x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Spat between AC Milan and Juventus just adds fuel to the fire

Tensions have increased between the two Italian giants ahead of Saturday's match.

AC Milan’s  Philippe Mexes, left, in the Coppa Italia meeting earlier this month.
AC Milan’s Philippe Mexes, left, in the Coppa Italia meeting earlier this month.

The battle of the sound bites began almost a month ago, and though it has never reached a shrill pitch, the sniping and griping between players and executives of AC Milan and Juventus ahead of Saturday's summit meeting has certainly been audible beyond San Siro, home of the defending champions, and Juventus's handsome new arena in Turin.

Most notably, it has come within earshot of the Italian Football Federation, who will above all be concerned that a game around which the destination of the scudetto, the Italian title, might be decided, is well, and firmly, refereed.

Giancarlo Abete, the head of the federation found himself this week having to answer innuendos about his organisation having a vested interest in a successful defence of their national crown by Milan, as the row over perceived bias simmered.

It began two weeks ago with Beppe Marotta, Juve's director of football, complaining about a penalty not granted to his club in the match against Siena, when a point was dropped and Milan saw their chance to catch up and later overtake the then league leaders.

After Parma-Juventus, another 0-0 draw, Antonio Conte, the Juve head coach, wondered out loud if there wasn't a "tendency among referees against Juventus", and asked if "that's about balancing the past?"

That explicit reference to the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, after which Juve were relegated for their directors' part in manipulating referees, prompted a response from Abete: Conte's comments had been out of order, he said.

Milan have hardly been silent in this debate.

Massimiliano Allegri thought he spotted an infringement officials had missed when Giogio Chiellini scored during Juventus's win over Catania at the weekend. Chiellini has become an ogre lately in Milan minds, since, after the tetchy first leg of the Coppa Italia tie between the two clubs, he called for Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic to be banned from the next leg for an incident - unpunished at the time - with Marco Storari.

Storari, Chiellini claimed, had been slapped by the Swede, who was already serving a ban in the league for striking a Napoli player.

"Chiellini," suggested Adriano Galliani, the Milan vice-president, "is like a schoolboy who tells tales".

Ibrahimovic has kept quiet, but if he wins, on appeal, his bid to have his Serie A ban reduced from three matches to two, he will be available on Saturday.

He learns his fate today. Expect more grumbling in the direction of the authorities from Milan if his appeal fails, and from Juve if he wins the case.