Empoli vs. AC Milan - match preview
30.11 || scharatz
Years of Spanish domination over European continental competitions were brought to a halt on Tuesday night when AC Milan defeated Real Madrid. It may not signal a trend reversal just as yet, but it is a signal that Italians may be on track to reclaim their lost hegemony.
While As and Marca praised the Rossoneri ('Milan are the best image of the new Italian football'), Carlo Ancelotti underlined the importance of that Euro victory: ' A win just gives you the three points, but a convincing football makes you happier. Rotation is important but the players must agree on it, otherwise it's difficult to make'.
Manuel Rui Costa, on the other hand, warns the squad against complacency: 'The risk is to underrate the match. We'll have to face Empoli as if they were Real Madrid, also because they're a competitive team that can count on players who are doing very well. We will need our best concentration, we're on the right path and we have to go on like this.'
Whatever the challenge Empoli may oppose, their bid is set to be undermined by newly capped Antonio Di Natale. The prolific striker - joint capocanonniere with 9 goals so far - has been ruled out for the match.
The situation is also quite bad in defence for manager Baldini. Cribari and Lucchini will form a central defensive duo whose aggregated age is almost half that of Milan pair Maldini-Costacurta. It says it all about Empoli's relative lack of experience.
Empoli managed to pick all three points at home for the first time since the start of the season over Reggina. They have performed better away from the Stadio Castellani where they won four times already.
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Rivaldo sustained a muscle strain on his left thigh during the game between Milan and Real Madrid on Tuesday November 26. He is likely to be out for two or three weeks.
Empoli's leading scorer Antonio di Natale will miss next Sunday's match against Milan. His injury is more serious than it was expected: he has been actually ruled out for a month after suffering knee ligament damage.
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Empoli (last six): WLLWWL
Not bad for a newly promoted team. The Tuscans fell at home to Lazio and Inter but they edged past relegation-threatened Brescia, Piacenza and Reggina. That might weigh on the final calculations made on Judgment Day.
Milan (last six): WLLWWW
Current Serie A leaders Milan sailed through a small crisis unharmed to win their last three important matches against Parma, Inter and Real Madrid. The Rossoneri's difficult fixture list took them to Juve, where they lost 2-1, and left them reeling to a unimportant home defeat vs Depor.
LOOK OUT FOR
Empoli: Ighli Vannucchi - Here's a player who never really confirmed the hopes people had placed in him. The former Salernitana winger, who dipped one toe in the Italy setup two years ago, was on everybody's shortlist before moving on loan to Venezia, where he failed to live up to the demands of Serie A. There is still time for him to pick up and show what he is made of.
Milan: Andriy Shevchenko - Was it the prospect of facing Real or the boost provided by his new bird? No matter what the reason may be, the Ukrainian striker took a step back to form with a goal against Real Madrid. Some consistency will be needed before saying Sheva is definitely back.
Redondo returns to action
30.11 || scharatz
Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that Fernando Redondo may make his Serie A debut for Milan this weekend.
The Argentine winger – who has undergone several knee operations since signing for the club in July 2000 – is included in their squad travelling to Empoli this Sunday.
“Redondo is football,” said the tactician, “and perhaps represents the sport more than any other player. We don’t need to teach him anything and the problems are purely with fitness Coaches.”
The former Real Madrid star has been on the sidelines for two years after being voted Player of the Tournament in the 1999-00 Champions’ League.
“Redondo is already giving his contribution to Milan’s campaign just by being there with the squad. He has the support, trust and faith of everyone at this club.”
Ancelotti also revealed other changes to the line-up that will take on high-flying Empoli at the Stadio Castellani.
“I have a few doubts,” he confessed, “but I will certainly maintain the three-pronged attack with Pippo Inzaghi, Andriy Shevchenko and Andrea Pirlo in front of the defence.”
Rivaldo is out of action for two to three weeks with a minor thigh strain, while Kakha Kaladze and Gennaro Gattuso are struggling with slight knocks.
However, the Coach is confident that the derby win over Inter and the 1-0 Champions’ League victory over Real Madrid have curtailed any criticism of their recent form.
“With the last few wins we have cancelled out that disappointing moment we were going through. What I really admired was that the entire team defended well, including the midfielders and forwards.”
“The fact that we did not concede a single goal against Inter and Real can only be a positive sign, particularly as Alessandro Nesta was out injured for both encounters.”
The ex-Lazio captain is back in the team for the trip to Empoli on Sunday afternoon.
Gk: Abbiati, Dida, Fiori
D: Chamot, Costacurta, Nesta, Helveg, Maldini, Simic
M: Ambrosini, Dalla Bona, Gattuso, Pirlo, Redondo, Rui Costa, Seedorf, Serginho, Leonardo, Brocchi.
F: Inzaghi, Shevchenko, Tomasson
Milan join the high society
30.11 || Seamus
How much is a winning UEFA Champions League goal worth, especially one against the reigning European champions? The answer is an informal lunch with the Ukrainian president and the Italian prime minister.
Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, scorer of AC Milan's winning goal against Real Madrid CF at the San Siro on Tuesday night, was in Rome on Wednesday morning with his girlfriend, Kristen, when his mobile phone rang. On the line was the secretary of Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who just happened to be in Rome on an official visit.
Would Mr Shevchenko like to come to lunch with the president and Silvio Berlusconi? Of course he would, out of deference not just to his state president but also to the man who rules Italy and owns Milan, prime minister Berlusconi. Shevchenko's goal and Milan's victory, coming as they did just three days after an impressive 1-0 derby win against Internazionale FC, have left Milan fans dreaming that the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s are back.
It's true we've just beaten the reigning European champions but that means nothing
'We're doing well'
However, the man at the centre of the Milan success story, coach Carlo Ancelotti, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. "It's true we've just beaten the reigning European champions but that means nothing," he said. "All I would say is that we're following our path and we're doing well. Whether we're a better team than Madrid, Manchester United [FC], [FC] Barcelona, Juventus [FC] or Arsenal [FC] doesn't interest me a bit."
1989 remains the benchmark for Berlusconi and most Milan fans
Ancelotti can take credit for the excellent form shown by joint Serie A leaders Milan. Prior to this season, not many would have predicted he would be able to successfully combine the talents of Brazilian Rivaldo, Dutchman Clarence Seedorf, Portugal's Rui Costa, Filippo Inzaghi, Shevchenko and Andrea Pirlo.
By making ample use of "turnover", by the strategic use of midfield ball-winners such as Massimo Ambrosini (against Madrid) and Gennaro Gattuso to provide cover for Pirlo, Rivaldo and Rui Costa, Ancelotti has defied his media image of a "dour 4-4-2" specialist. The man who, while coach at Parma AC, offloaded Gianfranco Zola (to Chelsea FC) and declined to have Roberto Baggio in his squad has devised a 4-3-2-1 lineup which affords maximum space to his talented playmakers.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti has revitalised Milan
Milan are winners, as their track record of 16 Serie A titles and five European Champion Clubs' Cups demonstrates. Following a grey period in the late 1990s, Berlusconi has aimed to guide his favourite team back to the top of the international tree and to do so in style. So far, as evidenced not just by the wins against Madrid and Inter but also by earlier successes against FC Bayern München and RC Deportivo La Coruña, Ancelotti's team has answered the call magnificently.
The Milan of 15 years ago, the side that featured Dutchmen Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard as well as Ancelotti himself, remains the benchmark for Berlusconi. 'Maestro' Arrigo Sacchi, the coach of that team, was so impressed with Milan's second-half performance against Madrid this week that he ranked it higher than a famous evening when his side dealt out a merciless 5-0 thrashing to Madrid in a European Cup tie in April 1989.
Ancelotti has been grateful this week for all the praise heaped on him but, typically, remains level-headed. "I'm pleased to receive so many compliments but I would like to remind people that Milan have won nothing yet. The road ahead is long, very long."
By Paddy Agnew
Rising star Di Natale doubtful for Milan clash
28.11 || Seamus
Empoli were hit by the news that their rising star striker Antonio Di Natale was doubtful for the clash with AC Milan this weekend. Club doctors are pessimistic that their newly-capped player will be ready on time to shake off a knee injury he picked up during training on Wednesday.
Shevchenko proves the difference
27.11 || Seamus
A stunning strike from Andriy Shevchenko allowed AC Milan to draw first blood against Real Madrid CF in an enthralling battle of the UEFA Champions League Group C heavyweights at the San Siro.
Carlo Ancelotti left the competition's joint-leading scorer Filippo Inzaghi on the bench in preference to Shevchenko and the Ukrainian vindicated his coach's decision with a superb strike on 40 minutes. Played through beautifully by Rui Costa's defence-splitting pass from within his own half, Shevchenko left Iker Casillas no chance with a powerful low strike into the left corner.
The goal came against the run of play after a series of swift breaks by the European champions who grew in stature as the half progressed. Zinedine Zidane was particularly influential in the Madrid midfield and it was his deftly weighted pass on 26 minutes that presented Fernando Morientes with Madrid's best chance of the half.
Morientes, only in the side through the absence of Ronaldo and Guti, the club's leading scorer in the competition this season, collected the ball eight metres out, but could not lift his shot over Dida from a tight angle.
Milan come close
Milan had controlled the opening stages at a rain-drenched San Siro. Clarence Seedorf saw a rasping strike saved by Casillas after only two minutes and Shevchenko was unlucky not to score 15 minutes later, shooting narrowly wide after a brilliant turn.
Milan turn the screw
Befitting two clubs who have won the European crown 14 times between them, the game ebbed and flowed with chances at both ends, but after the break it was the home side that turned the screw. Prompted by the outstanding Rui Costa, Madrid were forced to withstand wave after wave of Milan attacks and it was the Portuguese international who nearly doubled the score on 52 minutes with a fierce dipping volley that Casillas tipped over the bar at full stretch.
Milan were looking to get Shevchenko in behind the Madrid defence at every opportunity and the visiting side were fortunate not to fall further behind as the Ukrainian, Seedorf then Rui Costa all spurned good chances.
Madrid equaliser ruled out
Madrid, however, began to find a foothold in midfield and against the flow of a one-sided second half, came close to forcing an equaliser. First Dida saved Zidane's low strike from the edge of the box, then with seven minutes remaining, the Frenchman beat Dida to a corner with a header which Raúl González appeared to have touched over the line only for the goal to be disallowed for an infringement by the striker.
Milan hold on
Having survived that scare, Milan took the attack back to Madrid. Kakha Kaladze and Gennaro Gattuso - partnered in midfield by Massimo Ambrosini, chosen in favour of the in-form Andrea Pirlo - might have added to the lead late on, but one goal proved enough. Milan had triumphed in a pulsating encounter, inflicting on a faltering Madrid their fifth match without a win in the Champions League, their worst run in the competition.
Ancelotti carries on Milan tradition
27.11 || webmaster
Real Madrid have lost all five times they have come to the San Siro in an official European Cup game.
“I am extremely happy with the win and their overall performance. I am only worried,” joked ex-player Carlo Ancelotti, “that this victory can put my memories of playing against and beating Real in the shade.”
“We had a great start to the first half and kept on going forward throughout the match. I was pleased with that aggressive attitude.”
The Spaniards had a goal disallowed for offside and a Raul handling offence towards the end of the match.
“We didn’t give Real much space,” noted the Coach, “but we were lucky in that instance. I believe that overall we deserved the win and a draw would have been unfair.”
“Apart from the handling offence, I think it was clearly offside as Raul was behind Dida and had only Serginho on the goalline.”
Milan had stuttered in the Champions’ League since ensuring qualification for the second phase, but resumed their fine form for this big match.
“We do seem to bring the best out of ourselves in the big games,” admitted Ancelotti. “Obviously a team must know how to make an impact in every match, not just the spectacular ones.”
The midfield was particularly solid and Ancelotti changed his tactics to introduce Massimo Ambrosini in place of the more creative Andrea Pirlo.
“Rivaldo did his duty for the side, as did everyone, and the team did very well in keeping Real closed down.”
“Filippo Inzaghi played the derby and Andriy Shevchenko certainly had better fitness and pace for this match.”
“I told Shevchenko to stay in the centre and try to push forward at every opportunity,” explained the tactician.
“The Real defence is not very fast and leaves itself open to the counter-attack as they push on the flanks.”
Match-winner Andriy Shevchenko was understandably overjoyed at marking such a big match.
“I was really waiting for this game and I thank the Coach, my teammates and the fans for helping me prepare for this moment. We really deserved this victory.”
The Ukrainian has barely featured since returning from a knee injury, but confirmed he understood the situation.
“Milan are a great team and I am happy to sacrifice myself to help out in defence. It doesn’t matter to me.”
“There are many games in the season,” added the striker, “and the Coach is right to use the rotation system. Everyone gets their chance.”
AC Milan 1-0 Real Madrid - match report
27.11 || webmaster
Scorer: Shevchenko 40 (M)
Andriy Shevchenko has decided the Champions' League clash of the titans between Milan and Real Madrid.
The San Siro was packed out for this high-profile match - between them Milan and Real have won 101 European trophies - and a showdown between the two favourites to progress from Group C.
Andriy Shevchenko, who had been linked with a move to Madrid for many months, started along with Manuel Rui Costa and ex-Barcelona hero Rivaldo. Billy Costacurta stepped in for the injured Alessandro Nesta.
Ronaldo did not return to the Stadium he once shared with Inter due to a bout of flu, while Guti, Claude Makelele and Fernando Hierro were also out of action. Zinedine Zidane made his comeback to Italy after leaving Juventus.
The Rossoneri warned they would attack from the start and within the first two minutes ex-Real man Clarence Seedorf had brought a tricky save out of Iker Casillas.
Shevchenko almost scored a splendid opener on 17 minutes. He hooked a Gennaro Gattuso centre and turned on the volley, but the ball shaved the upright.
Real's first real chance came on the counter-attack on 25 minutes, but from a good position Fernando Morientes fired straight at Dida's legs.
Soon after Dida also palmed a fierce Zidane effort from distance over the bar. Real settled into the game after a very aggressive start from Milan, but could not create many clear-cut chances.
Manuel Rui Costa clearly relished this encounter and often tried to get past his markers - curling an angled drive past the far post on the half-hour mark.
The Real defence always looked a little slow and the blistering pace of Shevchenko took full advantage just before the break. An inch-perfect through ball from Rui Costa allowed the Ukrainian to sprint past Ivan Helguera and slide a low drive under Casillas.
Milan had a strong start to the second half and Casillas was at full stretch to turn out a Rui Costa cross-cum-shot.
Paolo Maldini had another magnificent performance in defence as the veteran kept Luis Figo quiet.
The Rossoneri very nearly doubled their lead on the hour mark as Seedorf's chip left the 'keeper stranded, but Cambiasso's desperate goalline clearance kept Real in it.
Soon after Rui Costa took advantage of Pavon's defensive error, but curled his shot over from a difficult angle.
Milan sprung the offside trap several times, but Shevchenko and then Seedorf failed to make the most of these opportunities.
The heavy rainfall made the pitch extremely slippery for the final half-hour and this affected the overall play.
The very impressive Rui Costa was substituted for the pacey Serginho and almost immediately the home side risked scoring another but Pavon dived in front of Rivaldo to clear.
On the resulting corner kick Casillas required a reaction save on Kakha Kaladze and Shevchenko was just unable to hook the loose ball.
Zidane tried to strike on the break, but Dida was more than equal to the task.
There was controversy eight minutes from time. Real thought they had equalised when Dida misjudged a corner kick and Zidane's header went towards goal, but as Raul went to turn in he handled the ball on the line.
In the final minutes Real rarely went past the halfway line as Milan maintained possession and the victory.
Milan: Dida; Simic (Chamot 89), Costacurta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Ambrosini, Seedorf; Rui Costa (Serginho 75), Rivaldo; Shevchenko (Tomasson 82)
Real Madrid: Casillas; Salgado, Helguera, Pavon, Roberto Carlos; Cambiasso (Solari 75), Celades; Figo, Zidane, Raul; Morientes (Portillo 62)
Ref: Meier (Swi)
Ancelotti unveils Real plan
26.11 || Seamus
Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti maintains that his team must play to their strengths against Real Madrid.
The Rossoneri take on the Spanish giants at the San Siro on Tuesday in the Champions’ League as they start Phase Two of the competition.
"We want to dictate the game," said the tactician. "We know that we are up against the European Champions but we want to play our own brand of football."
The Italian outfit do seem to be slightly advantaged by the injury problems affecting Real at the minute.
The capital side are without Ronaldo, Makele and Hierro for the game. But Ancelotti maintains nothing really changes.
"Real are a great team that play in an organised fashion," he said. "Although they do have many individual stars, that is not the only reason why they win games."
However, Ancelotti didn’t hide the fact that he would be pleased if fears that Zinedine Zidane could miss the game turn out to be true.
"Zidane is an extraordinary player," said Ancelotti, who bossed the French ace at Juventus.
"Obviously if he doesn’t play then I would struggle to hide my content."
The world’s most expensive player is a doubt for the clash after he missed the 0-0 draw with Barcelona on Saturday.
"We have to be careful when it comes to Zidane," said Real medic Juan Carlos Hernandez. "He may have recovered from his calf injury but he hasn’t trained for a week."
Meanwhile, Milan will still be without Alessandro Nesta. The Italy stopper will be replaced by Alessandro Costacurta.
In attack, Ancelotti is expected to rest Pippo Inzaghi in favour of Andriy Shevchenko.
Milan probable: Dida; Simic, Costacurta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf; Rivaldo, Rui Costa; Shevchenko
Milan vs. Real Madrid - match preview
26.11 || Seamus
If any match was fitting of the Champions League final itself, this was certainly it.
The five times winners come up against the record nine times winners in a game that will surely live up to it's very high billing.
The Milan squad will be in a great frame of mind after that morale-boosting win over the old enemy Inter on Saturday. It may have arrived somewhat fortuitously after the Nerazzurri spurned some good chances, but many would argue that it was about time Hector Cuper's men were on the end of a touch of bad luck.
Those critics who suggested that the Rossoneri were in some sort of crisis now have a little egg on their faces. Lets not forget that those Champions League defeats against Lens and Deportivo La Coruna mattered not one jot in the end, while the setbacks in the league came against Chievo and Juventus – two of Serie A's in-form sides.
Now things have done a complete 360, and people are suggesting that Milan can once again sweep everything before them. How fickle football watchers can be.
"It's not easy to make predictions," says Rivaldo who was linked with Real in the summer. "But considering the group, I think we can win everything: Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia. Milan have the same attitude the Seleçao showed before lifting the World Cup: grit, determination and a lot of quality."
Worrying for the rest, but the truth is that the litmus test will only arrive in April. Then we will see if Milan are there or there abouts in Serie A, and in the knockout stages of the Champions League. A lot can happen before then – injuries, suspensions, referring blunders, the lot.
Speaking of mistakes from those in the middle, was it really the right decision to take the players off in the Barcelona-Real Madrid match, after Luis Figo had been pelted by objects from the crowd? It made little difference as the Portuguese international continued to bare the brunt of the Catalans' hatred towards him when the players returned.
That controversy aside, Real will have been more than happy with the point. They were outplayed at times by Barca, but that was always likely to be the case. Afterall, the Catalans were on their home turf, and the Merengues were severely handicapped by the injuries to three key men, Fernando Hierro Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.
It is in these clashes in Europe, that Real Madrid often produce their best football. Who could forget their wins over Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Barcelona in recent campaigns, as well as the 3-0 trouncing of Roma at the Stadio Olimpico this season? Vicente Del Bosque has a team packed with superstars (akin to the Harlem Globetrotters) and such players, the real cream of the crop, produce on the big occasion.
Milan's Last Six Matches: WWLLWW
The defeats arrived at Juventus in the league, then at home against Depor in the Champions League, in a virtually meaningless match. Home league wins against Reggina, Udinese, Parma and Inter have seen the Rossoneri stay in the hunt for the Scudetto.
Real Madrid's Last Six Matches: DWWDDD
Real are having trouble winning games at present, but at least they aren't losing them anymore. The recent draw against Real Sociedad would have been disappointing, but the 0-0 with Barca on Saturday was a point gained.
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Milan: Nesta is doubtful, and could be replaced by Costacurta. The other question is whether Carlo Ancelotti will keep the faith with Inzaghi and Serginho, or bring in Shevchenko and Rui Costa. Gattuso is set to feature on the right, meanwhile.
Real Madrid: Del Bosque must decide between McManaman, Celades and Flavio Conceicao to replace the injured Makelele. Flavio is most likely the answer, but the English option can't be excluded. Zidane should return to the line-up after recovering from his back injury, but Ronaldo is still out with a fever. Pavon will continue in place of Hierro.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Rivaldo (Milan): all eyes will be on the Brazilian against his former foe. The playmaker was often the scourge of Real during his time in Spain for Barcelona.
Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid): along with Rivaldo, we perhaps have the two greatest playmakers in the world on show. The Frenchman is born for the big stage, and there are few bigger than the San Siro.
Milan 1-0 Inter - match report
26.11 || Seamus
The Milan derby is always a heated event in the Italian calendar, but for the first time in ten years both clubs are battling for Lo Scudetto.
Inter were angry at the Argentinean FA for playing their three stars - Hernan Crespo, Javier Zanetti and Mathias Almeyda - for 90 minutes in a midweek friendly, therefore making them too tired and jet-lagged to play this game.
Milan were without the injured Alessandro Nesta, but rested Manuel Rui Costa ahead of the Champions' League clash with Real Madrid. Despite pre-match hints, Andriy Shevchenko was left on the bench in favour of an unusual Serginho-Rivaldo-Pippo Inzaghi trident attack.
As expected, Milan tried to maintain possession early on while Inter tended to go for the cutting pass to their strikers Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba.
The first shot on goal was from the Nerazzurri as Vieri rose to nod down a Sergio Conceicao cross, but Dida was equal to the task.
However, the Nerazzurri defence was caught off-guard by an intelligent Rivaldo through ball. Nelson Vivas failed to close it down and left Serginho completely unmarked to turn past Francesco Toldo.
Inter tried to hit back but Ivan Cordoba's header from a corner glanced wide, Dida came out bravely to pluck the ball off Conceicao's feet while Alvaro Recoba's header was saved.
Milan remained dangerous and maintained most of the possession. On 27 minutes a well-worked move between Rivaldo, Inzaghi and Serginho came to a halt as the winger just failed to reach the final ball in.
In first half stoppage time Serginho almost doubled his tally with a delicate chip, but it dipped just a moment too late.
Inter had a good start to the second half and Dida again rushed off his line to close down Conceicao, so Carlo Ancelotti introduced ball-winner Massimo Ambrosini to help take the pressure off.
Shevchenko also replaced the disappointing Inzaghi for the final 25 minutes.
Inter really should have equalised on 73 minutes when a Recoba free kick luckily fell for Vieri, but he incredibly ballooned over from less than a metre out.
Shevchenko went close to doubling Milan's lead, but his angled drive shaved the far post. Serginho also hit the side-netting before the exhausted Brazilian was substituted.
Hector Cuper had to give it everything he had and threw on Mohamed Kallon - making his first appearance of the season due to injury worries - for the final ten minutes.
Inter laid siege to Dida's goal in the final minutes but the defence held out well and Milan were always dangerous on the break with the pace of Shevchenko and Rivaldo.
In stoppage time Shevchenko's cross found Kakha Kaladze unmarked and Francesco Toldo made a desperate reaction save on his volley, but it was not enough as Milan run out 1-0 winners.
Milan: Dida; Simic, Costacurta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo (Ambrosini 64), Seedorf; Serginho (Chamot 81), Rivaldo; Inzaghi (Shevchenko 67)
Inter: Toldo; Vivas (J Zanetti 46), Cordoba, Cannavaro, Coco; Conceiçao (Okan 74), Di Biagio, Farinos (Kallon 82), Morfeo; Recoba, Vieri
Madrid trio to miss Milan clash
26.11 || Seamus
Ronaldo is out of the Champions’ League game against Milan after he was not included in the Real Madrid squad.
The two teams meet on Tuesday night but the former Inter ace is still suffering from a fever, which saw him miss the 0-0 draw at Barcelona on Saturday.
The San Siro clash would have seen the Brazilian return to the city for the first time since his controversial £30m move from the Nerazzurri this summer.
Meanwhile, Real are also set to be without Claude Makelele who picked up an injury in the Derby of Spain.
While captain Fernando Hierro is another casualty as he is not fully fit.
Serginho revels in glory
26.11 || Seamus
Milan derby hero Serginho says he isn’t happy to have scored against Inter on Saturday – but honoured.
The Brazilian netted the only goal of the game which saw the Rossoneri overtake their rivals and join Juventus at the top of the table.
"I was obviously delighted with the goal but more happy because it is a real honour for me to play for such a club. Being a member of this side is a privilege," he said.
Serginho, who was linked with a summer switch to Inter to solve the Nerazzurri’s left-hand side problem, also believed that Milan were back on track.
"We demonstrated that we are a great side by winning a very difficult game," he added.
"We made a great start to the season before a slight dip. But we are now back on song."
The international did hit the headlines on the eve of the San Siro showdown for turning down the chance to play for his national side in South Korea last week. A decision that proved vital.
"I turned down a place in the squad because first and foremost I need to focus on Milan," he maintained.
"Brazil is a part of my life but for the time being my club is more important."
Redondo almost ready
22.11 || Seamus
Milan ace Fernando Redondo says his two-year injury nightmare is on the verge of ending.
The Argentine returned to full training with the Rossoneri earlier this week after being sidelined for the past 26 months with injury.
The playmaker hasn’t played a single minute for the San Siro giants since his £10m move from Real Madrid in the summer of 2000 after numerous knee operations.
However, after his brief appearance in Zvonimir Boban’s farewell game last month, the playmaker should soon be available for selection.
"My knee isn’t causing me any problems and it is feeling fine now," he told Milan Channel. "I am know taking part in full training which is of vital importance."
He added: "At this moment in time there is no point in setting a particular date for my comeback. The most important aspect is that I do finally get back on the field.
"I am desperate to play a competitive game again and I can’t wait to finally be part of a Milan League clash."
Redondo could offer top quality cover for Andrea Pirlo, just in front of the Milan defence, once he is declared match fit.
AC Milan v Inter Milan - match preview
22.11 || Seamus
The most hotly-anticipated Milan derby in recent memory is almost upon us and you better believe that we here at SoccerAge are just as excited for this epic battle as you are.
If you're anything like me then there's people in your life that simply can't understand your love for what they consider to be merely a sport. Granted we footy fans are a little bit of a crazy breed, but if you burn to show the sceptics in your circle that there is a reason behind the insanity then I recommend you invite them over and let the Derby della Madonnina work its magic. If they have a soul they'll be sold, or at the very least they will leave with a whole new respect for what the great Pele so eloquently dubbed the beautiful game - that I promise you.
It's been quite a few seasons since the battle for Milano had title implications but this time around the stakes could hardly be higher. Both teams are hot on the tail of Juventus, with second-placed Internazionale both just a point and a step on the ladder above their deadly city rivals.
The Rossoneri and Nerazzurri have also both struggled somewhat for form of late. More criticism has comparatively been slung on Carlo Ancelotti's band of all-stars, however, as they raised the expectations of their tifosi and the pundits with the five-star football they consistently produced earlier in the campaign. "The loss in form recently is simply a psychological defect," assured the former Juventus boss. "All sides go through that at one stage or another. But we will not change our style or philosophy and I am confident that the invincible Milan will turn up on Saturday."
Inter, in contrast, have achieved most of their results on the backs of hard-work and ruthless finishing. This is something the club's big-pocketed president Moratti has confessed doesn't bother him in the slightest, however. "Perhaps AC Milan play a prettier game than we do," he admitted, "but we are the more effective side and I am sure that will show in the final standings."
LATEST TEAM NEWS
The star-studded nature of the sides means that both sets of managers will have to make very difficult selection decisions. Ancelotti's biggest headache is what to do with his recently-healed super-striker Andriy Shevchenko. There is a very good chance that the Ukrainian sensation will have to again make due with a spot on the bench, even though he has scored a staggering nine times in his six derby appearances against Inter. Simone Inzaghi's incredible goal-tear from earlier in the campaign earned him the luxury of being sure of his spot in this one despite not having managed to find the net in the last couple of matches. Sheva's best chance for a start is if his coach decides to rest either Rui Costa or Rivaldo in light of the massive Champions League encounter against Real Madrid, which is set to take place just three days later.
One big name that will almost certainly be absent from his side's starting XI is Inter's goal-machine Hernan Crespo, who – along with fellow Argentine internationals Javier Zanetti and Matias Almeyda – will only be making his return from South America the night before the derby. Uruguayan phenom Alvaro Recoba, therefore, can expect to benefit with a start alongside Christian Vieri.
Injury has robbed the match of two great defenders in the form of Nesta and Materazzi, though they will be replaced by Costacurta and Cannavaro – two excellent centre-backs in their own right.
AC Milan – last 6 matches (all comps): LWWLLW
The Red Devils have struggled to recapture their stellar form after having booked their passage to the next phase of the Champions League so quickly and impressively. They were able to bounce back from consecutive 2-1 losses at the hands of Juventus and Depor with a victory by the same result against Parma last week, though that was achieved in a way that was far more functional than fashionable.
Inter Milan – last 6 matches (all comps): WWWLWT
Inter will be hoping that the full return from injury of Cannavaro will serve to solidify a defense which has leaked ten goals in the last four matches. Hector Cuper's side have been all over the board in the last three matches, but a crucial win in Amsterdam and a spirited come-from behind tie in Rome will have inflated their confidence going into this one.
LOOK OUT FOR
This section of the preview is particularly difficult to present for this game as practically all the players that will be on the field on Saturday will come equipped with an intriguing subplot.
Coco, Seedorf and Pirlo will all be trying extra-hard to impress against their ex-teams, who had the gull to sell them to their fiercest rivals.
The diminutive Turkish ball-wizard Emre will be looking to solidify a spot in Inter's starting lineup following his wonder-goal against Italy in midweek.
Former Azzurri defender Costacurta will be aiming to roll back the years against some of the deadliest finishers in the business.
Italy strikers Inzaghi and Vieri will certainly be worth keeping an eye on as they are both due a goal or two.
Inter-killer Shevchenko will be desperate to perpetuate his amazing strike-rate against the Nerazzurri in order to prove that he should be an automatic-starter.
Rivaldo would like nothing more than to score against Inter on Saturday in order to truly and totally endear himself to his new fans.
Milan (4-3-2-1): Dida – Helveg, Costacurta, Maldini, Kaladze – Ambrosini, Pirlo, Seedorf – Rui Costa, Rivaldo – Inzaghi.
Inter (4-4-2): Toldo – Coco, Cannavaro, Cordoba, J. Zanetti – Okan, Di Biagio, Emre, Morfeo – Recoba, Vieri.
Ancelotti has Vieri fear
21.11 || scharatz
Milan Coach Carlo Ancelotti says he fears Christian Vieri more than his former pupil Hernan Crespo in the derby.
Ancelotti bossed the Argentine during his spell at Parma but maintains that the Italian is a fraction more dangerous.
"Between Crespo and Vieri I would say that the latter causes me more anxiety," stated the Rossoneri tactician on the eve of Saturday’s showdown.
"But we need to play as a team to beat Inter. My counterpart Hector Cuper has only been there for a small amount of time but has done some excellent work."
The Milan giants have been experiencing some alternating form of late after suffering League defeats against Chievo and Juventus.
But Ancelotti maintains his side have the quality to reproduce their stunning form from the early stages of this season.
"I hope that the invincible Milan turns up on Saturday," he said. "The loss in form recently is simply a psychological defect.
"All sides go through that at one stage or another. But we will not change our style or philosophy – starting with the game against Inter."
Milan are currently third in Serie A, one point shy of Inter and two behind League champions Juventus.
Sheva untouchable say Milan
21.11 || scharatz
Milan have denied that they are holding talks to release Andriy Shevchenko - by insisting he is unavailable for transfer.
The Ukrainian striker has been linked with a number of clubs in recent times, with the latest rumours suggesting a meeting was already set up with Real Madrid personnel.
"There is no summit set to be held between Milan and Real Madrid," read a note on Milan’s official website.
"All that is planned is a simple lunch as is always the case. There are no other reasons why Milan and Real officials should meet up."
Reports claim that the ‘dinner’ which is scheduled for November 26, was to see talks commence over Shev’s possible move to the Spaniards in exchange for Luis Figo.
However, the Rossoneri are adamant that the former Dinamo Kiev ace is staying at the San Siro.
"Shevchenko is categorically not for sale," the statement added.
"There is only a friendly relationship between the two clubs which is based on Adriano Galliani’s understanding with President Florentino Perez."
Shevchenko, who is being left out of the starting line-up recently in favour of a Pippo Inzaghi and Rivaldo pairing, is said to be unhappy with his present situation.
Reports claim that Manchester United were also very interested and that Atletico Madrid were hoping to land the international on loan in January.
Solli prefers Milan over Villa
20.11 || Seamus
Norwegian ace Jan Gunnar Solli has put Aston Villa on the back burner as he looks to impress on trial at Italian giants Milan.
Villa coach Graham Taylor wanted the Odd Grenland midfielder, 21, to train with the club this week but he has travelled to Milan to start his trial from Tuesday onwards.
"Who knows? Perhaps something will come out of it," Solli told VG.
The highly rated Norwegian was on trial at Belgian titans Anderlecht last week and has also attracted the interest of FC Twente in Holland.
Villa still hope to run the rule over Solli but may have to bide their time and wait to see the outcome of the Milan trial.
Gattuso hoping to be fit for Milan derby
20.11 || Seamus
Milan midfielder Gennaro Gattuso says he hopes to be fit for this weekend's derby with Inter.
"I'm feeling better now and I've already practised with the team," he told Milan Channel. "I must be patient but I hope my fitness will improve by Saturday, so that I could be ready for the derby."
Atletico want Sheva on loan
20.11 || scharatz
Atletico Madrid have made contact with Milan in an attempt to secure the loan signing of Andriy Shevchenko.
Reports suggest that the proposed move was planned by agent Ernesto Bronzetti, who works for Atletico but is also Milan’s Spanish transfer consultant.
The Spanish outfit want the unsettled striker until the end of the season in a deal which would see the Italians still pay a part of the Ukrainian’s wages.
Talks have supposedly already taken place between director general Ariedo Braida and Atletico’s transfer guru Paulo Futre.
However, the proposed move is a complex one. Speculation suggests that Milan will loan Sheva in a bid to buy back defender Fabriccio Coloccini in January.
He would then apparently be offered to Lazio in part exchange for Dutch stopper Jaap Stam.
But the dealings don’t stop there. The San Siro giants are also hoping to grab an option on Atletico’s 19-year-old attacking sensation Fernando Torres.
Although a highly complicated set of moves, Milan and Atletico do have an excellent understanding after this summer’s transfer activity.
The Rossoneri have already sold Atletico the likes of Javi Moreno, Josè Mari, Demetrio Albertini, Cosmin Contra and Coloccini in recent times.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian striker could accept the switch. He has been left on the bench recently after returning from injury.
The international striker has also been linked with a move to Manchester United in January.
Up to now Milan have always insisted that Shevchenko would remain for the rest of the season despite speculation suggesting otherwise.
Redondo to start training tomorrow
19.11 || Seamus
Milan midfielder Fernando Redondo will begin training with the rest of his team-mates from tomorrow.
The Argentine has yet to play a match since his move from Real Madrid after picking up a serious knee injury.
"I've had the hardest part of it, now I must work specifically to be ready to return to the first team," said Redondo at a press-conference published on the club's official site. "From tomorrow on I'll join the group in training. Sometimes my tendon reacts when I exaggerate with work, so I must be careful.
"I can just thank the club because of their support: they have always made me feel part of this group. I'm proud of being at Milan."
Nesta to miss Inter and Real
19.11 || scharatz
Milan stopper Alessandro Nesta is expected to miss his club’s two biggest games of the season so far.
The international picked up a thigh problem in the 2-1 win over Parma, which is set to keep him sidelined for the derby against Inter and the Real Madrid Champions’ League tie.
Nesta, who will also be absent from Italy’s friendly against Turkey on Wednesday, underwent tests today where a small muscle tear was found.
The loss of Nesta is a major blow to the Rossoneri who have been struggling of late to maintain their exceptional start to the season.
However, his absence against Inter is set to be balanced out as the Nerazzurri are without their own first choice central defender.
International stopper Marco Materazzi, seen as Nesta’s reserve for the Azzurri, will also be out of Saturday’s massive San Siro Scudetto showdown.
AC Milan 2-1 Parma - match report
17.11 || webmaster
Scorers: Pirlo pens 48, 70 (M), Filippini 63 (P)
Milan take themselves to within a point of leaders Inter with just seven days to go before the derby, but it was another far from convincing performance.
Both teams needed a good performance to make up for their sluggish midweek European games. Rivaldo was again favoured to Andriy Shevchenko while Gennaro Gattuso was still out of action due to a knee injury.
Parma had the first real opportunity on 10 minutes when Hidetoshi Nakata sprung the offside trap but incredibly ballooned over the bar.
Soon after Milan had penalty appeals waved away for a hold on Pippo Inzaghi.
There was bad news for the Rossoneri - and the Italy squad - as Alessandro Nesta limped off with a muscular problem after just 18 minutes. Parma also had an injury as Matteo Ferrari required stitches to his eyebrow following a clash of heads with Massimo Ambrosini.
Dida confirmed his fine form with a desperate one-handed save on Nakata's close-range header.
The Rossoneri started to take control after the half-hour mark and Dario Simic had sprung the offside trap, but the linesman incorrectly flagged as he was preparing his shot.
At the dawn of the second half the referee pointed to the spot for a Simone Barone handling offence as he was attempting to clear from Rivaldo. Andrea Pirlo stepped up and successfully converted to put Milan into the lead.
Inzaghi demanded another penalty when he fell under pressure from Junior and Daniele Bonera, but the referee waved play on.
Nakata continued his personal battle with Dida as the Brazilian palmed out another fierce effort by the near post.
Parma eventually got on the scoresheet with Emanuele Filippini. The former Brescia midfielder took advantage of a terrible defensive error and drilled a low drive from the edge of the box.
This was the first Serie A goal conceded by Milan at the San Siro this season.
The Gialloblu charged forward to make the most of this moment and Alessandro Costacurta hacked down Adrian Mutu. From the resulting free kick Mutu rattled the edge of the crossbar.
However, on 70 minutes the referee pointed to the spot again as Ambrosini was dragged back by a Parma defender. Pirlo stepped up again to restore Milan's lead.
Ambrosini could have further extended their lead but Sebastien Frey did well to fingertip his header onto the woodwork.
In the final minutes Alberto Gilardino came on and immediately fired a good opportunity over the bar.
Milan also went close as a fine combination with Thomas Helveg sliced the defence apart, but Rivaldo turned the finish wide.
The result stayed open until the final whistle as Dida scrambled across to parry a Sabri Lamouchi drive.
A scuffle broke out in the final minutes when Parma continued to play after Sam Dalla Bona had been knocked down with a head injury.
The final chance of the game fell to Mark Bresciano from close range, but the ex-Empoli man ballooned over the bar.
Milan: Dida; Simic (Helveg 46), Nesta (Costacurta 19), Maldini, Kaladze; Ambrosini, Pirlo, Seedorf (Dalla Bona 74); Rui Costa; Rivaldo, Inzaghi
Parma: Frey; Siviglia (Gilardino 81), Bonera, Ferrari, Junior (Benarrivo 68); Filippini, Lamouchi, Barone (Bresciano 73); Nakata, Mutu; Adriano
Milan must put on a show
17.11 || scharatz
Carlo Ancelotti wants more than results against Parma this afternoon to recover their stunning early season form.
The 2-1 defeat at Juventus and sluggish midweek performance against Deportivo La Coruna set alarm bells ringing.
“The situation is not nearly as disastrous as some people make out,” assured the Coach, “because people forget that Milan already achieved their objectives very early. Ensuring qualification prompted the players to relax a little too much.”
The Rossoneri will need to be on their best behaviour with a slew of tough ties coming up – including a clash with Real Madrid and the Milan derby.
“You will see the team that did so well at the start of the season, and not only against Parma. We’re walking into the moment of truth now and there can be no danger of lacking motivation.”
However, Andriy Shevchenko is once again likely to be dropped from the starting eleven in favour of Rivaldo and Pippo Inzaghi.
“Since he returned from injury,” explains Ancelotti, “Shevchenko has been one of the men who has played the most. I have 29 players who must all be motivated and feel a part of the Milan project.”
Manchester United have been linked to a swoop for £35m-rated Shevchenko, but the Coach rules out any possibility of a January move.
“I’d bet my house on Sheva being with us come February.”
Striking advantage for Milanese clubs
15.11 || Seamus
By Gabriele Marcotti
Strip away the tactical talk, the hype, the trophies and silverware and reduce football to its purest essence. What are you left with? Scoring goals.
The very best:
It is the simplest idea in the simplest game; indeed, its very object. And this early UEFA Champions League campaign has brought to prominence two of the very best goalscorers around, Internazionale FC's Hernán Crespo and Filippo Inzaghi of AC Milan.
Joint top scorers:
The two are the joint-leading scorers in this year's competition and, for both, this campaign promises to be something of a comeback season. Last year, they suffered difficult seasons, slowed by injuries, and disappointed by their respective clubs' performances in the league - not to mention their countries' displays in the FIFA World Cup finals.
Inzaghi ended up with ten goals in 19 Serie A appearances, while Crespo scored 13 in 23 for S.S. Lazio before joining Inter in the summer. Respectable totals for mere mortals, but not for born goalscorers like these two. Lest we forget, Inzaghi has scored exactly 100 goals in 196 Serie A appearances, Crespo has done even better, registering 103 in 179 league matches.
However, with other strikers starting to take centre stage, there was a sense at the start of the season that, at 29 and 27 respectively, Crespo and Inzaghi were slipping out of the limelight. Perhaps that is why they were so quick to remind everybody this season that they are among the finest pure goalscorers around.
The strikers' rejuvenated goalscoring class has seen a renaissance in football in Milan. Both Inter and Milan won their respective groups in the first group stage and the clubs are neck-and-neck in Serie A as well.
Milan has not seen two teams like this since the late 1980s, when the Rossoneri were winning the European Champion Clubs' Cup with Marco van Basten and Franco Baresi, while Inter, led by Lothar Matthäus, were capturing the scudetto with a record points total. There is even talk of Milanese football entering another golden era, like the one between 1962 and 1965 when the city won three straight European Cups.
Yet while the clubs' strikers have plenty in common - not least a certain lack of appreciation from the football pundits - their clubs play very different football. Milan have introduced a possession-based game which, at times, can be intoxicating. Andrea Pirlo acts as the old-fashioned playmaker, with Rui Costa in the hole and Clarence Seedorf and Rivaldo free to invent and create. It is a free-flowing, attacking formation which yields plenty of chances for Inzaghi, the archetypal opportunistic sniper.
Inter, on the other hand, are much more traditionalist under Argentinian coach Héctor Cúper. The foundation is a strong defence, protected by ball-winning midfield players such as Luigi Di Biagio and Matias Almeyda and an effective counterattack, based around the strong shoulders of Christian Vieri.
Goals win games:
Tactics and footballing philosophies aside, it still takes a goalscorer to win matches. And the Milanese sides have two of the very best in Europe at their disposal.
Soccer Age Special: Champions League Flashback
15.11 || Seamus
Sixteen down, fifteen more to go. That's how we stand after the first six Matchdays of this year's UEFA Champions League and before we begin discussing prospective battles, strategizing new tactics or modifying our fantasy lineups, there is time to look back at the intense action that we have just left behind.
NOT REAL-LY IMPRESSIVE
It would only be apt to start with the reigning champions and the 'best' team in the world. With yet another bank-breaking transfer, Flo Perez added the third big signing in as many season to his assortment of big names. With the arrival of Ronaldo, who would stop the Real Madrid that swept the Champions League title back to the Bernebau last year? By the looks of it now, plenty could. While the Spanish giants clubbed their way past Roma and Genk with 3-0 and 6-0 victories on the first two Matchdays, they failed to win a single game after that. They were almost stunned away to AEK on Matchday 3, and followed it up with another tough draw, this time at home to the Greeks. The following week, AS Roma came to town and left with three points and although Madrid qualified, they could only manage a point against Genk in their last game.
Rather shabby for the Madrid side that was expected to go close to collecting 18 points from their Group C matches. Whether it was a matter of over-confidence or if the merengues took their foot of the pedal in anticipation of an easy qualification remains to be seen. But, others across Europe are already licking their chops relishing a go at this unsure Real side in the second group stage.
If Real failed to impress, as they should have, the Spanish contingent as a whole did not. Barcelona equalled the Champions League record by winning their group by an astounding 11 points (the Catalans won all their games) while Valencia cruised threw their group without breaking too much sweat. And while Deportivo struggled in a couple of games (most notably their 0-4 loss to Milan), they bounced back well to ensure yet another clean sweep for Spanish sides. The 100% record ensured that Spaniards remained the number one club sides in Europe…at least for the time being.
Even though Barca collected maximum points, Valencia were especially impressive, beating both Liverpool and Spartak twice and also hammering Basel 6-2 at the Mestalla. If any team looks like they are set to go all the way, it has to be Los Ches. After two heart-wrenching defeats in the finals, they will not let a third one go by should they make it that far. Deportivo will be criticized for their failures against Milan and Lens, but Javier Irureta's side shut the critics up with fantastic wins over Bayern and Milan on the last two Matchdays to end speculation of a crisis.
After years of despair, Italy has finally lived up to its historical record in Europe. With huge transfers like Crespo, Cannavaro, Nesta, Rivaldo and Di Vaio taking place in the big clubs in Italy, surely a better year was expected. And the big four of Italy delivered. AC Milan, AS Roma, Internazionale and Juventus all made it to the second group stage to join their Spanish rivals. An entire nation celebrated as, at least temporarily, the ghost of Euro failure had been exorcised.
Milan and Juventus were especially harsh on their opponents in the opening matches. While the rossoneri won their opening four to cruise through what was to be a competitive Group of Death, Juve took one extra Matchday to clinch their place. Milan's 4-0 drubbing of Deportivo at the Riazor, their double-win over former European champs Bayern and Juve's clinical 5-0 demolition of Kiev clearly the highlights of the Italian campaign.
But, the cream of Italian results was a subtler one: that achieved by AS Roma when the most needed the points. Fabio Capello's men travelled to the Bernebau in Madrid and beat the hosts 1-0 to remind the reigning Champions that Italy was back! Inter too must be mentioned for their double over Ajax thanks to Hernan Crespo's three goals over two games.
SWISS SURPRISE, ISRAELIS SHINE
Whether it be Turkey or Deportivo Alaves, Senegal or Chievo Verona, every competition has its surprise packages. The 2003 edition of the Champions League has Swiss outfit FC Basel. The unfashionable side were tipped to finish bottom of their group, much like Bruno Metsu's Senegal were in WC 2002. Six Matchdays on, Spartak have been condemned to six straight losses and Liverpool are sitting head-held-in-hand awaiting their next UEFA Cup opponent. FC Basel set off on the right foot, winning their opening game against Spartak. Well begun is half done they say…and such was the case for Basel. They went on to claim a point at Anfield and although they got only one more point from their two fixtures against Valencia, the dominance of the Spaniards in the group favoured them. They knew the task at hand and took another giant leap towards a historical achievement by beating Spartak for a second time.
It was all up for grabs on the final day as Liverpool travelled to Switzerland for the winner takes all. Gross's sensational side raced into a stunning 3-0 lead before Liverpool began a steady comeback in one of the greatest Champions League matches ever. It ended 3-3 and Basel had squeaked through by the skin of their teeth to become the first-ever Swiss club to make it to the second group stage.
Speaking of surprises, it would be wrong not to mention another brilliant up and comer. After the UEFA Cup success of Hapoel Tel-Aviv last year, another Israeli team put the country on the European football map; this time on the biggest stage of them all. Maccabi Haifa pulled-off fantastic 3-0 wins over Olympiakos and Manchester United on their way to a valuable UEFA Cup berth. Indeed, had the Israelis not lost twice to Bayer Leverkusen, they may well have made it to the next round at the expense of the Germans.
The shock of the tournament was definitely one that no one could have predicted. Perennial quarter-finalists Bayern Munich were drawn in the aptly termed Group Of Death and happened to be the ones ear-marked for the early demise as they finished 31st (their measly two points was second worst only two Spartak Moscow's six straight losses). The Bavarians looked set to the campaign of strongly when they entertained La Coruña at the 'fortress' called Olympiastadion. However, that night, Roy Makaay was to wreak havoc on the Germans and inflict a defeat that would set the stage for a grand collapse for the former European champions.
A shell-shocked Bayern (who had just surrendered a 32-match unbeaten run at the Olympiastadion) struggled to a 1-1 draw against an energetic Lens side on the following Matchday. Then on, the pressure was always going to be on Ottmar Hitzfield's men. On song AC Milan came and went and destroyed the Bayern dream by inflicting two 2-1 losses on the Germans. And as if they had not been humiliated enough, Group G's remaining two sides ensured that Bayern took home just one point from their last two matches. Deportivo eliminated them from Europe altogether with a 2-1 win at the Riazor and Lens rubbed salt into their wounds by pulling off a thrilling 3-3 draw on Matchday six. Within a little over a year, Bayern had gone from European champions to nothing.
BACK FROM THE DEAD
With all sorts of records tumbling, Sir Bobby Robson's Newcastle decided that it was time they put their own name down as well. The Magpies has suffered tremendously in recent years in the league, but set the record straight once and for all by joining fellow countrymen Man Utd and Arsenal in the second round. Newcastle became the first club in the competition's history to lose their opening three games and still progress to the next phase. What's more, they didn't even score a single goal till Matchday 4 and at one point it looked like the Toon Army were going to end up being the clowns of the cup. But a fantastic win over Italian champions Juventus set up a dramatic finale that saw Welshman Craig Bellamy score in the 91st minute on Matchday 6 to send Robson's men through.
While Newcastle may have stolen the prize for the greatest comeback, once cannot overlook the heroics of last year's runners-up Bayer Leverkusen. Klaus Toppmoller's side were murdered 6-2 in Athens by Olympiakos Piraeus and lost at home to Man Utd on the following Matchday. However, three well-taken wins ensured that the Germans would be saved the embarrassment suffered by countrymen Bayern as Leverkusen made it to Round 2 with a game to spare.
Having mentioned Olympiakos's demolition job on Leverkusen, it would be astonishing to think that they would fade away and crumble as the competition wore on. But, that is exactly what happened. The Greeks conceded 15 goals in their next five games and collected only one point (on Matchday 6) to finish bottom of the group, ruled out of Europe altogether.
The Greek tragedy didn't end there. Athens' other team AEK were also eliminated from the Champions League, however in very contrasting circumstances. Dusko Bajevic's side tied all six of their games and finished in third to qualify for the UEFA Cup. However, unlike their fierce rivals, they did so in style. Real Madrid will remember with shivers AEK's brilliant performances against them. The Greeks held the Spaniards to 3-3 and 2-2 draws and had they squeezed in a winner in any of their four meetings against Real or Roma, they would have been through in sensational manner.
PICKS FOR SUCCESS
With only sixteen teams to pick from, the task of picking the top contenders for ultimate glory becomes a little easier than before. However, with eight former champions (Madrid, Milan, Barcelona, Inter, Juventus, Dortmund, Ajax and Man Utd) present, and educated guess is all that is possible.
Valencia and AC Milan have looked the most competitive of all the sides. While Valencia's composure and lack of unforced errors has been matchless, Milan's stunning displays in the early stages (not including their games after they secured qualification) have been the talk of the town. However, it is impossible to discount nine-time champions and hence Real Madrid are inevitably in the picture and one more side I would throw in there would be Italian champions Juventus. The Old Lady of Turin may just be warming up for the big dance. Marcello Lippi has a well-oiled unit that has been playing together for more than a year now. They are a wall in defence and lethal going forward. If David Trezeguet gets back to his best, the European Cup may well be in Turin in May 2003.
LO SCRIVANO'S FINEST
3-4-3: Antonioli; Thuram, Curro Torres, Panucci; Veron, Aimar, Rui Costa, Baraja; Crespo, Inzaghi, Makaay
AC Milan vs Parma - match preview
15.11 || scharatz
It's four losses in six matches now for the rossoneri and should they fail to beat Parma or even worse lose on Sunday, the crisis will probably be official. Milan were lucky to see league leaders Inter stumble at home to Udinese last week, a result that prevented the nerazzurri from extending their lead over Milan to six points. But, now is the time for Carlo Ancelotti's side to get back on track and pick up the three points to keep pace with Inter and Juve.
Parma may be in a slight crisis of their own after incredibly being dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Wisla Kraków. The Italians were leading by two goals on aggregate with just 20 minutes remaining and ended up conceding two goals in that time to send the game into overtime. They then conceded two more in extra time to end their European campaign on a sorry note. After this humiliating exit the gialloblù will look to bounce back and focus completely on reaching a UEFA Cup berth for next season.
Carlo Ancelotti has ignored Andriy Shevchenko's tantrums and insisted that the player must await his turn like everyone else. Given Sheva's form, it is better for the team too as Carlo will switch back to the Inzaghi-Rivaldo duo up front. Clarence Seedorf who missed the midweek CL match through suspension returns to action while Sam Dalla Bona will replace the injured Gattuso. The back four will continue to be Simic, Nesta, Maldini and Kaladze whilst Abbiati gets the nod in goal ahead of injured Dida. Youngster Marco Borriello is also injured and hence absent from the selection.
Cesare Prandelli will have a rather upset group of youngsters to pick from ahead of the San Siro clash. Sebastian Frey is not only erratic, but also extremely unhappy and this may tempt the coach to go for veteran Taffarel in goal. Paolo Cannavaro returns to the bench as Antonio Benarrivo returns to the fold, with Bonera moving to partner Ferrari in the middle. Adriano continues his lone venture up field supported by Mutu and one of Nakata or Bresciano. In midfield, Simone Barone makes room for the talented Matteo Brighi who will play alongside skipper Lamouchi and the on-loan Massimo Donati.
Milan: LLWWLL (League position: 3rd)
Four losses in six games: what a change that is from eight wins out of nine! Milan are surely suffering their worst form in months. Given the calibre of the team and the depth of the reserves, the losses are unforgivable. While it could be argued that Milan had a little less to play for in the CL matches, the losses to Chievo and Juve did hurt the morale. However, Milan had been rather impressive at the San Siro prior to their first defeat at the hands of Deportivo. But, it still does not erase the fact that Milan have not conceded a goal at home in the league. And, they will try and see to it that Parma doesn't change that.
Parma: WWLWDL (League position: 9th)
All the good work that Prandelli's men had done over the past month seems to have been undone by the disastrous result in Poland. Parma certainly didn't deserve to lose by such a large margin, but nonetheless they are out of the UEFA Cup and must now prove that they are not losers by notching up wins in the league. And, they must start at the San Siro this Sunday against an opponent who themselves are suffering a bad period.
Milan (4-3-1-2): Abbiati; Simic, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Dalla Bona, Pirlo, Seedorf; Rui Costa; Inzaghi, Rivaldo
Parma (4-3-2-1): Frey; Benarrivo, Bonera, Ferrari, Junior; Brighi, Lamouchi, Donati; Nakata, Mutu; Adriano
2nd stage: Milan draw Real, Borussia and Lokomotiva
15.11 || scharatz
Juventus will renew their Champions’ League rivalry with Manchester United following Friday’s draw.
The Bianconeri have been drawn in Group D against the Old Trafford outfit, as well as Deportivo La Coruna and surprise package Basle.
Milan will face European champions Real Madrid amongst others while city rivals Inter have been drawn in a group consisting of Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen and Newcastle.
Finally, Roma have an uphill task as they face Valencia, Arsenal and Ajax.
Deportivo La Coruna
The first games of the Second Group stage are set for November 26 and 27. There will be one further round of fixtures in December before the four remaining games are played in February and March of 2003.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the two-legged quarter-finals.
Carraro to Galliani: The League must take a stand in fovour of the credibility of football
15.11 || Seamus
This is the integral text of the letter that President Carraro sent to the president of the National professional League Adriano Galliani:
Attached is today's FIGC-AIA notice .
I don't think I need to explain the contents and the reasons for this.
I hope that during the League's Assembly of Friday November 15th, you could draw the attention of the League on a very important issue.
Italian football, at professional level, has consistent economic problems that have been identified and which we are trying to solve.
The situation is complex also because the Italian and international economic context make it difficult to foresee that the shareholders of the teams may and want to pour new resources into the teams every year, to cover the management deficit.
Football though is very lucky: the interest and the enthusiasm of the people in our activity continues to be very high, the number of fans in the stadiums increases, the interest in the TV programs dedicated to football increases. Despite the economic difficulties of the moment, the profits are still substantial.
Counting on the idea that everybody likes the football product is an extremely positive aspect and helps face the problems.
If the enthusiasm around our matches increases, it means the people believe in the honesty of the results. This credibility is however questioned by people belonging to this sector.
The players behave well in the field and out; the coaches sometimes get carried away with discussions, but on the whole they remain within the right limits. On the other hand, some managers of the teams use very harsh expressions to attack our credibility.
There are federal regulations, penal and civil codes and the relevant bodies will apply them, and quickly.
I believe that the League's Assembly must clearly say whether it considers the Italian football system credible or not.
As regards the referees, an intense organizational job has been carried out jointly to assure the best performances. Our organization is even considered a model to follow abroad. When our referees work abroad they always make a good impression.
Naturally the Federation and the AIA are ready to examine any organizational proposal able to improve the situation, but the level of the criticisms supported by some of the managers is such that I believe it is important for the Assembly to say something about it.
Please feel free to contact me for any clarifications. We offer our full cooperation."
Milan sneak in on Sas
14.11 || Seamus
Ariedo Braida was at Campo Nou on Wednasday night and admitted Milan are trying to sign Turkish superstar Hasan Sas, ahead of their bitter rival Internazionale.
Milan's director of football admitted scouting for the Galatasaray striker and confirmed their interest after the game.
He said: "We know Inter are interested in Hasan Sas but we have to beat our rivals to him."
"It is true I am here for Sas because we are far from pleased with Serginho's performance at the moment."
Sas was Turkey's star player at the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan/South Korea and his impressive displays for club side Galatasaray have attracted attention from Europe's biggest clubs.
Braida added: "We know that Sas is in fine form at the moment and we will continue to moniter him closely."
The Milan director has a goos pedigree of bringing in high profile Turks to the San Siro after successfully installing Gala's current boss Faith Terim at the helm of Milan, before he went back to the Istanbul giants.
CL second group stage: participants, draw scenarios and speculation
14.11 || Seamus
The first group stage of the UEFA Champions League is over and we get down to the best part of the competition where sixteen of Europe's top clubs will go head-on in four groups. Here is the final list of clubs that qualified from the first group stages:
Deportivo La Coruña
The second group stage draw will pull two winners and two runners-up into each group. The sixteen teams have been divided into four pots based on seeding. One team from each pot will be extracted into one group. Teams from the same federation and teams that were in the same group in the first group stage cannot be drawn together.
Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Valencia
AC Milan, Internazionale, Juventus, Arsenal
Deportivo, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, Borussia Dortmund
Lokomotiv, Ajax, Newcastle United, FC Basel
- Arsenal and Roma must be drawn in the same group
- Manchester Utd. and Deportivo must be drawn in the same group
- Newcastle Utd. will surely meet one of Milan or Inter
- Milan will surely meet one of Leverkusen or Dortmund
- Roma will surely meet one of Barcelona or Valencia
In fact, our SoccerAge crew did some possible permutations and came up with the following 'fantasy draw':
Group A: Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv
Group B: Man Utd, Juventus, Ajax, Deportivo La Coruña
Group C: Barcelona, Arsenal, Roma, FC Basel
Group D: Valencia, Internazionale, Dortmund, Newcastle
All eyes will now be on Geneva, where the Champions League second group stage draw will occur this Friday, Nov 15th.
AC Milan Mourn Loss Of Legend Schiaffino
14.11 || webmaster
AC Milan have lost a piece of their past as former rossoneri, Juan Alberto Schiaffino passed away at the age of 77.
Schiffiano played with Milan from 1954 to 1960, collecting 149 appearances and scoring 47 goals. In total, he played 171 games for the rossoneri scoring 60 times. He also won three Scudetti before moving to AS Roma.
AC Milan 1-2 Deportivo La Coruna - match report
14.11 || webmaster
Deportivo La Coruna are through to the next phase of the Champions League following a 2-1 win in Milan, and Lens' failure to record a victory away to Bayern Munich.
For Milan, the disgruntled Andriy Shevchenko partnered Jon Dahl Tomasson in attack, while Sam Dalla Bona also started.
Depor started the better, with Albert Luque missing two chances.
At the other end Serginho's cross clipped the bar, but on 34 minutes, Milan broke through when Jon Dahl Tomasson headed home Kakha Kaladze's cross.
The striker nearly added to his goal before half-time but Juanmi saved his low effort.
On the hour Depor were level when Diego Tristan smashed a 20-yarder into the top corner.
13 minutes later the Spaniards moved in front when Roy Makaay capitalised on a defensive error to convert.
Tristan could have made it 3-1 in the last few minutes but somehow shot over with the goal gaping after Paolo Maldini's slip.
AC Milan vs. Deportivo La Coruña - match preview
13.11 || scharatz
AC Milan host Deportivo La Coruña having secured their qualification with two matchdays ago and practically assured of going through as Group G winners. For Deportivo the situation is more complicated. The Spaniards need to win the game or tie it and hope that Lens don't win in Munich. Deportivo still can finish top of the group in the unlikely event that they reverse the 4-0 scoreline that Milan hammered them by in Wednesday's return match.
Carlo Ancelotti is doing some major reshuffling ahead of his team's final Group G game. Gattuso, Roque Jr., Borriello, Dida and Chamot are all injured while the tactician has decided that he will rest Nesta and Inzaghi. Clarence Seedorf is suspended and Serginho will take his place on the left wing. Italian U-21 midfielder Sam Dalla Bona is set to take Gattuso's place whilst the lethal duo of Rivaldo-Shevchenko will be given the goal scoring responsibilities supported by Rui Costa and Pirlo. Alessandro Costacurta will partner Maldini in defence while Abbiati will continue to man the posts.
Javier Irureta is still without long-term injured star midfielder Juan Valeron and seems to insist on benching former Liga top scorer Diego Tristan. The in-form Roy Makaay will continue to operate single-handedly up front with Victor Sánchez in support pushing up from midfield. Héctor returns to right back after missing a game and Naybet, Romero and Scaloni will make up the remainder of the back four. Juanmi continues between the sticks. But, Deportivo's key man will be the ever-industrious and nifty Fran, who was one of the few who gave Milan some trouble when the two last met. He will look to meander around Pirlo and make some attempts on goal.
AC Milan have lost three out of their last five matches. But, this was preceded by a run of eight wins and a tie in nine outings, which has allowed the rossoneri to stay in a comfortable position in both Europe and Italy despite these losses. They have some very tough fixtures coming up including the Milan derby, and it will be crucial for Milan to get back to their winning ways as soon as possible. And, what better way to do that than to close the first group stages with a fantastic home win. It is also worth mentioning that Milan have won all their home games in all competitions this season.
Deportivo have had some roller-coaster form themselves and as a result are sitting in a not-so-comfortable 8th position in La Liga, a good seven points off the top. However, they have managed to dig themselves out of trouble in Europe courtesy their two wins over Bayern. Irureta's men pulled off a fantastic win against the Germans on the last matchday and will hope they can do something similar to qualify for the next stage and ensure that the Spanish record in the UCL stays 100% (Barca, Real and Valencia are already through). Surely, they will remember the 4-0 hiding Milan gave them at the Riazor and want to avenge it.
Milan (4-3-1-2): Abbiati; Helveg, Maldini, Costacurta, Kaladze; Dalla Bona, Pirlo, Serginho; Rui Costa; Shevchenko, Rivaldo
Deportivo (4-5-1): Juanmi García; Héctor, Romero, Naybet, Scaloni; Víctor Sánchez, Sergio González, Fran González, Mauro, Capdevila; Makaay
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Rivaldo (Milan): Rivaldo was a little out of shape and shaky when the rossoneri travelled to the Riazor. Now that he is at his best (at least physically), we can surely expect some insane goal-attempts from him given the nature of the game.
Roy Makaay (Deportivo): Roy Makaay has scored six times in five Champions League games and while he looked rather lost when the two sides last met, he will fancy his chances this time round with Milan taking it easy.
Shevchenko fails to show for press conference
12.11 || Seamus
There are more doubts about the future of Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko after he failed to show up for a press conference today.
The Ukrainian was supposed to be on show prior to tomorrow's Champions League clash with Deportvo La Coruna.
He was known to be unhappy with only playing a few minutes of Sunday's game against Juventus.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti, though, has denied there is any problem.
"We talk every day and Andriy has never shown to be in a bad mood," he was quoted as saying on the club's official site. "Of course he is not happy when he is dropped to the bench, as it happens with the others players. However, tomorrow he will be in."
Chivu: It would be great to play with Nesta at Milan
12.11 || Seamus
Ajax defender Christian Chivu has given a big hint that he'd like to join Milan.
"It's a pity not to play on Tuesday evening against Inter, but I believe that in the end I'll manage to play in Italy," said the injured Romanian.
"It's true, I like Inter and Juve, but I have a point of reference named Alessandro Nesta. It would be great to play with him in Milan."
Ancelotti stresses Pirlo made mistakes
12.11 || Seamus
Andrea Pirlo was the target of almost every Italian sports daily newspapers on Monday morning. La Gazzetta dello Sport, for example, stressed that Milan lost the game thanks to a couple of balls lost by the nonchalant Milan starlet.
"Pirlo had a bad evening, it can happen to everybody", Carlo Ancelotti told the media after the game lost by Milan on Sunday night.
"It doesn't cancel the good he has done so far. Moreover, the whole team failed in the opening stages, not only him. The problem was not his marking Nedved, neither the fact we were playing away, as we made great performances in Europe. Our main mistake was to allow Juventus too much space, but our attitude and enthusiasm must be always the same'.
Ancelotti curses early errors
11.11 || Seamus
Carlo Ancelotti is left cursing Milan’s poor start to the Delle Alpi match in which two counter-attacks were scored.
“We left Juventus too much space to hit us on the break with in the first half-hour,” noted the ex-Bianconeri boss.
“We improved after that, but by then two goals were difficult to overturn. We must learn to cover up at the back when we have the ball.”
Andrea Pirlo scored their only goal from the penalty spot, but the former Under-21 international was not on form tonight.
“Pirlo was on an off day, but that can happen to anyone. For the initial 30 minutes the whole team was on an off day.”
This is Milan’s second defeat of the season and Juve leapfrog past them into second place.
“We are defeated from this match,” concludes Ancelotti, “but we are still standing strong in the Serie A table.”
Clarence Seedorf was philosophical following this setback.
“We must congratulate Marcello Lippi’s men,” said the Dutchman, “as Juventus deserved to win. They took advantage of our mistakes, and that is the sign of a great team.”
“All we can do now is look forward to the next game and maintain that belief in our abilities. There are many months to go before the end of the season.”
Juventus 2-1 AC Milan - match report
11.11 || webmaster
Scorers: Di Vaio 8 (J), Thuram 21 (J), Pirlo pen 31 (M)
Juventus climb up to second place just one point behind leaders Inter thanks to this head to head clash with the Rossoneri.
This is always a classic encounter, but with the top of the table within reach and the return to Turin of Carlo Ancelotti and Pippo Inzaghi it took on a whole new dimension.
Milan were without the injured Gennaro Gattuso, so Massimo Ambrosini stepped into midfield behind front two Inzaghi and Rivaldo.
Christian Abbiati took over from the injured Dida and was immediately tested by an Alessandro Del Piero counter-attack while Pavel Nedved blasted wide from 25 metres.
The deadlock was eventually broken on eight minutes. Del Piero ran onto a Nedved through ball and placed an inch-perfect assist onto the foot of Marco Di Vaio. It was the ex-Parma man's first Serie A goal in the Bianconeri shirt.
The offside trap did not seem to be working and Di Vaio was again left running on goal, but Paolo Maldini timed his intervention to perfection.
Milan increased the pressure with Clarence Seedorf and Rivaldo, but Del Piero curled a splendid lob just wide of the far post.
The second goal was a classic counter-attack. A disastrous corner kick was taken out by Del Piero and he placed another magnificent assist onto the foot of Lilian Thuram for a low drive.
The French defender was one of the most impressive men on the field as he was a constant danger when going forward down the right.
On the half-hour mark there was controversy when the referee pointed to the spot. Alessandro Birindelli reached around Clarence Seedorf and the ball struck his arm. The Rossoneri have missed three out of five penalties this season, but specialist Andrea Pirlo successfully converted.
The first real save brought out of Gianluigi Buffon was on 37 minutes when he spilled a Rivaldo free kick, but was able to recover before Inzaghi pounced.
Just before the break Rivaldo was left too much space on the edge of the box and Buffon flew to fingertip his dipping effort round the post.
Veteran Alessandro Costacurta was introduced for the second half, moving Maldini out to the left flank. On the hour mark Pirlo was also replaced by winger Serginho to redesign the midfield.
The second half was certainly a much more even affair as Juve tried to sit on their lead and hit Milan on the break.
As a last attempt to shake the game up, Carlo Ancelotti pushed Rivaldo back into a Trequartista position with Andriy Shevchenko partnering Inzaghi.
On 74 minutes a splendid Serginho cross saw Shev rise, but he clashed heads with Buffon instead.
Soon after Pavel Nedved opted to go for glory rather than pass to the unmarked Del Piero, but Abbiati proved equal to this powerful effort.
Juventus: Buffon; Thuram, Ferrara (Fresi 85), Iuliano (Moretti 68), Birindelli; Camoranesi, Tacchinardi, Davids; Nedved; Del Piero, Di Vaio (Zalayeta 68)
Milan: Abbiati; Simic, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze (Costacurta 46); Ambrosini, Pirlo (Serginho 60), Seedorf; Rui Costa (Shevchenko 73); Rivaldo, Inzaghi
Rivaldo in Juve warning
8.11 || Seamus
Rivaldo is confident that Milan can return from Sunday’s game against Juventus with the three points.
"The win on Wednesday has put us in the right frame of mind to do the same against Juve," he told the Milan website.
"They have changed a lot since we beat them in pre-season. They are in form but I am convinced that we have everything at our disposal to beat them."
The Brazilian is expected to start the Delle Alpi clash after he only featured as a second half substitute in the 1-0 win against Udinese in midweek.
"That game was very important for us," said the goalscorer. "Had we not collected the victory then we would have moved even further away from leaders Inter."
Rivaldo’s teammate Andrea Pirlo is aware that Milan will have to be at their very best against the Bianconeri.
"It will be a tough match because Juve are a compact side that collect results," said the Italian international.
"They are in a healthy state and in order to get a result we need to keep hold of the ball. When we do this we have the capability to beat anyone."
Pirlo also confirmed that he wouldn’t be handing over the penalty duties to Pippo Inzaghi again after his wild late miss on Wednesday.
"He asked me if he could take it," added the former Brescia starlet. "I knew he wanted to add to his goal tally in the scorers’ charts so I let him have it.
"But seeing how it ended, it was the first and last time that will be happening."
The Bianconeri have some major injury worries ahead of the Delle Alpi showdown. Igor Tudor is out for three weeks with a thigh strain.
Pavel Nedved, who scored the winner in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory at Piacenza, also picked up a knock, but doctors are confident he will be able to start the match.
Edgar Davids has also recovered from a neck problem, but Paolo Montero, David Trezeguet and probably Antonio Conte will be unavailable for selection.
Paparesta to ref Milan vs. Juve
8.11 || Seamus
Gianluca Paparesta will be the referee in charge of the big weekend clash between Juventus and Milan while Pierluigi Collina oversees Roma.
Paparesta has already refereed the Rome derby this season and is considered to be one of the best officials in Italy.
The history books say that he has been in charge of six Milan games before in which the Rossoneri have never lost, gathering three wins and as many draws.
Juventus have an almost identical track record with Paparesta of three wins and three shares of the points, except for the San Siro encounter on March 24 2000. Milan beat the Bianconeri 2-0 in that game.
Juventus vs. AC Milan - match preview
8.11 || scharatz
The biggest non-derby game of the Italian season takes place at an already sold out Delle Alpi stadium in Turn on Sunday night when Juventus host AC Milan in what promises to be the best game of the season thus far. Juve and Milan currently sit in 3rd and 2nd respectively, with Milan trailing leaders Inter by three points and Lippi's men a further point behind. This alone puts tremendous pressure on the two sides who would be expecting the nerazzurri to pick up maximum points in their home game versus Udinese.
Milan have found it very hard to win at the Delle Alpi in the past and their poor record is demonstrated by the fact that they have only won twice in their last ten visits to Turin. Juventus, who beat Milan here three season in a row now, will see this as a promising sign and look to leapfrog their opponents in the standings with an impressive win. The rossoneri however, will have other ideas. They will be looking to replicate the fantastic 0-2 win the pulled off in 1999 en route to Scudetto # 16 when George Weah struck twice to sink "La Vecchia Signora".
Considering this will be the last match played out on the coming match day, it will be interesting to see the motivation levels should Inter Milan suffer a shock defeat at home. But, it is needless to say, three points will be crucial for either side irrespective of what happens elsewhere.
Juve have notched up four wins on the trot now, but have really suffered in the process of collecting those valuable points. With the tension of Champions League qualification put to rest with the win over Feyenoord however, the bianconeri will be able to focus 100% on the Milan clash. Juve have not conceded a goal in their last four games (all wins), but they have won the last three Serie A outings only by 1-0, something that may be a cause of concern coming up against a solid side such as Milan.
AC Milan: WWLLWW
Milan have not paid a heavy price for their two losses against Chievo and Lens. In fact the latter was of no consequence at all to the rossoneri. However, they have found scoring increasingly hard as their attack has scored one less goal in each successive game in the past four games. The 1-0 win over Udinese at the weekend can only be considered a lucky three points for the rossoneri and they will have to raise their midfield play a little to win convincingly at the Delle Alpi.
Marcello Lippi is without the services of several key players for this big game. Last year's cappocanioneri David Trezeguet has still not resumed full training while the defensive duo of Montero and Tudor are also ruled out. Veteran Ciro Ferrara will continue to deputise for Montero at the back alongside Azzurri defender Mark Iuliano. Alessandro Birindelli will be preferred to Moretti at left back. In midfield, Conte (who also has a habit of playing well against Milan) is unavailable, so Alessio Tacchinardi will take over the reigns in midfield. Gianluca Zambrotta may be preferred to Camoranesi on the right given the Argentines recent clashes with Lippi. Davids has recovered from his neck injury and will surely start. Nedved, who himself injured himself against Piacenza on Wednesday should be fit and will slot in behind Di Vaio and Del Piero
Carlo Ancelotti is without Roque Jr. in defence while Nesta and Kaladze are both suffering from fatigue. However, the duo are expected to be fit in time to face the Turin giants that will see the former Juve boss field his favoured back four of Simic, Nesta, Maldini and Kaladze. In goal, Christian Abbiati is set to get a rare start as Brazilian Dida is still suffering after he collided with Udinese striker Muntari midweek. A major blow, however, comes in the form of Gennaro Gattuso, who is almost certainly ruled out of the clash due to ligament trouble. The Italian international woke up with severe pain in his knee. Massimo Ambrosini is set to deputize for his compatriot, though Ancelotti may try and be adventurous and move Seedorf to the right and introduce Serginho into the game. Rivaldo trained separately on Thursday, but is rumoured to get a start ahead of Shevchenko. The World Cup winner will play off Inzaghi with Rui Costa orchestrating the plays right behind the duo.
Nedved vs. Simic: Pavel Nedved is probably Juventus' best player and he usually saves his best for AC Milan. Even his Lazio days, he would torment Milan's right-side, making life hell for the likes of Gattuso, Helveg etc. Even though Marcello Lippi has transitioned the Czech player into a more central role, he inevitably drifts over to the left-side. On Sunday, this will be crucial for Milan. Without the services of the pit bull Gattuso, Dario Simic will have to be extra careful on the far touch line. Simic has not completely settled into his role at right-back, but he is an excellent man-marker whilst playing in the center. The Croat will need all his skills on Sunday as he will play a huge role in helping out Milan's right-sided midfielder in containing Nedved and his crosses from that far side. If Carlo Ancelotti is smart, he will employ the industrious Cristian Brocchi in the absence of Gattuso.
Rui Costa vs. Tacchinardi/Davids: I think Marcello Lippi will play Davids in the middle to offset the threat of Rui Costa. But, if Tacchinardi is played, he will have his work cutout as well. "I think that Rui Costa will be the biggest problem for us and we must shut him down," said Tacchinardi in a midweek interview. Either way, the man in the middle will be the one that makes sure that the Milan no. 10 does not have free reign on Sunday night. In fact, Juve might want to take a lesson out of the page of their fellow bianconeri, Udinese who shut up the Milan midfield with their aggressive pressing on Wednesday.
PROBABLE LINEUPS (watch for daily updates)
Juventus (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Thuram, Ferrara, Iuliano, Birindelli; Conte, Davids, Tacchinardi; Nedved; Di Vaio, Del Piero
AC Milan (4-3-1-2): Abbiati; Simic, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Seedorf, Pirlo, Ambrosini; Rui Costa; Rivaldo, Inzaghi
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Alex Del Piero (Juventus): The Juve skipper has been in fine form of late and even though his goal-scoring touch has deserted him in the past few games, he usually is quite a nightmare for Milan. Add to that the fact that he has the perfect opportunity to shut up his rival, Inzaghi and remind him who's the boss of Turin, and you've got the perfect set up. I think Del Piero can easily spoil Milan's party with his nifty moves if he gets going.
Filippo Inzaghi (Milan): Personally, I don't think Inzaghi will have a good return to Turin. He is bound to get booed by the crowd and will probably not win the physical battle against the tall Juve defenders. However, Pippo has been in fine form of late and must be yearning for payback to remind his old club that they were wrong to discard him. If the Milan midfield can get going with Rui Costa, Seedorf and Pirlo all providing the Italian international will plenty of service, we might just see the real Superpippo on Sunday.
Seedorf looking to continue great record against Juve
8.11 || scharatz
Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf will be looking to continue his fine record against Juventus on Sunday night.
"On Sunday two teams will face each other who have showed in this period coninuity, good play and results," he said. "So there are all the elements for a great match. Luckily, I have always scored against Juventus. But the important thing on Sunday will be the result."
Rivaldo: It isn't easy against anyone in Italy
7.11 || Seamus
With his late strike against Udinese last night, Rivaldo ensured that Milan stay three points behind Inter in the league.
"I tried to put it in the middle and it was ok," he said. "We are content because it was a difficult evening, and Udinese have closed down the spaces well. I have learned that here in Italy it is not easy against anyone, the marking is always very tight. Sometimes you need shots like these to take the lead."
Galliani: Serginho, Ambrosini and Abbiati all Staying
1.11 || Seamus
Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has insisted that Serginho, Massimo Ambrosini and Christian Abbiati are all staying put despite speculation suggesting otherwise.
"I read in the papers about a switch between Serginho and Cannavaro... we have never talked about it," he was quoted as saying on the club's official site.
"Serginho is non-transferable. Abbiati and Ambrosini have never told us they want to quit. During the January transfer window there won't be any move. As for the future, Milan will be interested only in players who could improve a team who is already competitive both in Italy and Europe: we will sign at least a star each year."
Milan & Opel set for talks on sponsorship deal
1.11 || Seamus
AC Milan boss Adriano Galliani indicated the Rossoneri and German car-maker Opel will sit at a table and discuss details of a possible extension of the current sponsorship deal, which is up in nine months.
'Our contract with Opel will expire in 2003. There are no options, but we have scheduled to meet them in order to speak about future. As for Adidas, we have a contract which will expire in 2010 agreed on a handshake for the moment. There won't be any problem to sign it, however'.