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The victories for the two giants this weekend have set up Saturday's fixture at San Siro perfectly, with the clash set to be bigger than anything else on offer on the continent

COMMENT
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

Like card sharps raising chip for chip, sprinters matching each other stride for stride, or heavyweights going blow for blow, Juventus and AC Milan continued their magnificent duel this weekend with 3-1 victories that served only to make Saturday’s huge clash between the pair at San Siro an even more anticipated event. Make no mistake about it, we are five days away from the biggest game in any league this season.

With the Clasico contests having become so frequent they’ve almost become tiresome, and Real Madrid now bossing the Primera Liga title race by 10 points, the remaining clash against Barcelona at Camp Nou is less important than any the Spanish giants have contested in recent times.

Over in England, the Manchester pairing of City and United are separated by only two points right now, but one gets the feeling that – like Sonic v Doctor Robotnik when the guy in blue has a stack of gold rings and plenty of extra lives – Roberto Mancini’s side need simply to click into gear once more to decide the title in their favour.

Instead in Italy, we have a spectacular race between the two most decorated clubs in the land, which has become increasingly nip-and-tuck over the last four months. Since Milan overcame a poor start to claim a spectacular 4-3 come-from-behind win at Lecce in October, not once have the Bianconeri and Rossoneri finished a round more than two points apart.

For 18 weeks, we have had magnificent tussles which have meant bragging rights going back and forth in terms of the league leadership, and this weekend gave us the perfect platform ahead of the titanic battle to come on Saturday.

Juve took to the field first, losing an early goal to Catania’s Pablo Barrientos only to see ex-Milan man Andrea Pirlo take over proceedings. The midfield maestro turned in his very best performance yet in a season which has had many wondering why the Rossoneri let him go in the first place. He equalised with his first goal in black and white – well, shocking pink! – and went on from there to set up the win.

THE SERIE A TOE-TO-TOE:
MILAN V JUVE POINTS DIFFERENCE
* rescheduled games due to postponement
Round
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
  11*
14
15
16
 1
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
  21*
24
Milan
1
1
2
5
5
8
11
14
17
20
21
24
24
27
28
31
34
37
37
40
43
43
44
47
47
50
Difference
2 <
5 <
5 <
3 <
6 <
4 <
2 <
2 <
2 <
1 >
1 <
1 <
2 <
2 <
2 <
2 <
0
0
1 <
1 <
1 <
1 <
1 <
2 >
1 >
1 >
Juve
3
6
7
8
11
12
13
16
19
19
22
25
26
29
30
33
34
37
38
41
44
44
45
45
46
49
After Juve-owned loanee Marco Motta’s ridiculous foul on Paolo De Ceglie when already having seen yellow, it seemed only a matter of time before the home side would break down the Sicilian resistance. First, Pirlo's free-kick from the right was turned home by the excellent Giorgio Chiellini, then a perfectly weighted pass between two defenders sent in Fabio Quagliarella for the clincher

Pirlo is clearly in a fantastic frame of mind heading back to San Siro. He went close on more than one occasion against Parma in midweek too, and in a campaign during which he has been Juve’s undoubted star – maybe even a Player of the Year candidate – his form has only got better with his return to Lombardy coming into view.

Milan’s response was just as powerful. Returning to the same Stadio Dino Manuzzi where they suffered a humiliating 2-0 defeat at the beginning of last season, they clearly weren’t in the mood to allow a second slip-up against Cesena.

Dominating from minute one, it seemed only a matter of time before they tore the Seahorses apart on the scoresheet as they had on the run of play. Debutant Sulley Muntari should arguably have had a goal inside five minutes, while Urby Emanuelson and Massimo Ambrosini also had good chances.

Muntari eventually did get on the scoresheet when turning home the loose ball after Francesco Antonioli had spilt Thiago Silva’s free kick. Emanuelson then doubled the lead within two minutes with a superb early strike which found the net off the inside of the post.

Robinho’s neat finish completed the rout, with Daniel Pudil’s excellent volley never looking much more than a consolation thanks in part to a misfiring strikeforce of Adrian Mutu and Vincenzo Iaquinta showing a rustiness in front of goal which they will need to address if the Emilia-Romagna side are going to stay up this season.

But the parity on the scoresheet between Juve and Milan this weekend only served to highlight how tight things are between the two heading into Saturday night. The Old Lady’s game in hand at Bologna on March 7 is looking like an increasingly important fixture, but with Antonio Conte’s outfit having drawn 10 fixtures, there is a feeling that they can’t rest on their laurels.

No, they need to beat the Rossoneri for a third time this season in order to give themselves the leadership once more, and from there need to demonstrate that they can cope with the pressure of leading from the front. Milan, meanwhile, need to pick up the three points that will finally see a modicum of breathing space developed between the two on the league ladder in order to negate the significance of the game in hand.

There has been no more important game between the two most decorated clubs on the peninsula post-Calciopoli, and there will be no more vital a clash in any European league this term. Book the night off on Saturday, because this is one game nobody can afford to miss.

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