Recent years have been unkind to supporters of AC Milan, who have looked on in horror as the legacy of their great club has slowly been eroded by years of mismanagement. Winners of the Serie A title as recently as 2011, the Rossoneri faithful have seen – among other things – Paolo Maldini retire and Andrea Pirlo join Juventus while their club appointed a string of ill-suited coaches.
Former heroes Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi were given little hope of adding to their legacy by taking a seat on the bench, but both men were given deeply flawed squads assembled hastily and with little regard for the tactical implications. Seeing the success of players such as Matteo Darmian and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – both of whom began their careers in the Milan youth team – only adds to the disappointment.
The sight of Max Allegri thriving at Juventus compounds that misery, the coach relieved of his duties at San Siro in January 2014 but now on the verge of a second-consecutive Scudetto with the Bianconeri. He has even helped the Old Lady steal a former source of Milanese pride, his team recently breaking Sebastiano Rossi’s record 22-year-old record for the most minutes played without conceding a goal.
Gianluigi Buffon has taken most of the plaudits but another legendary Italian shot-stopper Dino Zoff quite rightly pointed out that the defence should share the adulation, saying: “Gigi is a great champion but this record could become the highlight of an amazing career. But it should also be pointed out that the contribution of team-mates is essential to hit certain targets. I believe that Juventus have enviable defensive solidity, which allows Buffon to face fewer shots.
So how exactly does this Juventus defence compare to the famous backline of AC Milan that it usurped?
Here, Sport360 compares like for like to pick our ultimate Juve-Milan defence. Do you agree with our picks? Let us know using #360fans on Twitter or by visiting our Facebook page.
GOALKEEPER – Gianluigi Buffon vs Sebastiano Rossi
Sebastiano Rossi was an excellent servant to Milan, but his ability pales in comparison to the man who now holds his old record. Perhaps the gulf is best highlighted in international terms as both defences were deployed en masse by the Italian national team. The Milan quartet travelled to the 1994 World Cup, while Juve’s “B-B-C” trio regularly take the field together for the Azzurri under former boss Antonio Conte.
Yet while Buffon has also made more appearances for Italy than any player in history, the presence of Walter Zenga, Stefano Tacconi and Gianluca Pagliuca meant that Rossi failed to collect even a single cap. He would certainly lose out to the current Italy no.1 here too.
There is little doubt that – even at 38 years old – Gigi Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers of all time, and this latest record is a huge accomplishment for both him and the Juventus side he represents.
SPORT360 CHOICE: Gigi Buffon
RIGHT-BACK – Stephan Lichtsteiner vs Mauro Tassotti
The Rossoneri could rely upon Mauro Tassotti to patrol the right flank back in the early 1990s, but his accomplished performances have perhaps been bettered by those of Stephan Lichtsteiner, the Swiss international who is arguably among the continent’s most consistent defenders. Solid in the tackle, tactically alert and relentlessly competitive, the 32-year-old is individually a better player than his Milan counterpart.
SPORT360 CHOICE: Stephan Lichtsteiner
LEFT-BACK – Patrice Evra vs Paolo Maldini
On the opposite flank, Patrice Evra has cemented his legacy as one of the finest left-backs of his generation, delivering at the highest level for Manchester United, Juventus and France. But there is no possibility of him earning a spot in a combined defence because, well, Paolo Maldini is Paolo Maldini.
A true giant of the global game, he is undeniably the greatest exponent of the role in history, playing over 900 games for Milan and winning a staggering 26 major honours in a truly remarkable career that spanned a quarter of a century.
SPORT360 CHOICE: Paolo Maldini
CENTRAL DEFENCE: Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci vs Franco Baresi & Alessandro Costacurta
The centre of defence also brings a place guaranteed for a legend: Franco Baresi. Captain of the record-setting 1994 vintage of the Rossoneri and the leader of Arrigo Sacchi’s revolution, Baresi was an incredible leader. If Sacchi’s decision to switch from man-marking to a high-pressing zonal style changed the game forever, it was his skipper’s ability to execute on the pitch that made it work.
A study in grace under fire, Baresi marshalled the defence flawlessly, seemingly never out of position and always one step ahead of opposition strikers. “I swapped shirts with an opponent after every match,” David Platt revealed in an interview discussing his time in Italy. “They all stank of sweat – except Franco Baresi’s. That one smelled of Aramis!”
Choosing who should line up alongside him is difficult. His understanding with ‘Billy’ Costacurta was exceptional, while Andrea Barzagli also shares many of Baresi’s finest attributes.
Yet over the past 18 months, Leonardo Bonucci has arguably evolved into the most accomplished of the current Juve trio, becoming a sound defender with a superb range of passing. He also weighs in with important goals and has grabbed the attention of Pep Guardiola, with the Bayern Munich boss calling Bonucci “one of my favourite players ever.”
Sport360 Choice: Franco Baresi and Leonardo Bonucci