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January 6 may be a typical business day on the British shores, but in Italy it is a beloved national holiday.
The religious significance of the Epiphany comes from the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus, who, as is known, brought the child the impractical gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What was a kid going to do with that, really?
Fortunately for little Italian bambini, a befana (an old woman who looks like a witch), flies by all the children’s houses and brings them candy and chocolates if they have been good, and coal if they have been naughty during the year.
So it looks like our soccer fans have been great boys and girls this year, because the befana you have saved your best gift for last on this holiday of joy. On Wednesday night, Serie A leaders Milan will host champion Juventus at the San Siro in what is arguably the biggest game of the season so far.
And frankly, it’s a better gift than the one the Three Wise Men achieved, combined.
As Epiphany celebrates the birth of an extraordinary child, another superhuman will be in the spotlight on Wednesday, as Cristiano Ronaldo aims to shepherd his flock to the holy city of the three points.
Milan’s divine figure Zlatan Ibrahimovic is unlikely to participate in the I Rossoneri as he is still on the way to recover from a hamstring injury. Fortunately for the Swedes, his disciples hold on to his every word, and have carried out their practices on the field in his absence, propelling them to an unexpected advantage at the top of the table.
That summit lead has become even more tempting just hours before kickoff, with second-placed Inter falling to a surprising 2-1 defeat at Sampdoria, allowing Milan to widen the gap over I Nerazzurri. to four points with a win.
A victory that, closer to home, would create a 13 point abyss between I Rossoneri and Juve. The defeat of Inter has opened the door for Milan, but has also presented a small window for Andrea Pirlo and his teammates to climb and return to the race for the title.
I Bianconeri has been wrong too often this season, losing points in five 1-1 draws in his first 14 games, as well as one more draw and a lone loss. That record speaks of a team unable to kill opponents, or finding that extra team to score victories in tight matches.
The last thing they would want then is to face a team that, so far, has proven capable of doing it all. 11 wins and four draws in 15 games mean Milan is the only undefeated club in any of Europe’s top five leagues going into 2021.
Stefano Pioli’s men have exceeded all expectations, overcome all obstacles and have given the most unexpected answers to some extremely difficult questions. However, Wednesday will be the most difficult of all.
Milan will face Juve without the aforementioned Ibrahimovic, while midfielders Sandro Tonali, Ismael Bennacer and Rade Krunic are out with suspension, injury and illness respectively. Add to that the absence of forward Ante Rebic with coronavirus, and we can really hope to see an impromptu Rossoneri for this very vital match.
But Pioli’s young and energetic squad has laughed at adversity all season, and will do so again on Wednesday, no matter which stars take the field. Milan have won against Inter, Napoli, Sassuolo and, most recently, Lazio, displaying the fighting spirit necessary to secure a last-minute win over the Eagles in a 3-2 thriller.
They exude confidence, and it has never been clearer than during their fight for the 2-0 win in Benevento, when, with ten men, Rafael Leao launched a brilliant balloon up and over the opposing goalkeeper to double the score.
The Portuguese forward, strutting towards the cameras, repeatedly pointed to his wrist, indicating where his watch should have been, as the words “E ‘il nostro tempo, eh” quietly left his lips. Is our moment.
The belief has never been higher that they can reclaim their throne in Milan, and victory over Juventus would not only create an almost impregnable rift between them and the reigning champions, but would also carry the leaders through a mental barrier that They have struggled to tear it down in years past.
No matter their position in the league, Juve is still the team to beat. Beat the best and you can become the best, simple. I Bianconeri still has that fearsome aura, and Serie A viewers are hoping they will transform into that ruthless killing machine and crush everything in their path until they somehow reach the league title.
Cruising seems out of the question now, but stopping Milan’s unbeaten streak, closing the gap with both I Rossoneri and Inter, and reducing the deficit from the top to just seven points could be the psychological catalyst needed to turn it around. this campaign. .
However, if Juve is going to prove that it is a legitimate champion, it has to do so on Wednesday. If he doesn’t, Pirlo will receive coal from the Agnelli family, and they could be forced to have an epiphany of their own regarding the status of their rookie coach.