Stadio Friuli, Udine,
Sunday, May 22, 18:45 GMT
Despite having already secured the title, Milan will play the most important match of the season on their visit to Stadio Friuli in the city of Udine for the ultimate round of fixture that concludes the current edition of Serie A football. Against the hosts Udinese who are harboring the hopes of making it to Europe’s most prestigious tournament next season, Milan legend Andrea Pirlo will don the Red & Black colours for one last time before parting ways with the club. Over the last entire decade, the fans have idolized the maestro and among the current Milanese setup only Gattuso, Ambrosini and Seedorf are as much Milan-ed as he is. Having won all the major trophies with the Rossoneri, Pirlo still manages to keep his feet grounded and his unassuming demeanor only adds to the champion he is. However, all good things must come to an end and owing to the difference in their plans; the club and the player have decided to tread different paths for the future. One last time, would the pioneer of Italy and Milan’s success over the years, would take the field with the unit that has newly been crowned the champions of Italy and his teammates shall leave no stone unturned to bid the maestro a grand farewell that he richly deserves.
Despite all the sentimental values Milan find themselves attached to ahead of this game, Udinese have to mean business on the ground, for there is a lot at stake out of this final match of the league for Francesco Guidolin’s men. With Lazio constantly breathing down their neck, the hosts must manage to grab at least a point out of the game and put all the concerns over the European spot to rest. Post the winter-break when the two teams clashed at San Siro, Udinese were riding high in arguably their best form in over a decade, and gave Milan a run for their money in a pulse-quickening clash that finally resulted into an exciting 4-4 draw. Another similar show from the likes of Toto Di Natale and Alexis Sanchez is a must to secure the European qualification for the home side.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Francesco Guidolin’s managerial attributes will receive an unimaginable praise should he manage to take this outfit to Europe from this point, especially after the nightmarish start to the season where they faced four straight defeats. The team staged a dream comeback from a worst possible beginning and today find themselves with the elusive fourth spot almost sealed at the expense of the traditional giants like Juventus and Roma.
Ahead of their final game of the season against the champions AC Milan, Udinese are having their task cut out. All they are playing for is a single point that will seal their place in the top bracket to represent Serie A in Europe next season irrespective of the result Lazio produce in their away match against Lecce. Udinese would have preferred to have their game scheduled post the Lecce-Lazio game but now that both are going to be contested simultaneously, Guidolin’s boys cannot afford to cut loose at any cost. A loss from this match endangers their European prospects greatly as a win for Lazio in that case would ascertain their presence in Europe next season.
Guidolin has already warned his boys of Milan’s potential threat. The coach firmly believes the toughest hurdle is yet to be crossed before dreaming of European football. Udinese faced an alarming slump in their form during the month of April but have just shifted gears at the right time and are in the driving seat to qualify for Europe. Should they remain tied on points with Lazio post the results on Sunday, they still enjoy an advantage with better goal difference which should see them through; unless Edoardo Reja’s men score 9 in their outing over Lecce.
Udinese do not have any major injury concerns and two of their key forwards Di Natale and Sanchez hold the key against the meanest defence in the league. In their customary five-man midfield spread over two layers, Inler and Asamoah should field deep down the pitch whereas the trio of Armero, Pinzi and Isla would primarily focus on connecting with the forward two.
Udinese prefer to field narrow in their three-man defence where all three of them prefer to defend deep and seldom advance in the opposition half.
Probable Starting Line-up: Handanovic, Domizzi, Zapata, Benatia, Inler, Asamoah, Armero, Pinzi, Isla, Sanchez, Di Natale
The entire Rossoneri fan base over the globe has undergone two highly contrastive waves of emotions in the last couple of weeks. The first was of excessive celebrations after being declared the Serie A champions after a drought of six years but soon the clouds of sorrow overshadowed the carousals as the news of Pirlo’s spell coming to an end began to circulate. The whole contingent would root for the Maestro to enjoy every minute of his final game in the capacity of a Milan player and that sends strong admonishing signals at the home dug-out since so much is at stake for them out of this game.
Max Allegri’s dream debut season is finally reaching to an end and an away win against one of the better teams in the league should bring the perfect culmination point to the script. Milan are expected to field three forwards making for a demolishing attack. Robinho should play in the hole behind the two strikers Ibrahimovic and Pato.
The veteran midfield of Pirlo, Gattuso and Ambrosini should take the fans in a nostalgic drive down the memory lane of those golden years. A piece or two of Pirlo’s impeccable trickeries should make the Milanese Ultras go crazy. Abate, Silva, Yepes and Zambrotta should take guard at their usual positions in the defence.
The likes of Merkel, Emanuelson and Strasser who have fared reasonably good in the limited opportunities presented their way, might be awarded some playing time later in the second half to replace the tired legs of Gattuso and Ambrosini. Seeing Pirlo being called off before the final whistle will be the last sight fans would like to witness on Sunday.
Probable Starting Line-up: Abbiati, Abate, Silva, Yepes, Zambrotta, Pirlo, Gattuso, Ambrosini, Robinho, Pato, Ibrahimovic
1. Udinese have managed to win 11 out of the 18 games this season which is exactly the statistic of Milan’s away form in the league.
2. Though Antonio Di Natale (28) is currently league’s top goal scorer, Udinese’s second highest scorer for the season, Alexis Sanchez (12) has scored sixteen goals fewer than him. On the other hand, Milan’s three forwards Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho have all netted 14 times each with Ibrahimovic (11) placed second on the assists chart too.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan)
Apart from all the sentimental significance of his last match as a Milan player, Andrea Pirlo has got a point to prove to Max Allegri. Having fallen out of favour for a major part of the season, the Maestro has got the final chance to make a statement in front of his manager indicating what he is going to miss in the years to come. Over the last ten years, Pirlo has entertained the fans of the beautiful game world over with his delightful artistry and ‘those’ long balls and through passes may be on show as he takes the pitch for the one last time alongside Gennaro Gattuso – a partnership that has done wonders to both the club and the country.
Udinese 1-1 AC Milan
With so much to play for, the home side may suppress their natural free-flowing game a little and are likely to play with a cautious approach. However, with the potency in Milan’s attack and a grit to set Pirlo’s farewell on a high note, they should conjure up a goal but the hosts’ determination to earn ‘that’ one point out of this match may end this contest on parity.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST