It was supposed to be one of the games of the season. One of those big nervy matches towards the end of the campaign that could’ve seen Juventus lose points and allow Napoli to end the black and white hegemony.
However, with the ridiculous 18 (!) points separating the Old Lady from the Partenopei with just eight games to go, all this seems like science-fiction and means that Juve’s clash against Milan is everything but decisive for the Scudetto race.
Despite that, the Milan game still has a significant meaning for the Bianconeri beyond the usual pride and dignity cliche that accompanies this encounter. Massimiliano Allegri’s men travel to Amsterdam on Wednesday for a nostalgic first leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Ajax and the tactician knows that his team cannot afford another lacklustre performance after the 2-0 defeat against Atletico in Madrid in February.
The clubhierarchy should be well aware of the need to reduce the gap between Juventus’ good and bad games, as such mistakes usually prove to be fatal in Europe and damage their status in Champions League betting.
However, this has become something of a trend for the Bianconeri in recent years, as we all remember the heavy 3-0 defeat against Real Madrid in Turin that eventually saw Allegri & co. crashing out of the Champions League. Juventus almost did the impossible and were eliminated only after Michael Oliver’s controversial penalty decision, but the truth is that Allegri’s men were terrible in that first leg, just like they were against Atletico Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival gave the Bianconeri that extra quality, which allowed them to score three past Atleti’s watertight defence and eventually qualify, but even the Portuguese Ballon d’Or winner cannot guarantee such a comeback every time. Therefore, Allegri should use the Milan game to prepare his players mentally, because Ajax’s bravery and aggression can hurt any team at the moment.
Erik ten Hag’s young guns are full of confidence after eliminating Real Madrid and they know that they can hurt Juventus. Especially if the Bianconeri do not have the right mindset for the tough game that awaits them at the Johan Cruijff Arena.
Leonardo Bonucci’s controversial comments on the Moise Kean situation after the Cagliari game, the long list of injuries, as well as the lack of any competition for the Scudetto are all factors that could impact Juve’s performance on Wednesday. That’s why it is vital for Juventus to approach the Milan game with maximum focus, knowing that it could prove to be crucial for the outcome of the game against Ajax a few days later.
The racial abuse that Blaise Matuidi and Kean suffered at the Sardegna Arena, as well as Bonucci’s remarks afterwards, mean that Juventus must show unity against Il Diavolo. On the other hand, the injury situation requires Allegri to be smart in his starting XI selection, as the tactician should find the right balance between resting some players and giving precious minutes to those who haven’t played much lately.
This is going to be far from easy considering that Mad Max needs to avoid any further injury risks and should also respect the quality of the opposition, as the Rossoneri have plenty to play for and despite their own injury issues are still a dangerous side.
In fact, Allegri is probably hoping that Milan’s ambitions for a top four finish would force Gennaro Gattuso’s men to be aggressive and try to press from the start. This is how Ajax play at home and if the Rossoneri try to do that, it would be the perfect preparation for the Bianconeri.
While this would undoubtedly be hard to perform in Turin, it might be Milan’s best choice for success in the game and it might prove to be exactly what Juventus need. It is no secret that the Bianconeri tend to struggle against physical sides that press high up the pitch, as their defeats against Atleti and Genoa showcased that.
“We’re going to need possession to do well in the Champions League and we showed that against Manchester United and Atletico Madrid”. Those were Miralem Pjanic’s words shortly after the Cagliari game and they fully explain why Juve struggle against sides like Genoa or Atletico - they can’t keep enough possession in most cases.
Ajax are far less physical than both Atleti and Il Grifone, which gives the Old Lady a huge advantage, but the Dutch outfit arguably possess more speed and technical quality than the Spaniards and Genoa. On the other hand, Milan have a bit of everything, so if Gattuso adopts such an approach, the main goal for Juventus on a technical level should be to keep possession.
Despite their comfortable lead at the top of the Serie A table, the situation in the Bianconeri camp is far from perfect. Beyond the technical and tactical aspects that Juventus need to prepare for Ajax during the Milan game, Allegri should also pay special attention to the mental and psychological aspect of the game.