After both sides got their continental campaigns underway in contrasting fashion, Juventus and AC Milan clash in Turin on Sunday, with the hosts sorely in need of a win.
Though their morale was boosted by a Champions League victory in midweek, Juve have stuttered badly in Serie A, while their visitors are flying high with maximum points from their first three games.
Despite an uncertain start in Sweden, on Tuesday, Juventus finally stopped the rot by winning their first competitive game of the season with victory against Malmo.
After Alex Sandro’s first-half strike settled their nerves, the Bianconeri went on to cruise towards a 3-0 success at Eleda Stadion, as the rejuvenated Paulo Dybala – named captain for the night – and Alvaro Morata emerged from the Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped shadow which still lingers over Max Allegri’s side.
Having been beaten at Napoli’s Stadio Maradona a few days previously – on the back a chastening defeat to promoted Empoli just before the international break – the pressure on Allegri is already growing as he seeks to prove his second term at the club can emulate the consistent success of his first.
Champions for nine seasons running – several spent under the former Milan manager – before last year’s capitulation to Inter, this term Juve are faltering again and have already matched an unwanted club record – only in 2015-16 have the Bianconeri before been unable to win any of their first three league games.
While Ronaldo’s departure leaves question marks over the attack, Juventus have now conceded at least one goal in each of their last 17 Serie A outings; demonstrating that their main area of weakness is – almost unthinkably – at the back.
With their great central-defensive partnership now winding down towards the end of a glittering career spent largely in each other’s company, and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny suffering a calamitous spell between the posts, the hosts may therefore need to rely on Dybala and the fit-again Federico Chiesa – who has previously been involved in six goals against Milan – to pull off a much-needed victory.
Returning to the Champions League in style after a seven-year absence, Milan’s first-ever match at Anfield may have ended in defeat, but will have offered Stefano Pioli and his men further belief that they are on the track towards sustained success after a period in the doldrums for the previously all-conquering club.
Coming back from a goal down – with Mike Maignan also saving a Mohamed Salah penalty – the Rossoneri led 2-1 at half-time, but were eventually beaten by virtue of Jordan Henderson’s stunning 69th-minute winner.
Intent on building towards another Scudetto challenge after last term’s attempt faltered in the final stages, Pioli has seen his side enjoy better fortunes in the league so far – with victory over Lazio being their most recent Serie A success.
Though they ran out 2-0 winners at San Siro last week, their supremacy meant that a greater margin of victory could easily have been achieved with a little less wayward finishing, while the dangerous Lazio attack were nullified throughout.
Of course, their spiritual leader Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned from the bench with an almost instant goal, and the former Juventus striker will surely play a part in any challenge for the title.
However, the towering talisman is set to be absent on Sunday night, so will revert to his role as deluxe cheerleader at the Allianz Stadium, as Milan seek a third win in their last four league matches against the Bianconeri – thereby extending their early lead over them to a remarkable 11 points.
Juventus Serie A form:
Juventus form (all competitions):
AC Milan Serie A form:
AC Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Juventus 1-1 AC Milan
Milan have rarely started this fixture as favourites in the past decade, but are certainly the side in the ascendancy, with a largely young and cohesive side.
While Juventus have found expectations too much to handle in the early stages of their Serie A campaign, a European victory may boost brittle confidence.
Therefore, home advantage can see them take a point from this prestigious occasion, but a first league win will have to wait.