Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Saturday, December 22, 2012; 19:45 Hrs GMT
It is the last round of games before the teams go for the winter break. After having considerably recuperated their season and having won each of their last four league games, Milan are travelling to the Capital city to face Zdenek Zeman’s AS Roma in what certainly will be their toughest game away from home in the season so far. The contest involves two of the traditionally better sides in Serie A and given the topsy-turvy seasons both the teams have had, the game should prove to be a very interesting battle.
Going into this game, Milan are facing problems of their own. The future of the Brazilian striking pair of Pato and Robinho is still unclear, as has been confirmed by Vice President Adriano Galliani. The draws for the knockout round in Champions League are out and Milan have once again been paired with Spanish giants FC Barcelona. Last season, the Guardiola led side eliminated Milan from the last eight and the same result pretty much looks on the cards this time around as well.
Facing Roma, now presents Milan with an opportunity to test themselves against a side that arguably plays the best football in Italy. Roma are known for their all attacking approach – something that is very typical of any team managed by Zeman. Although Roma have scored the highest number of goals in the league, they still lie sixth on the table for a defensive record that has been woeful. On the other hand, Milan have showed a tendency to start slow but as the game progresses, they become a better side. Both the sides boast of an in-form midfield and the battle in the centre of the park should determine the outcome of this game.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Zeman has always been the advocate of his attacking 4-3-3 system and he is the last man you could think of to tinker with his formation, no matter what. Right from the onset, Roma tend to attack with their fullbacks immediately advancing from the flanks. Ivan Piris and Federico Balzaretti shall continue to start from these positions and with their marauding runs in the opposition half, they should keep the Milan fullbacks in a good check.
The midfield maintains a fairly compact shape near the half line and Zeman expects a very swift movement from the players here – that could well be the reason he has not been a fan of Daniele De Rossi. The quicker and younger players have been preferred in these positions but if Roma are keen on not letting De Rossi go, Zeman must accommodate the Italian in his system. De Rossi could start from a relatively deeper position in the centre and could shield the defence that has been pretty vulnerable all through the season. This should also allow the other two midfielders – Bradley and Florenzi to move even more freely and engage into quick exchange of passes with the attacking trident.
Michael Bradley in particular is very threatening with his movement from the right but since Lamela is expected to start from the wing in this game, the American should be seen more into the build-up process from the central positions. Totti will start from the left and will drift in towards the centre feeding both Lamela and Osvaldo who’d slot into the goal-scoring zone. Totti drawing his markers along will open up spaces for Balzaretti to exploit on the left wing and the Italian fullback will be the main threat with his crossing from the left. Florenzi too shall be seen more inwards in the final third along with Bradley and Totti. The three should combine in some intelligent moves that could well put the Milanese defense into all sorts of confusion.
Roma should be particularly wary of Riccardo Montolivo who might well compel their midfield to change its natural game. Florenzi will have a tough job on his hand to keep the former Fiorentina man away from causing any real damage. Since the fullbacks are not known for their backtracking abilities, the extra defensive dimension that De Rossi adds will be an extremely important one. In the absence of Castan, the experienced Burdisso should be taking his place in the centre defense along with Marquinhos.
Probable Starting Lineup: Goicoechea; Piris, Marquinhos, Burdisso, Balzaretti; Bradley, De Rossi, Florenzi; Lamela, Osvaldo, Totti
After experimenting with as many as four different formations, Milan finally seems to have found the right shape in their own 4-3-3 which is far from what Zeman’s system looks like. Milan have a much more conservative approach where the fullbacks, despite advancing, are more focused on their defensive duties. Milan engineer their attacking moves majorly from Montolivo who operates from the Right Central Midfield position. After the news of De Jong being unavailable for the rest of the season, a defence minded midfielder is a must buy for Milan in January. However, skipper Massimo Ambrosini is still as reliable as ever in his familiar role of guarding the defence but his aging legs definitely limits his contribution week in, week out.
After a rather forgettable start to the season, Antonio Nocerino at last seems to have found the right momentum and has deservedly cemented his place in the starting eleven. Nocerino is not known for his defensive discipline and hence will primarily focus on moving forward to form a link between Montolivo and the front-line. In the process, Nocerino draws a defender or two off Kevin Constant who tends to overlap him. With Ambrosini dropping deep to assist the central defence, Montolivo will have to battle it out almost single-handedly in the midfield both to win the ball and also to find the pass that splits the defence. The harder part is to control the movement of the opposition midfield that is perhaps the most potent one after Juventus trio in the league. Ambrosini might need to play his best game of the season to minimize the impact of Roma’s link-up play.
As far as attack is concerned, the three-pronged attacking line will continue to start in their regular positions. Robinho will operate from the right and will do the job Totti does for Roma. The Brazilian, whose future at the club is currently being discussed, will feed the likes of Pazzini and El Shaarawy while linking up with Montolivo and Nocerino. El Shaarawy, as usual shall be the focal point of every single attacking move and should he cleverly manage to create space for his teammates by drawing the markers away, Milan midfielders should have plenty of space and time inside the box to create more goal-scoring opportunities.
Probable Starting Lineup: Amelia; De Sciglio, Mexes, Yepes, Constant; Montolivo, Ambrosini, Nocerino; Robinho, Pazzini, El Shaarawy
- Last season, Milan managed a triumph over Roma in both the games.
- A win for Milan could help them leapfrog Roma on the league table while a loss could open up a five point gap for the hosts.
- With 18 goals scored on the road, Milan are second only to Roma in terms of away goals while the Giallorossi have conceded the most (12) at home among the top seven teams.
Players To Watch Out For
The Argentine had had a wonderful start to the season but has of late not been seen in action. However, as he makes a comeback, he sends a very strong signal to the Milan defence that has not been in the best of forms. Of course, the season has been all about the revolutionized Totti but few could disagree over how important Lamela has been in all the games he has played. Roma certainly want to grab all three points in this one after the loss to Chievo and the return of Lamela, you may feel, could prove to be the deciding factor in this game.
Antonio Nocerino (Milan)
After the disastrous start, Nocerino has definitely showed signs of improvement but now is the time to rise to the big occasion. In order to secure the fifth straight win in the league, it is the midfield area where Milan need to trounce their opposition numbers. Roma boast of one of the strongest midfields in Serie A and hence apart from penetrating past them, Nocerino will also need to contribute defensively. He will be directly up against Michael Bradley and the battle between the two might go on to swing the game in one team’s favour over the other.
Roma 2-2 Milan
Without an iota of doubt, this will be an extremely open and hence entertaining game of football. Two managers will thrive on their tactical acumen and the one with the more realist approach should triumph. Roma will as usual dominate the possession in the first half and score but second half should belong to Milan and the game should end with parity maintained.
Blast From The Past