Milan vs Juventus Throwback: Del Piero and Trezeguet Deliver the Title

Milan vs Juventus has arguably been the defining battle of a Serie A era that spanned between the 1990s and the first part of the 2000 decades. It was an age during which the Italian top-flight reached its peak of power and international recognition, then started a sudden decline.

On one side, were the Rossoneri, ruled by their almighty, larger-than-life president Silvio Berlusconi and his eternal right-hand Adriano Galliani. On the other side, Juventus with its notorious management “triad” Luciano Moggi – Roberto Bettega – Antonio Giraudo and the powerful Agnelli Family and FIAT group always ready to back the club up.

With the only exceptions of Lazio and Roma grabbing one title each across the 2000 Rome Jubilee years, every Scudetto between 1992 and 2006 ended in either the Rossoneri‘s or the Old Lady’s hands.  

In those years, when Juventus and Milan crossed swords at the Stadio San Siro or at the now-defunct Stadio Delle Alpi, it was most often to determine which club would wear or keep wearing a Scudetto patch on their jerseys the next season. Sometimes, the battle was closer than others, and if there is one game that truly epitomizes the essence of this multi-year clash, that is the May 8, 2005, showdown at the San Siro.

Juventus came home with a full score on that day, thanks to a lone goal from David Trezeguet but, moreover, to a brilliant overhead assist from their captain and bandiera Alessandro Del Piero. It was not a spectacular game if truth be told and it would have probably not become a Serie A classic, had so much not been at stake.

But it really became the defining game of an age, perhaps the swan’s song of an epoch when the Serie A clubs were studded with all-star champions, yet the show on the pitch often did not live up to the expectations.

It was also a battle between two prominent Italian coaches, the up-and-coming Carlo Ancelotti and the already internationally established Fabio Capello. Capello was a legend at Milan, having won four titles and one Champions League with the Rossoneri, but was now at the helm of Juventus. Ancelotti, on the other hand, had had a forgettable, trophyless two-year stint with the Old Lady before finding his edge at Berlusconi’s club. The roads and tales of football are endless.    

Capello had landed in Turin ahead of the 2004/2005 season with the task of opening a new cycle for the Bianconeri. It was a new deal needed after Marcello Lippi’s second stint in the dugout had ended the previous season in a disappointing third place, 13 points below, you guessed it, Milan. To reverse the trend, the Agnellis wanted the best of the best when it came to coaching skills, much to the dismay of the Roma fans who only a few months earlier could rejoice at seeing the Capello-led Giallorossi humiliate Juventus themselves in another Serie A classic match.

Juventus operated shrewdly on the transfer market. To revamp their defensive package, they secured Fabio Cannavaro’s services from Inter, in a much-famous swap deal that delivered to the Nerazzurri the quasi-unknown goalkeeper Fabian Carini in exchange – a prime example of Inter’s abstruse transfer market operations in those days. Also, Luciano Moggi and co brought to Turin a gangly youngster of 23 years who had been scoring loads of goals and displaying quite a personality at Ajax. That’s how the Italian footballdom first got acquainted with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He ended up scoring 16 goals in his maiden Serie A season but unfortunately did not take part in the game with Milan due to an injury.

From Roma, Capello also brought defender Jonathan Zebina and Brazil international Emerson with him, furtherly reinforcing a roster that could already count on the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta, Lilian Thuram, Pavel Nedved, on top of Trezeguet and, of course, Alex Del Piero.

Fabio Capello’s squad was a pragmatic, no-nonsense war machine. Their march in Serie A was steady from the get-go. Juventus didn’t miss a beat, except for a four-day blackout in February when the Bianconeri lost two games in a row against Sampdoria and Palermo.

Ancelotti’s Milan, on the other hand, were more beautiful to watch yet much more inconstant. The Rossoneri could thrash any opponent when they were in one of their days. However, they also had a weak point in the form of some inexplicable losses of concentration that at times resulted in heavy, unexpected setbacks, especially in Europe. On that note, the worst was yet to come as only a few weeks after the showdown with Juve they would literally throw a Champions League Final out of the window in the famous Istanbul psychodrama against Liverpool.

Reading the Rossoneri’s roster from that season makes it hard to believe that what is arguably considered the best version of Ancelotti’s Milan ultimately failed to win any major title.

Brazilian goalkeeper Dida was in a state of grace, saving literally anything that came his way since two seasons. Alessandro Nesta was joined at center back by the rock-solid Jaap Stap. Full-backs Cafu and Paolo Maldini need no further introduction.

In midfield, Gennaro Gattuso’s grit was perfectly balanced by the vision of the maestro Andrea Pirlo, with Clarence Seedorf and Rui Costa ready to support. At 23 years of age, Kaka had blossomed into a formidable trequartista and, just as if Andriy Shevchenko’s goals were not enough, Milan had also added Hernan Crespo to their offensive package. Without forgetting that Filippo Inzaghi, albeit enduring a troubled season due to injuries, could still serve as a phenomenal goal-scoring backup.  

The stage was set, with 80,000 screaming fans filling the San Siro stands. With three games to go before the end of the 2004/2005 campionato, Milan and Juventus shared the top spot in the league table as they kept a disappointing Inter and Luciano Spalletti’s marvelous Udinese at a distance. Even the referee, the internationally renowned and respected Pierluigi Collina, was the best one could hope for.

Milan came to the pitch with little fuel left in the tank, though. Only a few days earlier, they were given a run for their money by PSV Eindhoven in a Champions League Semi Final. The Rossoneri progressed on away goals but had to thank an added-time winning effort from Massimo Ambrosini to neutralize an unexpected comeback from the Dutch, who had lost the first leg 0-2.

The hero of Eindhoven was left on the bench by Ancelotti, who preferred to deploy Seedorf in the match-up with Juve. Crespo was also only fit for the bench, so it was John-Dal Tomasson of Denmark to partner with Shevchenko upfront. Capello could not count on Ibrahimovic, but Del Piero and Trezeguet made for a dangerously enough offensive partnership.

Which they promptly showed on 28 minutes as they cooperated to score what turned out to be the only goal of the game. Alex Del Piero progressed on the left side and made a crossing effort that was pushed back by Maldini. That’s when Pinturicchio had an absolute stroke of genius, deciding to pounce on the descending ball and whip it in the middle of the box by means of a spectacular overhead.

Trezeguet used his goalscoring instinct to position himself right where he could make the best of his captain’s suggestion (it is not by chance that he was nicknamed Trezegoal…) as Stam was caught by surprise by the Franco-Argentinian’s sudden incursion. Dida’s reaction was not so well-timed as the Brazilian failed to hold the ball from Trezeguet’s header. It was a goal that was worth a Scudetto.

There was still one hour to go but little more would happen. Milan were more proactive in the second half as they desperately looked for an equalizer but their energies were draining as a grueling season approached to the end. Juventus legitimized their lead with Del Piero hitting the crossbar from a close-range header. The Rossoneri protested over an alleged Zambrotta foul on Cafu in the box, but Collina would hear none of it. It was over.

Milan would meet their doom in Istanbul a few days later, ending the season empty-handed and likely still asking themselves today how that could happen. Juventus deservedly conquered the Scudetto on the pitch and retained it until the Calciopoli scandal uncovered their management’s shady and unnecessary machinations, cancelling their successes and closing the age of the Milan vs Juventus duopoly in Italian football.



May 8, 2005 – Serie A 2004-05 Round 35

SCORER: 28′ Trezeguet

MILAN (4-3-1-2): Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Stam, Maldini; Gattuso, Pirlo (46′ Serginho), Seedorf (66′ Rui Costa); Kaka; Shevchenko, Tomasson (55′ F. Inzaghi ) (Abbiati, Costacurta , Ambrosini, Crespo) Coach: Ancelotti

JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon; Pessotto, Thuram, F. Cannavaro, Zambrotta; Camoranesi (60′ Birindelli), Emerson, Appiah (80′ Blasi) Nedved; Del Piero, Trezeguet (76′ Zalayeta) (Chimenti, Montero, Kapo, Olivera) Coach: Capello

REFEREE: Mr. Collina from Viareggio
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Nesta (M), Zambrotta, Emerson, Blasi (J); Added Time: 1st Half 0′, 2nd Half 5′