By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
It is hard to recall two more contrasting outfits battling for a league title than AC Milan and Juventus in this 2011-2012 Scudetto race. The two playing styles differ greatly, their scoring rates are polaric opposites, and fortune couldn’t have dealt them more dissimilar hands.
After a fantastically energetic Juve powered to victory over Palermo on Saturday to return to the summit with their first choice starting XI all available, last night Milan limped over the line in Verona, their heavily patched-up side scraping past Chievo to reclaim top spot. Those scenarios played out over the last three days are endemic of the two clubs’ seasons so far.
With 11 players injured and three men suspended – including Daniele Bonera, who was one of those carrying knocks – the Rossoneri couldn’t have been more scrappy, more dogged, nor more unconvincing as they saw off Chievo on Tuesday, but right now they’ll accept any kind of win in order to stay in the title race.
Players with 1700+ minutes in Serie A
|*Juventus stats out of total 2790 mins, Milan 2880|
They are up against a Juve side who have had players out injured for a total of 33 games this season, which includes the frozen-out Vincenzo Iaquinta’s six-game lay-off at the start of the campaign. Only Andrea Barzagli of the first XI has missed four straight matches through injury.
Compare that to Milan, whose lay-off count totals 204 more than the Bianconeri’s, and it is clear to see that Massimiliano Allegri has been at a massive disadvantage all season. Over the last four matches alone, the Rossoneri have accounted for 35 combined absences.
Only when they took on Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi in week 12 have Milan had less than four players missing, while Juve have yet to be shorn of more than three men for any single game. The stats go on and on and on.
While it has no doubt helped the Turin side to be freed of midweek activities for much of the season due to their inability to qualify for a spot in Europe last time around, there has been a noticeable difference between the fortunes of the two clubs. But what is it down to? Just why has a club famed for its MilanLab, which has previously had a magnificent record dealing with injuries, seen its luck turn so completely? And why have players such as Alexandre Pato sustained so many muscle strains?
Juventus themselves used to have a very poor record with injuries, with Fabio Capello blaming the humidity at Vinovo for many of their muscle issues during his tenure at the club. When their misfortune continued into the last couple of seasons, they sought to change the surfaces at the training complex in order to relieve the stress on players.
Milan, on the other hand, have prided themselves on MilanLab, which has seen them deal with each injury over time on a case-by-case basis to great results. But now, with such a catalogue of knocks, pulls and strains having hampered them all term, what can they possibly do about it? And would a change of training conditions at Milanello reverse the recent trend?
Some injuries have been made worse by an over-eagerness to get players playing again. Pato has regularly returned to the first-team squad in the last two years only to then be sidelined for another extended period due to muscle issues. In fact, there are almost too many ways they could address his situation to know which is the right angle of attack.
Besides Pato, there was the recent famous case of Thiago Silva, rushed back for a league game against Roma four days before their Champions League face-off with Barcelona, only to break down 10 minutes into the game and be ruled out for a month.
|GAMES MISSED THROUGH INJURY IN 2011-12
||Mexes, Robinho, Merkel, Strasser||8
||Thiago Silva, Maxi Lopez||5
|Ibrahimovic, Inzaghi, Amelia, Roma||3
|Taiwo, Antonini, Bonera, Van Bommel
|Zambrotta, Nocerino, Muntari, Mesbah||1
It is fair to say that Milan have not helped themselves when you consider these injuries, but they could have done little about the issues which have blighted the seasons of Gennaro Gattuso, Antonio Cassano and Mathieu Flamini. With the first two now having returned to the field and the Frenchman close to making his first appearance of the season, attention turns to the shorter-term knocks keeping out Bonera, Mark van Bommel, Filippo Inzaghi, Ignazio Abate, Luca Antonini, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Djamel Mesbah.
There has to be some sort of link. Some have blamed the heavy San Siro pitch, but there have always been problems with the turf at the Meazza, and besides, Inter have had no discernible increase in injuries this term. No, this is very definitely Milan’s problem, and they need to get to the root of the issue – and quickly.
The alternative is to leave Allegri scraping the barrel for players on a regular basis again next season. With the problem this year having undoubtedly played a part in the title race, they’ll want to ensure that the same does not happen in 2012-13.
Juve host Lazio tonight at Juventus Stadium with a fully-fit squad to choose from for the ninth time in 32 games under Antonio Conte. The coach has led a charmed life so far, and it has helped put his side in pole position. Milan will no doubt be watching, hoping for a slip-up by the Bianconeri, all the while wondering when they’ll be able to send out a full first team.
Injuries are not the only reason Juve go into their last seven games with the title in their hands, with their intense pressing style and excellent defensive record also working in their favour, but their changed luck in the physio room also sets them apart from their big title rivals.Follow Kris Voakes on