Serie A Blog: Could peerless Pirlo cost Milan a successful Scudetto defence?
As he proved in last week's win over Catania, Andrea Pirlo can be the difference between 1st and 2nd – we'll know more after Saturday when Juventus visit the San Siro to face AC Milan.
Andrea Pirlo was in sparkling form against Catania last weekend, scoring his first goal for the Bianconeri with a beautifully executed free kick which drew the sides level, before then providing two assists which meant a 3-1 victory and 3 points for the Turin side – absolutely vital following two scoreless draws against Siena and Parma.
“It was important to score because we were at a disadvantage (they were 1-0 down in the game), and it was crucial to win again,” said Pirlo afterwards. “It was also important to find the three points against such a plucky side, but I will now concentrate on winning the league with Juventus.”
However, Pirlo's importance to Juventus is not measured by the number of goals or assists he provides – his contribution goes far deeper than that.
He is the conductor of this Juve side and he has single-handedly imposed a more effective style of play. Juve now control games – something they struggled to achieve last year in a season which ended with a disappointing seventh-placed finish. But then for all his talents and early promise, Alberto Aquilani is no Andrea Pirlo.
Credit should also go to Juve coach Antonio Conte for a formation that brings the best out of his 32-year old magician. His 3-5-2 means that the playmaker can look forward all the time knowing he has players of the calibre of Vidal and Marchisio watching his back.
Pirlo himself seems impressed with the performance of the relatively inexperienced Conte so far this season: “I didn't expect an Antonio Conte like this,” he told Juventus Channel.
“I didn't know him as a coach, he's been a great find. He's a really good tactician, someone who gives so much to his team and we are following him on every level.”
Next Saturday at the San Siro, Pirlo will be back in familiar surroundings when he faces a Milan side who have a one-point advantage over Juve in the league table albeit having played one game extra.
“It will be emotional returning to the San Siro but the game is vital for our season so I’m calm,” said Pirlo
The 32-year-old left the reigning Serie A champions for rivals Juventus on a Bosman move and has since developed into a key player in midfield for the Old Lady.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, however, does not have any regrets about Pirlo's departure as he feels the playmaker lacked motivation at Milan and needed a new challenge.
“He's an amazing player and he's doing very well at Juventus. Often in life after many years you need a change,” Allegri explained
“In Turin he has found new motivation, which had decreased after 10 at Milan. But his quality is not up for debate.”
Prior to Saturday's title clash, AC Milan will hope to have Zlatan Ibrahimovic's three-match ban for slapping Napoli's Salvatore Aronica reduced on appeal on Thursday, which would make the Swede available for the game, having already served two-thirds of his suspension.
Milan coach Allegri was quite matter-of-fact about the possibility of Ibra's involvement: “If they take a match off he'll play, otherwise he won't.”
Meanwhile Juve's Giorgio Chiellini was happy to fan the flames prior to the Thursday night appeal hearing when referring to Ibra's recent actions towards Juve goalkeeper Marco Storari in the Coppa Italia semi-final match between the sides which ended 2-1 to the Bianconeri.
“What happened at the end with Ibra? Nothing with me, but the same thing that happened on Sunday between Ibrahimovic and Salvatore Aronica occurred with Storari,” the defender told Sky Sport Italia.
“I hope that someone saw it and the TVs picked it up. These things can happen when emotions run high, but it is right that people are punished for their mistakes.
Unsurprisingly, the Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini didn't quite take the same view of the incident as the Juve hard-man, “I don't think that Chiellini should behave the way he did,” said Ambrosini.
“It's not nice. Things like that shouldn't happen. I am disappointed because I think we should play certain things down. I think that's what we should do. I don't think he is right to go to the press room and ask for television evidence.
“Are people going after Ibra? If somebody does something wrong they should be punished, but I think that if you are a spy and all you try and do is get somebody in trouble in the press room, I don't think that you should do that,” concluded the midfielder.
But it was left to Pirlo to take the heat out of the situation when he stated that in the games that count, all the big players should be involved. “We hope that Ibra will be there on Saturday,” Pirlo told La Stampa.
In the game against Catania, Pirlo gave an exhibition of how football should be played on the pitch and in his Ibra references, he has shown how players should conduct themselves off the pitch.
Saturday night at the San Siro will see him return to the scene of many of his finest moments in football – expect to see some more.
Atalanta 1-0 Genoa, Parma 0-0 Juventus, Fiorentina 0-3 Napoli, Inter 0-3 Bologna, Juventus 3-1 Catania, Lecce 4-1 Siena, AS Roma 1-0 Parma, Cesena 1-3 AC Milan, Genoa 0-1 Chievo Verona, Novara 0-0 Atalanta, Palermo 5-1 Lazio, Udinese 0-0 Cagliari
Tuesday, February 21
Bologna v Fiorentina
Wednesday, February 22
Siena v Catania
Saturday, February 25
Genoa v Parma
AC Milan v Juventus
Sunday, February 26
Atalanta v AS Roma
Cagliari v Lecce
Catania v Novara
Chievo Verona v Cesena
Siena v Palermo
Bologna v Udinese
Lazio v Fiorentina
Napoli v Inter (7:45pm Live Setanta Ireland)
Read more about: