Two-time defending champions Juventus travelled to San Siro on Sunday night to face a resurgent Milan side, buoyed by the arrival of Clarence Seedorf. The Dutchman took over as coach of the Rossoneri back in January, and for much of this match, his players displayed the much improved mental approach seen since he took charge.
No longer the timid provincial side seen under his predecessor Massimiliano Allegri, the seven-time Champions League winners attacked their opponents in a manner reminiscent of their great teams of old. It took a while for the Turin giants to raise their game to meet such a challenge, perhaps slightly fatigued from their own European exploits on Thursday night.
As well as the effects of that Europa League meeting with Trabzonspor, the Bianconeri were also without the suspended Arturo Vidal. The Chilean midfielder has netted 11 goals and five assists, whilst also—according to stats site WhoScored—leading Serie A with 113 tackles, making him a vital member of Antonio Conte’s first XI.
Robbed of the man who has come to personify their playing style over the past two and a half years, it should have been no surprise La Madama struggled to find a foothold in the match. Yet just before halftime, they would break at speed and score the opening goal of the game to silence the Milanese crowd.
After a superbly timed run, Claudio Marchisio pounced on an error by Adil Rami to pull back for Stephan Lichtsteiner, with the ball eventually falling to Fernando Llorente. The Spanish striker was unmarked seven yards out and would make no mistake in tucking away the finish, taking his own tally for the season to 11.
Not only did the goal kick start what had previously been a sub-par performance from Juventus, it also extended their Serie A scoring streak to 39 games. They last failed to get on the score-sheet vs. Roma back in February of last year, a remarkable feat and one which is testament to the depth of quality available to Conte.
The coach is fortunate enough to select his starting line-up from a superb pool of talent, with no fewer than seven players—Gigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo and Pablo Osvaldo—chosen to represent the Italian National Team this coming week.
Lichtsteiner (Switzerland), Martin Caceres (Uruguay), Paul Pogba (France) and Kwadwo Asamoah (Ghana) are likely to join Chilean pair Vidal and Mauricio Isla at the World Cup this summer. With Sebastian Giovinco and Angelo Ogbonna possibly joining those on Cesare Prandelli’s list for Brazil, the club could feasibly have 15 players at the tournament.
Given such strength, it is not difficult to see why they currently lead Serie A by 11 points, although it must be noted nearest rivals Roma still have a game in hand. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that neither Llorente, nor strike partner Carlos Tevez—who have already netted 26 league goals between them—appear to figure in the plans of their respective nations.
That depth has been sorely tested of late, with Vidal’s ban following injury layoffs for both Barzagli and Chiellini, yet the Bianconeri barely missed a beat, just as they did when Pirlo’s knee problem kept him out during December. In the same way Marchisio filled the void left by the absence of his midfield team-mates, Caceres and Ogbonna stepped in at the back.
Osvaldo’s arrival in the January transfer window only added to that feeling of numerical superiority, and Conte’s immediate trust in the Southampton striker has been rewarded. The 28-year-old has made just three substitute appearances, but his two Europa League starts have each yielded goals, making him the 14th different scorer for Juventus this term.
Milan did very well in a much improved performance, but this latest meeting with their storied rivals shows they still have a long way to go as they fight back to the top. For Juventus, their depth has kept alive the dream of a third consecutive title, a feat the club has only managed once in its history. The champions roll on.