.

AC Milan

v

Bologna

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan

Sunday, May 1, 2011,  13:00 GMT

After a tricky, edgy and narrow win over relegation threatened Brescia during the previous week, AC Milan host Bologna in the 35th round of Serie A fixtures. Milan currently enjoy a comfortable five-point cushion over the city rivals Inter who have reduced the lead by three points with an emphatic victory over Cesena before the Rossoneri take the field on Sunday. Milan saw a possibility to run away with the title with a win over the weekend but now with Inter already having won their match, Rossoneri still need to wait to uncork the champagne. With two of the final three rounds being away games against resolute opponents in Roma and Udinese, Max Allegri’s men must remain keen on sealing three points against a relatively easier opponent.

The visitors have recently encountered a nightmarish run of form losing their last four matches and the misery may well be extended during their visit to San Siro. The Rossoblu are presently sitting pretty at 12th position, five points clear off the drop zone but another loss at the hands of the Milanese juggernaut may destroy the belief in the dressing room and may possibly end Alberto Malesani’s spell at the managerial position. With only three games remaining after this one, it is primarily important for Malesani to induce the confidence among his players at this very fixture and should his side earn a point here, it would do their confidence a world of good.

Cassano must rise to his billing on the occasion

Team News and Tactical Brief

AC Milan

It’s been 27 weeks since Milan mounted to the top position in the Serie A table and no team has been able to supersede them from the summit during the spell. With the form, strength, depth and quality of the squad, the Scudetto increasingly appears to have been sealed by Allegri’s men and unless something goes horribly wrong, Berlusconi will be all smiles, come the end of May.

After a shocking loss to Palermo, Allegri seems to have done his home-work pretty well and the team has since been on a highly professional run, winning four consecutive games in the process. Allegri understands the greater significance of notching up a win here and thus would not let his team loosen the hard-gained momentum and arouse any sort of complacency.

Although Milan miss the services of two key strikers Ibrahimovic and Pato – serving a suspension and nursing an injury respectively – the attacking line made up of Robinho, Cassano and Boateng has already contributed 19 goals and 11 assists during the season and therefore finding the net against a vulnerable Bologna defence should not be a major concern for the home team.

Dutch skipper Mark van Bommel has been a vital cog in the Milanese midfield ever since his arrival in the winter but the ex-Bayern Munich skipper would miss the tie serving a suspension after the yellow that he earned during the clash against Brescia.

In his absence, the position just ahead of the defence is almost decided to be taken by Andrea Pirlo who makes his return after a prolonged love-affair with multiple injuries. Pirlo’s return brings with it an array of questions as he naturally is a vastly different player from van Bommel; he is not a typified ball winner and can’t shield the back-line as immaculately as the Dutch captain would do. However, Pirlo offers a whole new dimension to the midfield that has for long remained devoid of a creative spark with his natural attacking instinct but his defensive shortcomings have been pretty alarming of late. It is very vital for Allegri to utilize Pirlo’s unparalleled skills without disturbing the protection van Bommel provided to the defence.

With Gattuso still struggling with his muscle, Flamini is likely to take the Right Midfielder’s role and he may well have to run deep and track back every single time Pirlo tends to move forward to assist the attack. Allegri has remained keen of late on having at least one attack minded player in the three-man midfield and Milan legend Clarence Seedorf who would be bolstered by the recent honour he received from the Dutch embassy would position on the left end of the midfield.

Abate, Yepes, Silva and Zambrotta should be maintained for their roles in the defence and in case of a comfortable lead attained in the first half itself, the likes of Emanuelson may be offered some playing time.

Probable Starting Line-up: Abbiati, Abate, Yepes, Silva, Zambrotta, Flamini, Pirlo, Seedorf, Boateng, Cassano, Robinho

Bologna

The fear of losing job looms hard over coach Alberto Malesani and speculations suggest a loss at San Siro would almost confirm his departure from the club. Amidst a major crisis where the club has yielded four defeats in as many games, Malesani appears to be clueless about how to vanquish the monster to save his job.

The club’s pre-season target of securing 40 points was reached to as early as during the 30th round and that has left players devoid of anymore hunger, Malesani suggests. The fans too are in agreement with the connotation presented by the manager but it has not gone all too well with the club management who are incessantly considering Malesani’s replacement if the team fails to earn even a point from the San Siro trip.

To add to the psychological wounds, Bologna miss the services of the injured Uruguayan midfielder Diego Perez. Joining Perez on the bench are Italian midfielder Antonio Busce, Austrian defender Gyorgy Garics and Uruguayan Full Back Bruno Montelongo who misses a chance to have a face-off against his original employers.

Club captain Marco Di Vaio has had an eventful season where has netted in 19 goals and is currently at fourth position in the race for Capocannoniere. His will be the most decisive role for Bologna to expect any positives from the match. Daniele Paponi will partner his skipper in the front-line whereas Gaston Ramirez will field in the hole behind the two strikers.

Emiliano Viviano is reckoned one of the best shot-stoppers in Italy presently having earned his place in Prandelli’s scheme of things too. The Bologna number one needs to be spot on to deny Milan any results from the continuous threats the likes of Cassano and Robinho will be posting.

Probable Starting Line-up: Viviano, Esposito, Portanova, Britos, Rubin, Casarini, Mudingayi, Rocca, Ramires, Paponi, Di Vaio

Key Facts

  1. Milan boast of the meanest defence in the league having conceded only 23 goals in the season thus far. Lazio with the second best record have let in 32 past their net.
  2. Milan have the second best home record in terms of goals scored, while Bologna have the worst away record in terms of goals conceded.
  3. Bologna survived relegation scare last season having finished 17th in the league with 42 points. However, this time around, with four more rounds to go they have already gained 40 points and can be pretty confident of another spell in Italy’s premier league.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Antonio Cassano (AC Milan)

The bad boy of Italian football hasn’t exactly set the stage ablaze since his controversial move from Sampdoria in January. The Bari-born striker has been deployed into multiple roles in the Milanese club but is yet to excel into any of those to his full potential. In the absence of Pato and Ibrahimovic, Fantantonio has got the license to kill playing alongside Robinho in the front most tier of the pitch. Playing against a dismantled Bologna defence that has conceded nine goals in last four matches, Cassano could not have asked for a better stage to find back his rhythm and let his scoring shoes do all the talking. The law of average has defied him long enough to find back his original knack of deceiving defences in this game.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

AC Milan 3-0 Bologna

Milan should fire all guns blazing right from the word go and thus never let the visitors settle enough to find their momentum. Bologna have an extremely tough task ahead to edge past the best defence in Serie A this season and in major likelihood, they would string in a fifth straight defeat and hit on an all time low on the motivation chart.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST