<
>

50-50 Challenge: Real Madrid and AC Milan in glamour friendly

La Liga and Serie A's winter breaks give clubs a chance to work on their fitness and take stock of the campaign so far. Real Madrid and AC Milan face each other as 2014 comes to a close, and Nicholas Rigg (Madrid) and Sumeet Paul (Milan) preview the action in Dubai.

What shape is the team in ahead of this friendly?

Nicholas Rigg: The shape of world champions. Although plenty doubt the credibility of the FIFA Club World Cup, few can dispute Madrid as the best club side on the planet currently.

While success in Morocco may have been a relative walk in the park for Carlo Ancelotti and his all-conquering side, the two victories that enabled them to lift the Club World Cup were the tip of a record-breaking run of straight wins. Madrid have won 22 in a row in all competitive matches, which surpasses the 18 set by Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona side in the 2005-06 season. They are now closing in on the 24 wins recorded by Brazilian side Coritiba.

Free-scoring in attack, with Cristiano Ronaldo expected to clinch his second straight Ballon d'Or next month on the back of 30 goals in all competitions for club and country this term, Madrid are now solid defensively. No longer is it a case of "you score two, and we'll score three" -- more "we'll score five, and you'll hardly get a sniff."

This Madrid squad is so good that it has even been muted as the best ever by the Spanish press and supporters. Only time will tell.

Sumeet Paul: Milan's transitional period continues to drag on further than expected with each coaching change, but with Pippo Inzaghi at the helm, there is hope that there can be some stability in the years to come.

While he will be missing some key players through injury for this game, the Rossoneri will be content with their season thus far, which sees them just two points adrift of the final Champions League spot in Serie A. Inzaghi will hope to have a full strength squad at his disposal in January, but he can be relatively pleased with his first few months in charge.

When will we see these two square off in the Champions League again?

NR: Madrid and Milan are the two true giants of European football, having won the European Cup 17 times between them, ten to the Santiago Bernabeu and seven to the San Siro. It's just a shame one continues to dominate while the other is the shadow of its former, more glorious self.

Patience will be required in helping Milan back to their former glory, especially on the European stage. The Champions League needs the Rossoneri in the competition. An eighth-place finish in Serie A is not good enough for a club of Milan's stature, but Inzaghi has at least showed signs of progress this season.

Whether or not Milan return to the big European stage next season, they will still be way short of Madrid. The last time the sides met, Milan had players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Andrea Pirlo, Ronaldinho and even Inzaghi among their ranks, and their current quality sits way short.

They will return to the Champions League stage -- a club of that stature never stays away too long -- but a competitive fixture between the sides will not be anytime too soon.

SP: While Ancelotti and Madrid are busy conquering the world, Milan are in a rebuilding process after falling from the top of the European game.

It has been a steady decline after the loss of so many cornerstones of the club, and it will take at least another year before we see these two historic teams engage in a competitive Champions League game. Pitting two of the most successful clubs in football against each other always brings memorable moments, and it is hoped there will be more to add to the collection sooner than later.

What does each team hope to get out of this midseason break?

NR: In a nutshell: no more injuries. Madrid are easing past their opposition without the injured Luka Modric and have also recently been without James Rodriguez, but Ancelotti will not want to pick up any more injuries ahead of what's set to be a big month in January.

Madrid kick off 2015 at Valencia before taking on Atletico Madrid twice in the Copa del Rey. If they progress, they will face Barcelona twice on top of the league matches. To maintain their top form, they will need a fully fit squad, so don't expect star names to be given too many minutes in Dubai.

Money and exposure are the incentives for the Bernabeu suits. In the current climate of financial fair play, these fixtures are important as far as the off-the-pitch running of the club is concerned.

SP: The commercial benefits that come with playing such a friendly in Dubai and a confidence boost for the players against some of the best competition in Europe. Friendly or not, it is hard to see Milan taking anything from the game given the nature of Madrid's recent winning streak, so it is a good opportunity to continue to build the brand of the club and promote its new talents to engage supporters.

Milan are looking to build on their partnership with Fly Emirates, which could help with their stadium plans, and this should be a successful trip.

Pick a weak link in the opposition

SP: Considering Ancelotti has led the Spanish giant to a record 22 consecutive wins, where can there possibly be any weaknesses at this stage? The only hope is that they are not mentally switched off during the break after winning the Club World Cup and planning their onslaught in 2015. Early pressure on Iker Casillas, should he start, could give Milan something to play on, but it looks like a daunting task.

NR: It would have been obvious to put the name of Fernando Torres in here only a few weeks ago, but now it seems like the struggling Spaniard will not take part in the game as he prepares for a return to Madrid with his former club Atletico next month.

The former Liverpool man, who will make his move to the San Siro from Chelsea permanent on Jan. 5 before returning to the Vicente Calderon on loan, would have been eager to feature against his former rival, but Milan's other options up front won't have Pepe and Sergio Ramos shaking in their boots.

Torres and his striking peers may point the finger at the Milan midfield, with the usual trio of Sulley Muntari, Nigel de Jong and Andrea Poli hardly a match for the current Madrid midfield pass masters.

Does the team really need to fly around the world during a rest period?

NR: For the team? Certainly not. The winter break is put in place for a reason in Spain. The 90 minutes aside, the trip all the way to Dubai just days before returning to Liga action is far from ideal.

For the club? These trips are now part and parcel of the season. FFP rules mean clubs like Madrid are taking every step possible to stay ahead of the rest. Fees for playing these friendlies, coupled with the exposure they give across the world and especially in the country the match is played, add to the pots that will be spent on the players of the future.

SP: It isn't ideal in terms of resting ahead of an important second half of the season, but given Milan's position it is almost necessary.

With its current struggles, the club risks its fan base declining as the other giants around Europe shine with their star names. As a result, these friendlies are a good marketing move for Milan to continue to appeal to their fans around the world. However, it won't seem like such a smart move if Madrid run riot.

Prediction

NR: 3-1 to Real Madrid.

SP: I am going to agree with Nick and go for a 3-1 win to the Champions League holder.