Despite being the inferior side for large portions of the match, Juventus’ clinical finishing proved decisive in their road victory at the San Siro.
Clarence Seedorf was forced to make a few changes to his starting XI that defeated Sampdoria last week. The Rossoneri were without the suspended Sulley Muntari and the injured Mario Balotelli, so Nigel de Jong and Andrea Poli slotted into midfield. Also, Christian Abbiati, Urby Emanuelson and Daniele Bonera featured in Seedorf’s back line.
Antonio Conte was without the suspended Arturo Vidal, while Giorgio Chiellini was sidelined due to injury. Claudio Marchisio and Martin Caceres slotted into Juventus’ rather predictable XI.
Great teams find ways to win even when they’re not playing particularly well, and ruthless finishing enabled Juventus to replicate this feat.
Milan’s approach without the ball
One of the peculiar feats regarding this year’s Milan side has been their tendency to perform against the top-sides, yet underachieve against lesser opposition. Despite the vast gap between both sides in the table, Milan was expected to raise their game at the San Siro, and their approach without the ball was pivotal towards their dominance for lengthy periods.
Seedorf instructed his men to press Juventus’ back line when they played out of the back. Giampaolo Pazzini, Kaka and Adel Taarabt pressed Juve’s back three, while Poli man-marked Andrea Pirlo. With Milan’s fullbacks quickly closing down Juve’s wingbacks, Conte’s men were unable to build attacks from midfield, and Milan were able to dominate possession.
Milan negated Juve’s midfield by stifling Pirlo, and ensuring that distribution from the back was limited – without Vidal’s energy in midfield, Juve struggled to compete in central areas.
The biggest surprise was Juve’s poor display in midfield. The aforementioned absence of Vidal was clearly a massive loss, and with Pirlo shackled, Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba were expected to carry the weight. Pogba, however, was languid in midfield, thus producing arguably his worst performance this season, whereas Marchisio’s runs from midfield were promising – it was vital in the build up – but his overall impact was minimal.
In stark contrast, Milan physically imposed their authority in midfield. De Jong was fielded higher up the pitch, aiding Milan in retaining possession through pressing in Juventus’ third, whereas Riccardo Montolivo produced an extraordinary performance. He recovered the most balls in midfield (12), while his five interceptions and four tackles in midfield typified his overall impact.
With Seedorf fielding Poli as his no.10, Milan’s creativity came from wide outlets. The movement from Milan’s wide men created space for Milan’s fullbacks to push into advanced positions, despite early pressure from Juve’s shuttlers. Ultimately, there were three elements to Milan attack.
- Fullbacks push forward: Emanuelson and Ignazio Abate’s advanced positions posed a threat for a short period. Buffon comfortably saved Emanuelson’s shot from outside the box, and later on, Taarabt overloaded the right flank with Abate, but the Juventus goalkeeper easily coped with his cross. Emanuelson continued to push forward throughout the half, and his ball into the box evaded Pazzini, and fell to Poli, but the Milan striker skied his shot over the net.
- Direct balls into Pazzini: Over the course of the first half, Juventus’ back three failed to cope with Pazzini’s movement. In the 8th min, Pazzini nodded down a long ball to Kaka, but his shot flashed wide of the net. Minutes later, Taarabt’s ball from the right flank were flicked on by Kaka towards Pazzini, but his header flew over the net. Towards the end of the half, the Italian did well to hold up the ball and turn on Andrea Barzagli, but Buffon comfortably held his tame effort.
- Kaka direct runs: Pazzini was behind Kaka’s first legitimate goal-scoring opportunity, as he beat Leonardo Bonucci to a loose ball and drove towards goal, thus leading to Kaka forcing Buffon to make a key toe save, and his rebound was cleared off the line by Bonucci. The Brazilian tormented Juventus later in the half, when he drifted infield from the left flank, but his curling effort was pushed aside by Buffon, and Poli blasted the rebound over the net. Lastly, his direct running from the left created space for teammates as well, as he squared a pass to Montolivo, whose effort was also saved by Buffon.
Milan created an abundance of chances to take the lead, but a terrific showing from Buffon, along with woeful finishing prevented Seedorf’s men from taking the lead.
While Milan struggled scoring goals, Juventus’ ruthless finishing signified the difference between both sides. Fernando Llorente’s opener stemmed from a simple long-ball that Adil Rami couldn’t clear, in which it fell into space that Marchisio ran into. The Italian located Tevez in the box, while Stephane Lichtsteiner’s forward run enabled him to latch onto the Argentine’s clever forward pass, and complete his cross for an unmarked Llorente to tap the ball into an open net.
Juventus found more space in midfield in the second half, and it was evident when Tevez received time to fire a venomous shot off the crossbar to secure three points. Tevez, in general, displayed his significance to the side – his creativity created Llorente’s opener, and his goal-scoring prowess led to his fantastic strike for Juve’s second.
In truth, he epitomizes a striker fit for Conte’s system. His willingness to press Taarabt in Milan’s third, thus creating a chance that Lichtsteiner shockingly missed, along with using his strength to easily brush aside Rami and force Abbiati to make a save illustrates what he offers Juventus. The Argentine’s remarkable goal was his 15th in 26 Serie A appearances, and it’s fair to say that not only was Tevez the best striker in the match, but he’s possibly the best in the league.
Usually matches between two top-sides – disregarding the Milan’s position in the table – are decided by the narrowest margins. Although, Milan produced a positive performance, their inability to beat an impressive Buffon haunted the Rossoneri.
The win puts Juventus in pole position to claim their third consecutive Scudetto, and this match indicated the significance of Llorente and Tevez’s arrival. The strike duo has formed an unparalleled partnership this season, as they combine superbly within the final third, while providing flexibility, consistent performances, and goals.