Juve, Milan in a class of their own
On Sunday, the top five teams in the Serie A failed to muster a win between them.
Juventus, the leaders, were surprisingly held at home by Siena but the Bianconeri still retained their one-point lead over Milan who were also unable to go beyond a 0-0 at home to Napoli.
Juventus have a game in hand (away at Parma on February 15) and if they win that one they will put daylight between them and the Rossoneri.
Moreover, they will open a seven-point gap on third-placed Udinese who lack the resources to make a serious challenge for their first ever league title.
The same applies for fourth-placed Lazio as Inter and Roma have played rather inconsistent so far and, at most, they should aspire for a top-three finish.
To sum it up, that makes Juve and Milan the primary contenders for the scudetto whereas the other chasers will battle it out for the last remaining Champions League berth.
Tonight, Juventus and Milan will be extending their rivalries into Coppa Italia territory as they cross swords in the first leg of the semi-finals at the San Siro.
The return leg, at the Juventus Arena, is pencilled for March 21.
With Napoli and Siena meeting in the other semi-final, whoever prevails in the Milan-Juventus duel starts favourites to lift the cup in the May 20 final in Rome.
Going through the com-petition’s annals, Juve’s most recent of nine Coppa Italia suc-cesses goes back to 1995. That was Marcello Lippi’s debut season and the Bianconeri went on to complete the double that year.
Incidentally, Juventus reached their last cup final – the 13th in their history – during Lippi’s last season in charge in 2003/04. On that occasion, they got beaten by Lazio 4-2 on aggregate.
Milan’s last success in the domestic cup is more recent than Juve’s as they completed season 2002/03 in style after lifting the Champions Cup and their fifth Coppa Italia. That was Milan’s last showing in the Italian cup final.
Juve coach Antonio Conte is staying grounded and consistently plays down his side’s chances to outsmart the Rossoneri in the title race.
Only a few pundits had placed their bets on Juventus winning the league last summer but their odds were significantly slashed after a consistent run that made them the only unbeaten side in the league so far.
Juve’s downside this season, perhaps, has been the number of points they dropped to weaker opponents, as happened on Sunday when hosting fourth-bottom Siena in Turin.
Milan have more quality within their ranks but they are not showing the same kind of commitment as Juve and rely too heavily on star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
If he scores, Milan win games but on the Swede’s off days (as the one of Sunday where he also incurred a red card and a three-match ban) the Rossoneri struggle.
Meanwhile, tonight’s tie will serve as a prelude to the Serie A showdown on February 25. This anticipated six-pointer is likely to shed more light on the title race.
Will Conte emulate Lippi and lead the Bianconeri to a league and cup double in his debut season... or, will it be Milan’s year again?
Serie A statistics
2nd draw for Juventus in seven home meetings with Siena. On Sunday, Siena became the fourth side this season to leave the Juventus Arena unbeaten as they held on to a 0-0 draw. However, Siena, along with Palermo and Novara, are still without an away win this season.
4 penalties taken on Sun-day. Stevan Jovetic ably converted a penalty in each half as Fiorentina outsmarted Udinese 3-2. Christian Ledesma pulled one back for Lazio from the spot against Genoa and Fabrizio Miccoli was on the mark from a penalty against Atalanta to score his 10th goal of the season. Of the 71 penalties taken so far, 59 have now been scored.
7 points collected by Fio-rentina in their last three outings with third-placed Udinese being their latest victims. On Sunday, Francesco Guidolin’s Udinese continued to travel badly in Serie A as they succumbed to their fifth away defeat of the term. Meanwhile, Parma remained unbeaten (two wins and two draws) since new coach Roberto Donadoni took over from Franco Colomba.
20 goals were scored on the 22nd day (Cesena vs Catania postponed), 13 coming from the hosts and the remaining seven from the visitors, who managed one win. Total number of goals scored so far is 540. Veteran Antonio Di Natale (Udinese) is the leading marksman in Serie A with 16 goals.
26 years have now passed since Napoli’s most recent victory at the San Siro against Milan. On Sunday, Napoli held on to a goalless draw which extended their winless run to five games (four draws and one defeat). Inter are now winless in their last three games (one draw and two defeats) as they were floored by Roma 4-0. The Nerazzurri last beat Roma at the Olimpico in October 2008 (4-0).