The Serie A weekend heats up as Milan are set to host Juventus on Sunday, with the Rossoneri desperately needing points as they look to continue their recent domestic run under new coach Clarence Seedorf.
Seedorf has lost just one league match since taking over for the maligned Massimiliano Allegri last month and will continue to try to mold the team in his image—quick passes and offensive, with a constant high pressure.
Unfortunately, Mario Balotelli will be iffy for the match and is expected to be out of the lineup. Super Mario hasn't yet faced Juventus in Serie A since joining Milan last January.
At the back, Marco Amelia is expected to make his third start of the season as Christian Abbiati deals with a minor injury. Even though Amelia has committed errors that would excite Nelson Dida, he looked a lot better in the last match against Sampdoria, where he made a few crucial interventions that kept the Blucerchiati off the scoresheet.
The only certainty on the defensive line is Adil Rami, who continues to impress by not only being a physical presence, but showing calmness while under pressure and the ability to test the opposing goalkeeper from defense when he ventures forward.
His partner will most likely be Daniele Bonera, who has been favored over Philippe Mexes.
The full-backs will have their hands busy dealing with the constant offensive surges from the Juventus wing-backs, who love to get forward and sling in crosses to the hulking figure of Fernando Llorente.
According to the probable formations from La Gazzetta, youngster Mattia De Sciglio is preferred over Ignazio Abate on the right, while Urby Emanuelson will be deployed on the opposite flank.
The two holding midfielders have arguably the toughest job on the pitch as they look to quell the five-man Juventus midfield that sees the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba approach the box looking to create a score.
With Sulley Muntari suspended, Riccardo Montolivo and Michael Essien are expected to be the two chosen to patrol in front of the defense.
Last season, Montolivo had his best match against Juventus, when he almost outshone Pirlo with his defensive efforts and creativity on the ball. He hasn't had the same consistency this season, and will look to get inspired against the top team in the league.
Fortunately for the Rossoneri, Arturo Vidal is out due to a suspension.
Now here's where it gets very interesting.
The front four for Milan will have their work cut out for them as Seedorf cannot afford to use a game plan similar to the one we saw against Napoli at the San Paolo. It's hard to deal with high pressure when the three attacking midfielders don't have pace.
The No. 9 role will go to Giampaolo Pazzini now that Balotelli is ruled out.
The Italian striker gives Milan a much different look up front, as he can exploit spaces around the penalty box and has always been an aerial threat. Pazzini also does a decent job holding up the ball and shielding himself from defenders, so he'll have his hands full throughout the match.
The most interesting decision will be whether or not we see Keisuke Honda from the start. The Japanese international still hasn't gotten into the flow of things, and he might be benched in favor of Andrea Poli, who gives Milan plenty of energy up front and was used successfully in the Champions League clash against Atletico Madrid.
Kaka is a certainty in the trequartista role, while Adel Taarabt has done everything to cement a spot in the starting 11, for now.
The most important facet of the match will be how Milan can handle Juventus' pressure, and if the possession game Seedorf wants to desperately play doesn't just end in awkward back passes to the defense and a boot upfield.
Even though Juventus are favored, Milan are hitting their best form of the season and can keep their heads high after a positive performance against Atleti in Europe.
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