AC Milan and Juventus is in many ways the real fgootball derby in Serie A. The two biggest clubs with the two strongest identities worldwide scrap it out for supremecy in what is usually the fulcrum of the season for the team's title ambitions.
Apart from the Derby della Madoninna, a fixture that fizzes with local rivalry, Milan v Juventus is an altogether bigger affair involving the whole country as well as legions of fans all over the world. The two teams have traditionally been the strongest in recent decades and have counted some of the world's biggest football stars among their numbers.
The two clubs have a universal appeal throughout the whole country, that most other teams do not. Internazionale Milano remains a Milanese club supported by Milanese, likewise Fiorentina is for Florentines, it's Milan and Juve who are the true giants of Serie A. While AC Milan traditionally drew its support base from the the migrant workers from the South, support that then filtered back to their provinces, Juventus are a heavily supported club throughout the country and especially in Lombardy where the acute provincialism sees a failure to identify with their big city neighbours.
The clash of Milan and Juventus has for me always represented the best of Italian football. My first exposure to Serie A was through the Italian football round-up show, broadcast on Sunday mornings and presented by the peerles James Richardson, 'Football Italia'. This show has attained iconic status among my generation as one of the best and most influential football institutions running from 1992 to 2008. It was sitting on the living room floor in my pyjamas with feet like blocks of ice and my nose inches from the screen that I first glimpsed the greats of Italian football, Van Basten, Maldini, Baresi, George Weah, Gullit, Rijkaard, Shevchenko Donadoni... and through them, a love of the beautiful game was ignited.
Back then growing up familiar with the English game, Serie A was still something remote and exotic, the passion of the supporters, the technicalities of the game, the structured defence, the playing for free kicks. Long before Murdoch and money transformed English football, Serie A was the 1st Division's more glamorous and worldly cousin. While the English first division swilled beer and ate crisps, Serie A drank Martinis and ate olives, spoke six languages, drove a Ferrari and had a supermodel on it's arm.
Things have changed since then, English football won the lottery, invited lots of glamorous friends around and has been partying since, Italian football's shadowy past caught up with it and it has been bogged down with scandal after scandal. Serie A is forced to face the economic realities of austerity, while the Premiership seemingly lives in an economic bubble. But all bubbles burst, and all scandals disolve like dust in the wind, but the history remains. Those magical moments that inspire a seven year old with frozen feet thousands of miles away will always be there, and that's why football will always be around.
Today sees an unusual premise for such an important game, while both teams are coming off significant wins in Europe Milan languish unusually back in 12th place a full 17 points behind leaders Juventus. To say that the title race is sewn up would be premature, we've all seen storming comebacks, the January transfere window opens in a few weeks, Serie A will enjoy the winter break and Milan are set to be releived of the plague of injuries they have suffered of late, so the second chapter of the season is still to be written and anything can happen. But it must happen now.
With an inexperienced Milan still finding their feet, a win against Juventus now could instill confidence and see them turn a corner. A defeat could take the wind out of their sails and start yet aniother destructive cycle of results. Juventus have the bit between their teeth and have looked imperious this season, especially with ex Milanista Pirlo pulling the strings, so it will be no easy task plundering them of three valuable points.
Add to the cauldren the fact that last year's Scudetta could have gone to Milan if a 'ghost' goal by Sulley Muntari against Juventus had not been wrongfully disallowed and you can see the importance of the game and the effect of the outcome.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty