.

AC MILAN

v

CAGLIARI

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan

May 14, 2011; 18:45 GMT

***

They say, ‘longer the wait, sweeter the kiss.’ The sentiment was greatly exemplified over the last one week as Italy’s most glorious club AC Milan bagged their 18th Scudetto title having managed a goalless draw in the Capital city. The point earned over the hosts Roma ensured a crucial six point lead over city rivals Internazionale which the latter cannot overturn even by mathematical probabilities owing to the head-to-head record tilting into Milan’s favour. The celebrations knew no bounds as the fans were longing for this moment for seven years since the last league title won in 2004 under erstwhile coach Carlo Ancelotti. It also happens to be the first major piece of silverware to Milan’s credit since clinching the Champions League title in 2007.

Post the triumphant night in Rome, the week has not remained exactly kind to the newly crowned champions. The trips to Sicily have never been an exciting outing for Milan and it was not going to change in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-finals as hosts Palermo registered a comfortable 2-1 victory eliminating the Rossoneri on a 3-2 aggregate score. Moreover, the speculations over Pirlo’s spell in the red half of Milan coming to an end have raised momentary concerns among the fans while still dealing with the hangover of the league title.

One last time at San Siro?

Amidst all this, Max Allegri’s team is set to face Roberto Donadoni’s Cagliari at the San Siro playing in front of the home crowd for the first time since sealing the title. Donadoni, a Milan legend himself in his playing days, would relish at the prospect of devising tactics from the San Siro bench to counter his old club. Much like their opponents, Cagliari too have no real agenda ahead of themselves coming into this fixture. Currently the league table places them at the 11th position which is far enough from the drop zone for them to breathe easy. They have lately managed to give Milan a run for their money as last season they scored three against Leonardo’s men only to concede four in return. In the first match post the winter-break, Milan needed a late winner from substitute Rodney Strasser to claim three points in Stadio Sant’Elia.

Team News & Tactical Brief

AC Milan

The home side is expected to be met with a huge eruption of celebrations from a packed stadium as they make their first appearance at the home turf with the champions’ stature. If the rumours are believed to be true, this will be the last time Andrea Pirlo will take the field at San Siro in the capacity of a Milan player but from the looks of it, the maestro is hardly expected to start.

Max Allegri is liberated to tinker a little with the formation and the choice of personnel befitting to the tactics he adapts, since virtually nothing is at stake for the hosts. Milan however, would prefer to register a resounding victory and mark a testament to their much deserved title.

Kevin Prince Boateng has accumulated enough yellows to be missing out this unimportant yet prestigious game and it is likely that Seedorf will take into his role to play in the hole behind the two strikers. In Seedorf’s usual midfield position on the left side, club captain Massimo Ambrosini is expected to start. Mark van Bommel and Gennaro Gattuso should complete the Milanese midfield.

Alexandre Pato is expected to warm the bench as Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic may form the attacking line. It is about time the Brazilian forward finds back his scoring boots as his finishing in last few matches has been abysmal to say the least. Ibrahimovic, after a highly promising start to the season appears to have faded away a bit carrying the scoring burdens single-handedly on his shoulders for the large part of the season. However, he is a known demolisher of lesser teams and could not have expected to ask for a better occasion to reinvent his trickeries in a no-pressure situation as far as team’s larger cause is concerned.

Both Ignazio Abate and Thiago Silva have been revolutions in the Rossoneri defensive setup all through the season and in all likelihood they would keep up the good work against Donadoni’s men. The veteran legs of Alessandro Nesta and Gianluca Zambrotta should occupy their usual positions while the usual suspect Luca Antonini may find some playing time later in the second half.

Bari boy Antonio Cassano would once again start from the bench but is expected to replace one of the tired legs in the midfield as the game progresses. Fantantonio hasn’t yet done anything worthy of his reputation and now is the time to establish his prowess as Allegri & Co. begin to plan out their strategies for the next season.

Probable Starting Line-up: Abbiati(GK), Abate, Nesta, Silva, Zambrotta, Gattuso, van Bommel, Ambrosini, Seedorf, Robinho, Ibrahimovic

Cagliari

Massimo Cellino, when on his television set watches this match being played, would ponder over the reasons behind the sacking of Massimiliano Allegri from the Sardinian club and will have a hard time convincing himself he was not high while calling the shots. It is time for Allegri to welcome his former disciples in the backyard of his current employers where the initial spell of his has been nothing short of a fairy-tale.

Interestingly enough, Cagliari’s current coach Roberto Donadoni too is going to have a reunion time. Having won a host of Silverware in the Milanese colours, Donadoni has a special place in his heart for the San Siro stadium and the fans alike. However, he is expected to mean business on his trip rather than getting carried away into a nostalgic drive. Though his team is currently not playing for any tangible short-term purpose, it is always very important for a mediocre club like Cagliari to deliver excellence against the big dogs.

Having lost club’s most influential striker in Alessandro Matri to Juventus in the winter, the Rossoblu heavily rely on Robert Acquafresca to find the back of the net. Matri currently features among the front runners in the race for Capocannoniere but sadly Cagliari have to do without him on their visit to Milan. Club’s Sporting Director Francesco Marroccu has denied the rumours of star winger Andrea Lazzari signing for Fiorentina at the end of the season. Lazzari is on the radar of numerous clubs in Italy and if set for a parting in the summer, he would not want to miss an opportunity to leave a mark of his own in the club’s memoir by excelling beyond expectations in a game like this.

Canini, Astori and Agostini have started almost all the games for Cagliari this season and Donadoni is not likely to make any major changes in the defensive line. Juventus youth product Lorenzo Ariaudo may be presented a chance to start in the heart of the defence.

Probable Starting Line-up: Agazzi(GK), Canini, Ariaudo, Astori, Agostini, Biondini, Nainggolan, Lazzari, Cossu, Missiroli, Acquafresca

Key facts

1. Massimiliano Allegri has won two back-to-back managerial honours in the capacity of Cagliari manager whereas Roberto Donadoni has won number of domestic and continental titles in his playing career at Milan.

2. Out of the 18 home games played in the season, Milan have managed to win 12 while Cagliari have secured only 4 wins on road during their 18 outings.

3. Sparing the teams in relegation zone, only Catania (12) and Genoa (14) have scored fewer away goals then Cagliari (16). Milan on the other hand have scored 38 goals while playing at home second only to Inter (45).

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Thiago Silva (AC Milan)

The Brazilian Centre Back is the chief contender to bag the award for the Serie A defender of the season with his industrious performance percolated over the entire course of the on-going edition of the league. The youngster is deemed to be the next Nesta in the Milan ranks and with such reputation at stake, he is the one to watch out for his well-timed challenges, proactive positioning and his tenacious movement off the ball.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

AC Milan 3-0 Cagliari

Despite all the flair and fluidity among their attacking stars, Milan have been a little off colours lately as far as finding the net is concerned, having troubled the scorers just once in their last two matches. With the title in their hands now, the Rossoneri must run all guns blazing and shred the visitors’ defenses apart to let the title party begin on the perfect tone.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST