January 6th may be a typical working day on British shores, but in Italy it is a beloved national holiday.
The religious significance of the Epiphany stems from the visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus, who brought the little child the very impractical gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What was a kid going to do with it, seriously?
Fortunately for the little Italian bambini, a befana (an elderly witch-like lady), fly around each child’s houses and bring them candy and chocolates if they’ve been good, and charcoal if they’ve been bad during the year.
So it looks like we football fans have been great boys and girls this year because the befana kept his best gift until the end on this feast day. Serie A leaders Milan will host Juventus at San Siro on Wednesday night in what is arguably the biggest game of the season to date.
And frankly, it’s a better gift the Three Wise Men have pulled off – combined.
As Epiphany celebrates the birth of an extraordinary boy, another superhuman will be in the spotlight on Wednesday as Cristiano Ronaldo aims to guide his flock to the holy city of the three points.
Milan’s divine figure Zlatan Ibrahimovic is unlikely to feature for I Rossoneri as he is still on the road to recovery from a hamstring injury. Luckily for the Swede, his followers cling to his every word, and they carried out his field training in his absence, propelling them to an unlikely lead at the top of the board.
That top advantage became all the more tantalizing just hours before kick-off, with second-placed Inter falling in shock 2-1 at Sampdoria, allowing Milan to extend the gap to I Nerazzurri to four points with a win.
A victory which, closer to home, would create a 13 point chasm between I Rossoneri and Juve. Inter’s defeat opened the door for Milan, but it also presented the smallest of windows for Andrea Pirlo and his teammates to climb up and get back into the title race.
I Bianconeri have slipped far too often this season, dropping points in five 1-1 draws in their first 14 games, as well as a new tie and a lone loss. This record speaks of a team unable to kill opponents or find that extra gear to achieve victories in close encounters.
The last thing they would want then is to run up against a team that so far have proven themselves capable of doing anything. 11 wins and four draws in 15 matches mean Milan are the only undefeated club in one of Europe’s top five leagues on the eve of 2021.
Stefano Pioli’s men have exceeded all expectations, crossed all obstacles and offered the most unexpected answers to extremely difficult questions. Wednesday will be the most delicate of all, however.
Milan will face Juve without the aforementioned Ibrahimovic, while midfielders Sandro Tonali, Ismael Bennacer and Rade Krunic are all suspended, injured and ill respectively. Add to that the absence of striker Ante Rebic with the coronavirus, and we can truly expect to see a makeshift Rossoneri for this most vital match.
But Pioli’s young and fiery side have laughed at adversity all season long, and they will do it again on Wednesday, regardless of the starlets on the pitch. Milan have won victories against Inter, Napoli, Sassuolo and most recently Lazio, showing the fighting spirit needed to clinch a last-minute winner against the Eagles in a 3-2 thriller.
They are brimming with confidence, and it was never clearer than in their 2-0 win at Benevento, when ten-man Rafael Leao threw a brilliant lob over the opposing goalkeeper to double the score. .
Turning to the cameras, the Portuguese striker repeatedly pointed his wrist, indicating where his watch should have been, as the words’ E ‘il nostro tempo, eh’, rolled calmly from his lips. It’s our time.
The belief has never been greater that they can reclaim their throne in Milan, and the victory over Juventus would not only create an almost unassailable gap between them and the current champions, but would also carry the leaders through a mental barrier in which they struggled to break. The previous years.
Regardless of their position in the league, Juve are still the team to beat. Beat the best and you can become the best – simple. Je Bianconeri still holds that dreadful aura, and Serie A viewers expect them to transform into this ruthless killing machine and ride everything in their path until they reach the league title.
Cruising seems to be out of the question now, but stopping Milan’s unbeaten run, closing the gap on I Rossoneri and Inter, and reducing the top’s deficit to just seven points could be the psychological catalyst needed to reverse this campaign. .
If Juve wants to demonstrate that they are true champions, they must do so on Wednesday. If you don’t, Pirlo will receive smut from the Agnelli family, and they might be forced to have a personal revelation regarding their rookie coach’s status.