended, and with a team severely wracked by injuries: Stars such as Kevin-Prince Boateng, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta and Alberto Aquilani were sidelined. Coach Massimiliano Allegri adopted an aggressive tactical fashion, playing a 4-3-1-2 system, with Robinho and Alexandre Pato up front and Dutchman Urby Emanuelson as a trequartista.

The Rossoneri opened the scoring in the 14th minute after Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci let in Antonio Nocerino. Allegri’s men were producing the goods, playing fine football and in the 25th minute looked to have grabbed further reward though a Sulley Muntari header. But an astonished San Siro watched linesman Roberto Romagnoli indicate to referee Claudio Tagliavento that the ball had not crossed the line, despite TV replays and almost the entire crowd having seen Muntari’s effort clearly go at least 50 centimetres behind. Tagliavento had looked to have given a goal, but Romagnoli repeated to the official, via their headphone connection, that the ball had not crossed the line. From that moment, the match changed and the players became tense.

At the end of the first half, in the tunnel between the pitch and the dressing rooms, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani attacked Conte about his accusations in the weeks leading up to the game. The Juventus coach shot back, commenting that the Milan board is at the head of a type of mafia. And at this point the war really began.

In the second period, the Bianconeri equalised through Alessandro Matri, but the struggle continued on the pitch as Milan defender Philippe Mexes punched striker Marco Borriello in the stomach and elbows flew between Andrea Pirlo and Mark van Bommel, and Sulley Muntari and Stephan Lichsteiner. Matri had another goal wrongly disallowed towards the end of the clash, while Conte, Van Bommel, Massimo Ambrosini and Giorgio Chiellini rowed in front of referee Tagliavento.

More arguments arrived in the post-match press conference when Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon commented: “I did not notice that the ball had crossed the line but, if I had, I don’t think I would have helped the referee by revealing what I saw.” Buffon was strongly criticised for his statement, especially as he is captain of the Italian national team. But the war of words did not die at the San Siro, instead it continued through the media.

Milan and Juventus have a long tradition of friendship, which derives from the mid-1990s, when Galliani and Luciano Moggi (Juventus’ former general director) agreed what was essentially a commercial partnership. The two teams dominated Italian football in the second half of the 1990s and the early 2000s, at least until the Calciopoli scandal in the summer of 2006.

From that time, much has changed in the partnership. Milan and Juventus continue to compete in the summer Trofeo Berlusconi tournament – the first edition was in 1991 and the teams have agreed dates running until 2014 – and there has continued to be player movement between the Bianconeri and Rossoneri (Andrea Pirlo joined Juventus from Milan last year). But the fierce rivalry between the two clubs has re-emerged, and off the pitch too.

Andrea Agnelli, the new Juventus president, has launched attacks on the Italian Football Federation and Inter in recent months. All are related to Calciopoli and the young Agnelli is desperate to rewrite the story of these troubled days. In the meantime, Juventus have been unhappy with Milan and Galliani for the Rossoneri’s perceived “light involvement” in the big 2006 scandal.

Today, Juventus and Milan are slogging it out for the Serie A title. The Rossoneri look the stronger side, but Juventus have a quick team and a steely determination to overtake Milan. Driving the Bianconeri forward is the thought that the last time the Scudetto was won by the club was almost ten years ago, in the 2002/03 season (the 2004/05 and 2005/06 Scudetti’s were taken off Juventus due to Calciopoli – and Agnelli wants the honours restoring).

The war is set to continue and it may not end when the final ball of the current season is kicked.