San Siro, Milan
15th September, 2012: 20:45 GMT
Saturday will mark the return of Serie A after two weeks of International break as Milan will play hosts to Atalanta at the San Siro in the third round of the season. Both the sides have looked rather ordinary so far and after the opening two fixtures of the season Milan are languishing in the tenth spot while Atalanta are lying only second from the bottom.
Atalanta emerged as the surprise package of the last season and managed to finish at a respectable 12th place despite getting a six point penalty. It can prove to be an extremely difficult outing for Allegri’s men considering the fact that they have started building their squad from scratch this season and that the red half on Milan is still carrying a hoarding of – Work In Progress.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Milan’s management had repeatedly said that their squad in 2012-13 season will consist of 25-26 players. So when a total of 32 players were listed in their squad for the current season, Milan’s management came under a lot of fire especially from the football pundits; but these so called experts- who were criticising the management had overlooked the importance of the biggest leveller of them all – “injuries”. Two weeks into the season and the list of injured players had cropped up to eight; Milan had picked up their current season exactly from where they had left 2011-12.
With Montolivo and Boateng picking up injuries against Bologna, the international break came just at the right time for Milan- or so it seemed. The international break is over and there is no clarity over the return of even one out of the eight injured players (Abate, Robinho, Pato, Strasser, Didac Vila, Muntari, Montolivo and Boateng) in the starting eleven. Reports coming in from Milan confirm that Milan’s hat trick hero, Pazzini, has suffered a knock in the training session yesterday and his availability for Atalanta’s game will depend on the fitness test that is scheduled to take place on Friday at Milanello. The season has most certainly begun for the Rossoneri.
With the arrival of De Jong, Allegri has retuned back to his favourite 4-3-1-2 formation and one should not bet even a dime against him fielding the same formation against the Orobici. With only three days between the weekend game and the Champions League game, Allegri will think hard before starting Montiolivo, Pato and Boateng. These three will most likely start on the bench and will only be introduced in case of an emergency.
The sight of Bonera as the first choice centre back, that too at the start of the season can be termed as nothing less than a nightmare for the Rossoneri faithful. Thankfully for them, this ordeal is bound to end this weekend as Bonera- who picked up a booking each against Sampdoria and Bologna respectively; will most probably be on the sidelines unless the remaining set of defenders are struck by lightening.
French international, Mexes, is expected to make a return for Il Diavolo and he will most likely take the field alongside Acerbi- who was quite impressive when he made his Serie A debut for Milan against Bologna. De Sciglio and Antonini are expected retain their place in the squad as the fullbacks. While De Sciglio received a lot of praise for his performance against Bologna, his senior teammate Antonini continued his struggle in providing crosses from the left flank and was the center of fans’ criticism.
De Jong came on as a substitute in his debut against Bologna but the Dutchman is most likely to start against Atalanta as he can virtually walk into the void left at Milan with the departure of van Bommel- a move which will leave Ambrosini (who was wearing an invisibility cloak against Bologna) on the bench. If Ambrosini does not start, Abbiati will wear captain’s armband for the Rossoneri. Meanwhile, Flamini and Nocerino will start on either side of De Jong with Urby Emanuelson as the trequartista (considering Boateng is rested).
With Pazzini also picking up a knock in the training session, Allegri could be forced to field both Bojan and El Shaarawy from the start. Milan’s squad has not gelled so far, understandably so- as it is fairly early in the season but with recurring injuries it seems it will take them sometime before they start performing as a unit.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-1-2): Abbiati (GK); De Sciglio, Acerbi, Mexes, Antonini; Flamini, De Jong, Nocerino; Emanuelson; Bojan, El Shaarawy
Atalanta was handed a two point penalty at the start of this season due to their involvement in the on-going Italian match-fixing scandal and they would be hoping to at least wipe the slate clean after their upcoming trip of Milan. The visitors will be missing the services of as many as seven players including Schelotto, Marilungo, Radovanovic, Ferreira, Pinto, Capelli and Peluso. While Peluso- who recently scored for Italy against Malta in the World Cup qualifiers misses this match due to suspension, the rest of the lot have been declared unfit.
Stefano Colantuono will go in with his tried and tested 4-4-1-1 formation which paid him a lot of dividends last season. His go-to man will be Germán Denis, who is bound to cause a few problems for the relatively inexperienced backline of Milan. Denis will predominantly be dependent on the services of his Argentine teammate Moralez up the field.
Although Atalanta struggled at home against Lazio, they had a decent game against Cagliari in which they had their first win of the season in their grasp before it was cruelly snatched away from them by Albin Ekdal’s injury time equaliser.
In their last three visits to San Siro, Atalanta has conceded eight goals and managed to score only once; losing on all the three occasions. Despite having a young side, Milan has territorial advantage over Atalanta in the current season, having 12:39 minutes of possession in the opponent’s half to Atalanta’s 7:37 minutes. Milan also has close to 72% pass completion rate while Atalanta has less than 61%. The numbers might be in favor of Milan, but reading into them this early in the season could prove to be fatal for Allegri.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-1-1): Consigli (GK); Bellini, Stendardo, Mandredini, Brivio; Raimondi, Cigarini, Biondini, Bonaventura; Moralez; German Denis
Player to Watch Out For
De Sciglio (AC Milan)
The nineteen year old has made it to Milan’s senior team after coming through the ranks of their youth sector. This right footed defender is known for his versatility and can play on either of the flanks. Tactically, De Sciglio is very sound and this young Italian is known for his flawless tackles pretty much like his idol -the legendary Paolo Maldini. Saturday could witness a lot of mouth watering battles between him and Atalanta’s frontline especially Germán Denis which could prove to be an acid test for this highly rated fullback.
AC Milan 1 – 1 Atalanta
This could be by far the most in-experienced line up fielded by Milan in Serie A in the past few decades. Baring Ambrosini- who could start from bench, there is no sign of the glorious Milan generation in the current squad. It will be a tough match for Allegri’s men in spite of playing in front of the home crowd. Sampdoria’s solitary goal win at San Siro in the first week should give Atalanta ample amount of hope before their trip to Lombardy. TheHardTackle predicts both the teams to share the spoils in the match.