AC MILAN 1-2 JUVENTUS

I had suspected we would face a sterner test than league positions and recent results would suggest. For games against AC Milan are always something separate, beyond and apart from the general run of the league campaign. A different kind of honour is at stake, something noble, proud and majestic, for if there are two classic pillars of Italian football they are found in the ranks and history of these two clubs.

Whilst it was pleasing to welcome back Sandro, and also to see Rugani given his third start on the trot, I was less than convinced of the value of shoe-horning Pogba into the CMR role, when his best work has long been found in the opposite channel. The system we have most commonly deployed demands a different set of duties for that particular role, for our formation is never symmetrical. It is slanted. Much like Vidal, Khedira and Sturaro can both naturally adopt a box to box role, with a greater (or equal) emphasis on the defensive phase than the offensive stage of the game. Both are adept at screening the defence, with the German equally comfortable supporting in the final third. Pogba, however, is not as accustomed to the role.

And so it was Asamoah charged with the Pogba position, and the Frenchman asked to masquerade as Big Sami.

The game started at a lively pace. The hosts clearly setting their stall out to meet us thrust for thrust, jab for jab, Alex fouling Morata every 30 seconds, Pogba well marshaled and out of sorts. Neither side was in true ascendancy. Still, after a few early scares it came as no major surprise when Milan took the lead through a Balotelli corner plundered into the net for 1-0 by Alex. The marking was non existent with several Juve players flocking around Bacca at the near post leaving the Brazilian veteran free to head home. There had been warning signs of the danger of much maligned Balotelli, for Buffon had earlier saved a splendid free kick from the striker. I was increasingly impressed with Mario. His swift probing and flair remain potent, as does his pace.

Rather than let our heads drop, we continued to try piece together quality moving up the field. Lichsteiner found space and produced a half decent shot on goal. Marchisio also let fly from range. Remarkably, it was Buffon who produced the long ball from his own half which led to the equaliser. Mandzukic won the aerial battle, knocked the ball down to Morata who returned the pass which the giant Croatian despatched past the youngster between the sticks. Before the ref blew for half time, Lichsteiner again found good space in the box, yet his effort on goal was lame.

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Early in the second period we were reminded as to why Buffon is rightfully considered a true legend of the game, assuredly on par with the best of all time. Bacca found space in the box, drove a strong shot towards goal which was superbly parried by Buffon, Balotelli on hand to apply the finish and yet from point blank range, Santo Buffon tipped the ball up and away to safety. The double save was truly remarkable. A superhuman feat.

We were growing in confidence. Our superior fitness or perhaps confidence driving the balance in our favour. A flurry of bookings for the home side coincided with Pogba finally hitting his stride. Finding himself in the 6 yard box, the ball had to be hit at an awkward angle, yet King Paul prevailed, bouncing the ball off the ground and over the despairing Donnarumma for 1-2.

After which the home side lost heart, the wind was knocked out of their sails.