Juventus still a class apart as AC Milan face period of consolidation

The Bianconeri's victory in the Trofeo Berlusconi emphasised the very different situations at the two clubs as they head into the 2012-13 Serie A campaign
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer

The Trofeo Berlusconi is not always a great barometer as to the Serie A season to come, with the last two losers having gone on to win the Scudetto, but Sunday’s 3-2 victory for Juventus reaffirmed the Bianconeri’s position as favourites for the title while showing the world once more that AC Milan are not the structured unit of seasons past.

There is little surprise to anybody who has watched Milan over the past few seasons that without Thiago Silva they have struggled significantly even before the season has started. It is true that time is responsible for healing many a wound, but on the evidence presented so far since the Brazilian was forced to move to France, it is going to take a while yet before the Rossoneri overcome the loss of their leader.

Faced with any kind of decent opposition, they have really struggled, with their horror show at the back against Real Madrid having been followed up by the concession of three more goals at San Siro on Sunday.

Aug 26
Sampdoria (H)
Sep 1
Bologna (A)
Sep 16
Atalanta (H)
Sep 18
Champions League (v TBC)
Sep 23 Udinese (A)
Sep 26
Cagliari (H)
The pressure that sits on the shoulders of Philippe Mexes and new boy Cristian Zapata heading into the new season is immeasurable. One gets the feeling that if Milan are to have a serious shot at the title, then the centre-back pairing will have to form an almost immediate bond, especially given that Mario Yepes, who continues to make significant errors at the back, is the first reserve as things stand.

Not only that, but for a real challenge to be on the cards, Robinho will have to perform for 30-plus games at a level he has failed to reach for 30-plus minutes over the past year, Alexandre Pato must be fit and firing for the majority of the season (don’t hold your breath), and players such as Mathieu Flamini and Stephan El Shaarawy will have to make the step up from fringe player to key first-teamer.

Asking for one or two of these eventualities to come to fruition is one thing, but expecting the full house is quite another. Additions such as Zapata, Riccardo Montolivo and Kevin Constant are solid, but far from spectacular, and if Sunday told us anything about the Diavolo, it was that they are as short on grass as they appear on paper. If coach Massimiliano Allegri has one thing in his favour, it is that the calendar is somewhat forgiving for his side over the first few weeks of the campaign.

On the other hand, Antonio Conte and Massimo Carrera have a stronger squad at their disposal, and their Trofeo Berlusconi success saw them add a few more goals to their locker following the ‘poker’ they netted in Beijing a week prior. Still, though, it is their firepower that the one question mark over Juventus' readiness for the task ahead remains.

Aug 25
Parma (H)
Sep 2
Udinese (A)
Sep 16
Genoa (A)
Sep 18
Champions League (v TBC)
Sep 23
Chievo (H)
Sep 26
Fiorentina (A)

While Alessandro Matri scored what would turn out to be the winner in the second half, his future remains in doubt thanks to Juve’s well-documented pursuit of Fernando Llorente. They have spent much of the summer courting one striker or another without much success, but it finally appears that they are about to bag their man.

Matri could be on the way out as a result, though Adriano Galliani’s confirmation after the game that Milan are in talks with cugini Inter over a swap deal involving Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini suggests that it will not be the Rossoneri snapping him up. Still, the Italian is likely to be the main fall guy if/when the Spaniard arrives, with his team-leading 10-goal league haul last season deemed insufficient by the Juve board as they look to build a first XI that can truly claim to be among Europe’s very best.

Their one failing last term was their conversion rate, and while they have scored seven goals on the way to picking up two trophies in the past nine days, only two of them have gone against the name of a striker, and none of Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella or Matri seem likely to kick on and provide a 20-goal campaign. On the one hand, it is certainly positive that the Bianconeri are offering a threat from all areas of the pitch, but on the other it must remain a concern to Conte that the ruthlessness, which will become a necessity in the later Champions League rounds, is still seemingly a forgotten gene amongst Juve forwards.

Llorente could well be the answer, and with his purchase becoming increasingly likely, a third victory in 10 months at San Siro having been chalked up, Milan looking short in several areas, and Conte’s appeal over his 10-month touchline ban set to be heard on Monday, there are plenty of reasons for Juventus fans to be positive five days before the start of their first title defence in seven years.

Coaches, players and presidents may not say it, but the Old Lady should have enough to win the league with her eyes shut this term.

Follow Kris Voakes on