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There is plenty at stake in the huge fixture at San Siro, with the smallest details likely to prove key as the league's top two sides go head-to-head. Goal.com gives the lowdown

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By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

Calcio's two most storied cornerstones battle it out this evening in the biggest domestic football match of 2012, as AC Milan and Juventus clash in a fixture which could well provide a huge turning point in the Serie A title race.

The Rossoneri currently sit one point ahead of their visitors, who will travel down the A4 safe in the knowledge that no team has yet managed to send them home empty-handed since Parma beat them 2-0 nine months ago.

Their 27-match unbeaten run in all competitions has helped to put them in with a great chance of winning a first official title since 2003, but they face their toughest assignment of this campaign at San Siro this evening.

So what will be the deciding factors when the first and second-placed teams go head to head at 20.45CET? We've picked out the five most important hurdles which the two sides will have to overcome in order to win the points and take a huge step in the title battle.

A FAST START
One thing which has defined the two clashes between the pair so far this term has been Juventus' superiority from the early moments.

At Juventus Stadium in October, the Bianconeri dominated from the word go, despite eventually having to wait until the dying moments to beat Christian Abbiati. Earlier this month in the Coppa Italia semi final first leg at San Siro, the same pattern was followed in the first half, as Antonio Conte's men were quickest out of the traps, imposing their game on Milan from the start.

If the Rossoneri are going to reverse the trend and pick up the three points this time around, it is imperative that they don't let Juventus get comfortable, with a high-tempo, energetic opening similar to the one that they demonstrated at Cesena last Sunday surely the best way of giving them something to think about. An early strike from the returning Alexandre Pato, as was witnessed when the Rossoneri visited Barcelona in September, wouldn't go amiss either!

MIDFIELD SUPREMACY

It is in the centre of the park that Juventus have done most of the damage in their magnificent unbeaten run, and Milan have twice paid for not forcing the issue in that department in their clashes with the Old Lady this term.

In the first league fixture, it was Clarence Seedorf, Mark van Bommel and Antonio Nocerino who lost out to the home side's central three, while Seedorf, Van Bommel and Massimo Ambrosini were given the run-around in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg.

Juve's more dynamic midfield game will likely give them the upper hand once more, unless Milan can match them for energy - which may prove difficult with Kevin-Prince Boateng absent. Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio have not always been at the top of their form in recent weeks, so they must be asked questions in the midfield battle, and to do that the hosts will need fresh legs in their trio. But then there's always the question of ...

ANDREA PIRLO

The Italy maestro returns to San Siro for a third time in a Juventus shirt since his summer switch from the league champions, but this time around it is infinitely more vital.

With a win in the Coppa Italia and a defeat in the Trofeo Berlusconi, Pirlo has experienced mixed emotions so far in his meetings with his former friends and colleagues, but tonight's outcome will have a real say in just how crucial his loss will turn out to be to Milan.

Massimiliano Allegri, like so many Serie A coaches this season, has not yet proven capable of finding a way to remedy the ills which Pirlo can cause an opposition side, with the ex-Brescia man having helped the Bianconeri to remain in control for long spells of the two encounters before now. Ensuring that there is a gameplan to keep a tight leash on his former charge will be the Rossoneri coach's biggest task tonight. Oh, how he could do with Gennaro Gattuso fit and available.

TAKING YOUR CHANCES

One of Juventus' main issues this term has been their profligacy in front of goal. They lead the league in terms of goalscoring chances created, yet their finishing percentages are very disappointing.

Their problems up front have been much of the reason for the high number of draws racked up (12 of the 27 fixtures in their unbeaten run have finished level after 90 minutes), and becoming more clinical in front of goal is, without a doubt, Conte's biggest concern.

But Milan also have the small problem of trying to penetrate without their star attacker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede's three-game suspension was upheld after his appeal on Thursday failed. Ibra has scored 15 Serie A goals this season - Milan's next top-scorer in attack is Robinho with just four goals.

SMART SUBSTITUTIONS

What can be taken for granted about tonight's game is that there will be moments of real to-and-fro, with the momentum swinging one way and then the other at various stages.

And one thing that will become crucial in the latter period of the game is the input of the two coaches. Many Milan fans have previously questioned whether Allegri is capable of making significant tactical changes to his side with his substitutions, claiming that he has no Plan B in his locker, while Conte doesn't have the greatest success rate when attempting to chase three points in the dying moments.

If the game is on a knife-edge towards the end at San Siro, it will fall on the two bosses to reveal their hand. And they will have to make their changes knowing that, with each decision, they will not only be affecting their bid for three points, but also going a long way to deciding which of the two will be lifting the Scudetto come May. This is the big one, for both players and coaches.

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