Dominant sides of the 1990s meet with Milan likely to have to settle for Serie A success as Juventus struggle to find form.
AC Milan, Juventus looking to repeat past glories
There are two distinct versions of AC Milan competing for prizes this season. There is the one that watchers across the globe recognise instantly, with the weather-beaten faces who have belonged to the club seemingly forever, or at least since Milan famously beat Juventus in Manchester to win the European Cup almost eight years ago.
They are the Milan who three times in five years made it to the Champions League final, and won it twice, the Milan of Clarence Seedorf covering ground between midfield and attack, his hair now as close-cropped as once it hung long in luxuriant braids; the Milan of Gennaro Gattuso, bearded and belligerent, cheerleading at San Siro, and volunteering as pantomime villain at away grounds.
It is the Milan of Andrea Pirlo, unruffled on the ball, precise in distributing it; the Milan of Alessandro Nesta, authoritative and cool in defence; the Milan of Massimo Ambrosini, industrious and unsung, except among his coaches; of Felippo Inzaghi, immensely effective in front of goal but strangely derided simply because the goalmouth is his oxygen tank; outside it he seems to wither into the background.
That Milan, the club of the ageing warriors, men who were being called veterans almost at the dawn of the new millennium, let alone the new decade, regard meetings with Juve with a slightly different eye to the newer Rossoneri.
But their cast-list is fresher and will probably dominate the line-up for the Serie A meeting between the top-placed and the seventh-ranked team in the table.
Inzaghi, Pirlo, Ambrosini and Gianluca Zambrotta - for many years a Juventus full-back and winger - are obliged to watch from the grandstand of the Stadio Olimpico, injured, and remember how it was when Juventus versus Milan was consistently the most meaningful Italian dispute on the calendar.
Inzaghi and Zambrotta can recall, first-hand, how Juventus swept the initiative in the domestic hierarchy from the Milan of the early 1990s and then began to assume some of Milan's earlier dominance in the Champions League.
In the Noughties, Pirlo, Inzaghi, Ambrosini and Seedorf were part of wrenching that authority back, at least in Europe. They were all part of the squad, with Nesta, who also brought Milan their last scudetto, way back in 2004.
Naturally, the old guard at Milan want a taste of that again. All the more because their chances of reliving European supremacy this term look slender as they carry a 1-0 deficit against them when they go to White Hart Lane in the second leg of their last-16 tie against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.
Gattuso will miss that match, as well, via suspension for butting Joe Jordan, the Spurs assistant coach, in the first match.
But the new-look AC Milan may need some convincing that Juve-Milan is a calendar highlight, and not a rite-of-passage fixture. Juventus trail Milan by 17 points at present.
And the younger players might struggle to recall very vividly the formidable Juventus sides.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic - who twice finished top of Serie A while a Juventus player, only to see the two titles officially rescinded because of scandal - told Gazzetta dello Sport ahead of tonight's game that the Juve-Milan match still matters.
"They've had bad luck this season, but they are still a club with a winning outlook, and Milan against Juve, with all the history, is still about more than just three points," he said.
The veterans will know that, but the new, younger Milanese might take some persuading.
SPAIN: Godin calls for goals
The Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin believes their strikers Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan need to rediscover their scoring touch if the team are to qualify for the Champions League.
Aguero and Forlan scored almost 50 goals between them last season but have not been so prolific this season. In Atletico’s last eight games they have scored only once, which is a big reason Atletico trail today’s opponents, fourth-place Villarreal, by 15 points.
“They’re the ones who make the difference and the ones who move the team forward,” Godin said of the pair.
Godin, who moved to Atletico from Villarreal last year, said his former team are tough to beat. “I know them well, but you don’t need to know them. We’ve all seen Villarreal and we know how they play. It’s going to be a very tough match.”
GERMANY: Kurz is not worried
Marco Kurz, the Kaiserslautern coach said he is not feeling any extra pressure as his side continue to fight to avoid relegation.
The Red Devils travel today to Eintracht Frankfurt needing points to move out of the bottom three. “We started our battle against the drop on match day one,” he said. “With just 10 games left until the end of the season, we need points to stay up, but there is no particular pressure.”
Frankfurt lie 12th in the table but are only four points ahead of Kaiserslautern. “This is a big chance for us to drag a rival down with us into the relegation battle,” Kurz said. “But of course our priority is to get a positive result.”
Frankfurt’s priority is to find the back of the net after 633 minutes without a goal. Their last goal was scored by Theofanis Gekas in the 1-0 win over league leaders Borussia Dortmund before Christmas.
FRANCE: Pressure is on Lille
Lille have seen their five-point lead wiped out over the last two matches, just as defending champions Marseille’s title bid is gathering momentum. The teams meet tomorrow at Marseille. “We’ll need to be very strong because we’re going to suffer a lot over there,” Florent Balmont, the Lille midfielder, said. “If we get a point there we’ll be happy because we’ll still be in the [title] race.”
A series of scrappy wins has left Marseille fans groaning about the team’s style of play. Marseille have won their last four league games, all by a single goal. They have not scored more than twice in a game since thrashing Montpellier 4-0 in November.
If they beat Lille tomorrow and second-place Rennes fails to beat Montpellier away today, Marseille would be back atop the table for the first time since early December.
HOLLAND: Been stays cautious
Feyenoord have a four-game unbeaten streak, but Mario Been, their manager, said he is more concerned about falling back into the relegation zone than climbing into a European play-off spot.
The Rotterdammers have endured a difficult season, including a 10-0 battering at PSV Eindhoven in October. But recent form has shown a marked improvement as they head into tomorrow’s game at Heerenveen. “I will be looking further down [the table],” Been said. “But with a gap of six points between us and the relegation spots we do have some breathing space.”
Five of Feyenoord’s nine remaining matches are at home. “I will look at it from match to match,” Been said. “I have often said that we have a team that can beat anybody.”
Today, leaders PSV Eindhoven try to hold onto the top spot when they face Excelsior.