Full-strength Juventus a different beast than Milan faced in October
For only the second time, Juventus and AC Milan will contest each other in the Italian Supercoppa. And while the Serie A champions seem unbeatable right now, with a four-point gap and a game in hand at the top of the table, Milan did manage to defeat them 1-0 in October.
The Rossoneri are at a slight disadvantage, however. Juventus arrived in Doha and already had a training session in the sunny Middle Eastern country of Qatar, while Milan's flight was cancelled and could only take off on Thursday afternoon, throwing a spanner in the works. Adriano Galliani threatened to not proceed with the match considering the delay but has since said the club will honour their commitments.
In truth, whether Milan arrived a week or 24 hours before kickoff, Juventus are firm favourites to lift the trophy. Milan will hope their youthful exuberance will be enough to withstand the pressure and create problems of their own, but if Juve utilise the strengths of their newly recovered players, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
When these two sides met in October, the Bianconeri were still attempting to recover their fluidity. Claudio Marchisio was still not match fit, Paulo Dybala suffered an injury mid game and Dani Alves demonstrated why he's more of an attacking force than a defensive figure. Massimiliano Allegri was struggling to find the right formation to display the brilliance of his individuals, relying upon the speed and penetrative skills of his wide players to cause Milan problems.
Alex Sandro, in particular, proved to be a threat on the left, especially in the first half. Fast and dogged on the ball, he overcame his opponents to create chances for the team. Thrilling when he's allowed to attack, he can be somewhat of a liability when overwhelmed defensively and Vincenzo Montella will look to exploit that fragility.
As such, Suso and Ignazio Abate will likely be tasked with pinning the Brazilian back, forcing him to defend which almost always results in an individual error -- as was the case the last time around with Manuel Locatelli.
However, unlike the previous time these two sides met, Juventus will have other weapons to exploit. Marchisio is back to dictating play while Miralem Pjanic seems to have uncovered his former Roma self in his new role behind the strikers. As a result, Juve are a somewhat more fluid and balanced side.
The problem is, they still lack an identity and a solid style of play. With so many attacking options available to the coach, it remains to be seen how Allegri will fit all his best players on to the pitch without creating a tactical imbalance.
Dybala has been sensational to watch despite only playing a few minutes since he recovered from injury. His mazy runs, perfect technique and sheer intelligence demand a starting place. Based on current form, though, Mario Mandzukic does not deserve to be benched. Hence the idea of playing an attacking trident, one that was briefly tested against Dinamo Zagreb in on the table.
Against less adventurous opposition, the triumvirate could provide a lot of entertainment. Mandzukic covers every blade of grass; Dybala offers technique and movement while Gonzalo Higuain can turn every half chance into a genuine opportunity. Together, they remind many of the trio that helped win Juventus the Champions League trophy in 1996 and with a little work, there's no reason why they can't provide success.
Such an offensive lineup would require a lot of sacrifice, especially in midfield which may not be such a problem. Unlike previous seasons, Juventus have fewer sources of inspiration in that department. Asking the likes of Stefano Sturaro and Sami Khedira to focus on defence and aid Marchisio with the dirty work should allow the front line greater freedom to indulge in their attacking desires.
Intelligence of movement will be key as players will need to know when to drop deep, how to stretch play and how to sacrifice for one another without over thinking their movements.
Against Milan, the offensive trident should be given their chance to shine, either from the start or midway through the game. Hoping to expose the naivety of Milan's youth, it remains to be seen whether Juve's heavy attack will allow them to control the game well enough and avoid the dreaded counter-attack.
This is the club's first opportunity for a trophy this campaign and Juventus must not underestimate the opponent. Hard work and composure will help them in their quest for victory.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.