Milan could crush Juventus' scudetto dreams in epic Serie A title showdown

Max Cooper
Jan 6, 2021, 5:15 PM GMT
The two Serie A goats
The two Serie A goats | MIGUEL MEDINA/Getty Images

January 6 may be a typical working day on British shores, but in Italy, it is a beloved national holiday.

The Epiphany's religious significance stems from the visit of the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus, who famously brought the little child the very impractical gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What was a kid going to do with those, seriously?

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Luckily for little Italian bambini, a befana (a witch-like elderly lady), flies around the houses of every child and brings them sweets and chocolates if they have been good, and coal if they've been naughty over the year.

So, it seems that us football fans have been excellent boys and girls this year, because la befana has saved her best present until last on this festive day of cheer. Wednesday evening sees Serie A leaders Milan host champions Juventus at San Siro, in what is undoubtedly the biggest match of the season so far.

And frankly, that is a better present than the Three Wise Men managed - combined.

While the Epiphany celebrates the birth of one extraordinary boy, another superhuman will be in the limelight on Wednesday as Cristiano Ronaldo aims to shepherd his flock to the holy city of three points.

Juventus' leader
Juventus' leader | Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Milan's own god-like figure, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is unlikely to feature for I Rossoneri, as he is still on the road to recovery from a hamstring injury. Fortunately for the Swede, his disciples hang on his every word, and they have carried out his practises on the pitch in his absence, propelling them to an unlikely lead at the top of the table.

That advantage at the summit has become all the more tantalising only hours before kickoff, with second-placed Inter slipping to a shock 2-1 defeat at Sampdoria, allowing Milan to extend the gap over I Nerazzurri to four points with a win.

A win which, closer to home, would create a 13-point chasm between I Rossoneri and Juve. Inter's defeat has opened the door for Milan, but it has also presented the tiniest of windows for Andrea Pirlo and co to climb through and pull themselves back into the title race.

I Bianconeri have slipped up far too often this season, dropping points in five 1-1 draws in their first 14 games, as well a further tie and a solitary defeat. That record speaks of a side unable to kill off opponents, or to find that extra gear to grind out victories in tight encounters.

The last thing they'd want then is to come up against a team which, so far, has proven capable of doing it all. 11 wins and four draws from 15 matches means that Milan are the only unbeaten club in any of the top five leagues in Europe as we kick off 2021.

Stefano Pioli's men have surpassed every expectation, hurdled every obstacle and come up with the most unexpected responses to some extremely testing questions. Wednesday will be the trickiest of all, however.

A young team growing in confidence
A young team growing in confidence | MB Media/Getty Images

Milan will face Juve without the aforementioned Ibrahimovic, while midfielders Sandro Tonali, Ismael Bennacer and Rade Krunic are all out with suspension, injury and illness respectively. Add to that the absence of striker Ante Rebic with coronavirus, and we can truly expect to see a makeshift Rossoneri for this most vital of matches.

But Pioli's young and spirited side have laughed in the face of adversity all season, and they will do so again on Wednesday, no matter which starlets take to the field. Milan have picked up wins against Inter, Napoli, Sassuolo and more recently Lazio, showing the fighting spirit required to bag a last-minute winner over the Eagles in a 3-2 thriller.

They are oozing confidence, and it has never been any clearer than during their battling 2-0 victory away at Benevento, when, down to ten men, Rafael Leao lofted a brilliant lob up and over the opposing goalkeeper to double the scoreline.

The onus could be on Leao to score Milan's goals
The onus could be on Leao to score Milan's goals | Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Swaggering over to the cameras, the Portuguese forward repeatedly pointed to his wrist, indicating where his watch should have been, while the words, "E' il nostro tempo, eh," calmly rolled from his lips. It's our time.

Belief has never been higher that they can reclaim their throne in Milan, and victory over Juventus would not only build an almost unassailable gap between them and the current champions, but also carry the leaders through a mental barrier that they have struggled to break down in previous years.

No matter their position in the league, Juve remain the team to beat. Beat the best, and you can become the best - simple. I Bianconeri still hold that fearsome aura, and Serie A viewers are expecting them to transform into that ruthless killing machine and steamroll everything in their path until somehow cruising to the league title.

The biggest match of the season so far
The biggest match of the season so far | Claudio Villa./Getty Images

Cruising appears to be out of the question now, but halting Milan's unbeaten run, closing the gap on both I Rossoneri and Inter, and reducing the deficit from the top to only seven points could be the psychological catalyst needed to turn this campaign on its head.

If Juve are going to demonstrate they are rightful champions though, they have to do it on Wednesday. Fail to do so, and it'll Pirlo receiving coal from the Agnelli family, and they might be forced into having an epiphany of their own regarding the status of their rookie coach.