Juventus ease past Milan as Serie A becomes a procession
Juventus did not have to be at their best to beat Milan 3-1 on Saturday night, but while the Rossoneri showed courage and determination, few can halt a Juve side that is predatory by nature and efficient in front of goal.
This was a different Milan than expected. Rather than focusing on defence they pressed high up the pitch to put Juventus under pressure. They were courageous and benefited from the arrival of Giampaolo Pazzini, a player who annoyed the Juve defence by consistently playing off the shoulder.
And yet no matter how much Milan attempt to shine, they are still not at the level required to beat a team like Juventus. Nonetheless, the fact the visitors were able to play on par with their opponents for long stretches of the game despite the 21-point difference in the table between the two should make Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri worry.
Juventus won despite the poor performance of their midfield and momentary lapses in concentration at the back. Paul Pogba wasn't his usual best and while his strength on the ball is laudable, his decision-making was below par on the night. Andrea Pirlo's set pieces were not intimidating as usual while Arturo Vidal was hit and miss, again. He was often caught out of position even if he managed to commit some required tackles.
It is remarkable how much the side crumble against a well-executed pressing game. The Bianconeri struggled to play the ball out from the back and they falter when pressed. If a disorganised Milan can exploit this weakness, how much pressure will Borussia Dortmund place on Juve's shoulders in the Champions League last 16?
Milan boss Filippo Inzaghi had clearly studied his opponents. The problem is, despite all their determination and clear understanding of the tactics, they still possess a centre-back partnership that reacts too slowly, hence the terrible decision to play such a high line, and a midfield that has no imagination. Playing Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari was bizarre to say the least. While the former struggled to understand the game and his role in it, the latter was a catastrophe.
Nonetheless, the Old Lady can be happy they at least played at a good. Their talent prevailed as did their mental fortitude that saw them continue to fight despite the loss of fluency and Milan's equaliser. Meanwhile the performances of a certain few men, such as Alvaro Morata, Carlos Tevez, Claudio Marchisio and the growing Patrice Evra made the difference.
Morata has begun to exploit the opportunities offered to lead the line. In a big match against a prestigious opponent, he played with intelligence and for the good of the team as opposed to highlighting his individual talent. Running back to track opponents, his movement made it difficult to mark him while his desire to provide rather than score made the difference. Alert and hungry, he was on hand to score the third to round up a wonderful performance.
If he continues to perform like this, Allegri will no longer favour Fernando Llorente. In fact, Morata proved so effective on the night that in the morning, rumours in the newspapers suggested that Llorente is heading for the exit door.
A mature performance against a weak side allowed Juventus to earn the required three points and momentarily stretch the gap at the top of the table.
If they continue to play with fight and intelligence, they can easily win a league that is struggling to provide them with the competition necessary. The question is whether they have enough to beat better sides in Europe.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.