Battle of the Italian Legends: Paolo Maldini vs. Alessandro Del Piero

Danny PenzaSenior Writer IDecember 10, 2008

When Juventus hosts rival AC Milan this Sunday night, there will be more than just sole possession of second place in Serie A and a realistic shot at the Scudetto on the line.

Two of this generations best Italian players will be going up against one another this Sunday, as AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini faces Juventus idol Alessandro Del Piero.

Six years may separate the two Italian legends in age, but the impact that these two players have made on their respective clubs cannot even be measured.

The two captains have led their clubs to countless trophies and despite never claiming silverware together at the international level, they have teamed together with the Azzurri on numerous occasions. Both are in the top five on Italy's most-capped list, with Maldini sitting atop the list with 126.

However, in recent years, the two have seen their careers take very different directions.

Since returning to Serie A after 2006's match fixing scandal, Del Piero has found a second wind, when it seemed as though his career might be coming to an end.

Last season ADP, who is the all-time appearance leader for Italy's most successful club, topped Serie A's scoring list, as he found the back of the net 21 times and was the main man in one of Europe's most deadly attacks.

And this season Il capitano has come up big when it is needed the most, scoring four Champions League goals, two of which were match-winners, and has led Juve to the top spot in Group H.

While Del Piero has found his careers second wind, Maldini has seen the effects of age get the best of him, appearing more on the bench than on the field, and has failed to make more than 20 appearances in Serie A the past three seasons.

Despite that, it's obvious that Maldini's records speak for themselves. Not only is he the most capped player in Italy history, he has also made the most appearances in AC Milan and Serie A history.

However, injuries have begun to impact on his long career. Obviously being 40 years old and a 24-year veteran has something to do with it. Because of that, the AC Milan symbol has to rely more on his incredible defensive instincts rather than his foot speed.

And due to all the injuries to the Milan defense, Maldini has been forced into playing more than he might have expected. Because of that, his role in Sunday's game will be important if Milan want to claim the full three points.

So now the countrymen will face each other once more in another Milan-Juve showdown. Both teams are tied for second place in Serie A with 30 points and are looking to establish themselves as legitimate contenders once again after a few weeks of inconstant results.

The winner will undoubtedly still have a shot to catch leaders Inter Milan as the Serie A calender heads into the second half. While the loser could be as much as nine points off the pace and with little chance, bar a miracle, of winning the Scudetto.

Not exactly the kind of news you want to hear going into the league's final game before the Christmas break.

But, like so many times before, it will be the two inspirational captains of both sides that will be at the very centre of all the action.