Stadio San Paolo, Naples
Saturday, November 17, 2012; 19:45 Hrs GMT
International friendlies are often considered to be a rather avoidable hindrance amidst the well-scheduled league games. Club managers have even voiced their concerns over the risks involved in letting their players be available for an international fixture that is not of any great significance. As inconsequent as these games may be but every single Milan fan having watched the surreal performance delivered by Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Wednesday night against England must not have missed the opportunity to go all guns blazing one more time against the club’s transfer activities during the summer. The anguish is not totally unwarranted given the current conundrum that Milan find themselves in. After the worst possible start to the new season, just when it looked the ship may finally have steadied a little, another home defeat at the hands of Fiorentina last week has once again raised the questions sadly nobody has any answers for.
Nevertheless, Milan are on the road to face Napoli on Saturday and the misery may just continue to grow for the Rossoneri from the looks of it. Although Napoli have not enjoyed the best of times of late, one may not bet against them finding the required momentum against a side that inspires zero confidence as of today. Post the Fiorentina defeat, once again Milan have entrusted Allegri to make ends meet but another poor result in Naples and it is anybody’s guess what repercussions it may invite. It appears Berlusconi is not exactly clear about his interest in continuing to solely lead Milan either as there are talks of Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande considering to buy some shares in the Lombardian team. There are suggestions of Marcelo Lippi taking the Chinese investors on a tour to Milanello later this year. Overall, the uncertainty levels about the immediate future of the club are too high and naturally the on-field performance has been affected.
The hosts Napoli are coming into this game on the back of a dramatic victory over Genoa last weekend. Their immaculate start to the season has taken a toll since the defeat to Juventus and Walter Mazzarri has found the going tough since. But luckily their dip in form has coincided with a number of other teams too dropping points and that allows Napoli to still manage to hold on to the third position on the table. For the first two months in the season, they dropped the impressions of giving Juventus a run for their money in the race to the title but have lately been a little disoriented in their play. A depleted Milan side is probably going through their worst phase in over a decade and Napoli could not have asked for a better time to face them at home.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Mazzarri has been deploying a 3-4-1-2 formation this season after he lost Lavezzi who singlehandedly operated both as an advanced winger as well as a creative outlet for the team from the left. Napoli have not managed a like-for-like replacement of the Argentine and a slight change in shape is perhaps the right way to go – the results so far have certainly not disappointed.
Along with Fiorentina and Juventus, the Napoli defence has conceded the fewest goals so far in the season and the experienced, ever-reliable defensive line is not expected to be put under any real trouble against the struggling Milan unit. Skipper Paolo Cannavaro will be at the heart of the three man defence while he will be supported on either side by Hugo Campagnaro and Alessandro Gamberini. The compact shape that the Napoli defence holds at the back is rather a necessity since their wingers assist little defensively. However, all the three players are orthodox, text-book defenders and know a thing or two about maintaining organization.
Gokhan Inler should resume his duties from the central midfield accompanied by Blerim Dzemaili. Inler had formed a highly effective partnership with Gargano during the last season but with the latter’s move to Inter earlier this summer, the Napoli midfield is yet to find the perfect combination in the centre. The two midfielders should be flanked on either ends by Maggio and Zuniga. Inler in particular will intend to form a good link with Hamsik playing in a more advanced role. The Slovakian international will slot into a role that is similar to that of a trequartista but is often advanced enough to give the attack a three pronged look.
The frontline will be marshalled by one of the league’s finest forwards Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan will keep the Milan defence in good check all the times and will be joined by the academy graduate Lorenzo Insigne who is filling in for an injured Goran Pandev.
Probable Starting Lineup [3-4-1-2]: De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Gamberini; Maggio, Inler, Dzemaili, Zuniga; Hamsik; Cavani, Insigne
Massimiliano Allegri has tinkered a lot with his formations and combinations of players but has repeatedly failed to find a winning mantra. However, it appears the 4-2-3-1 shape, the latest tactical stroke from Allegri may be continued for a while, albeit with several variations. In the previously employed formation, the Milan midfield found it extremely difficult to rescue against the quick counterattacking moves since the shape was considerably narrow.
In the new tactical diagram, the most important selection is of the two slots in the midfield. The advanced midfield almost naturally selects itself but the deep midfield is both responsible for orchestrating an attacking build-up from the team’s own half as well as dropping deep enough to assist the fragile looking central defence since the fullbacks will be expected to advance forward to overlap the advanced wingers and let them drift inside to create more space for the centre forward.
Montolivo is the only candidate who reserves his place and since he is the one who is the best option Milan have to play on the ball and hold better possession, the team needs a ball winner in the other slot. With Ambrosini suspended for this game, Allegri is cut for choice and will have to go with Nigel de Jong. Milan are hardly likely to go more attacking than their opponents and hence Nocerino will once again be reduced to the bench – not that his form warrants anything better.
The three pronged advanced midfield should see Emanuelson starting from the left complemented by El Shaarawy on the other side of the flank. Both are expected to contribute much more than merely crossing a ball to the more central players in attacking positions. El Shaarawy in fact is the most potent attacking threat for Milan and is in red hot form. Bojan Krkic has been a revelation of sorts since the game against Palermo and his omission from the starting lineup against Fiorentina was as baffling as the signing of M’Baye Niang. The former Barcelona forward should see himself start once again as the central advanced playmaker.
Despite the horrendous kick from the spot, that probably cost Milan the game, Pato should reserve his place up front perhaps for one last time. However, it is almost certain that Pazzini will have to play a role at some stage in the second half.
The defence will miss Bonera who has been ruled out nearly for a month which should see Yepes team up with Mexes in the centre while De Sciglio and Constant will continue to flank them.
Probable Starting Lineup: [4-2-3-1]: Abbiati; De Sciglio, Mexes, Yepes, Constant; Montolivo, De Jong; Emanuelson, Bojan, El Shaarawy; Pato
- After winning both games against Napoli in their title winning season, Milan failed to produce a single win over them last season.
- Cavani and El Shaarawy along with Lamela are the joint top scorers in the current season.
- Napoli are yet to lose a game at San Paolo this season.
Players To Watch Out For
Edinson Cavani (Napoli)
There were apprehensions over how soon Napoli will be able to deal with the departure of Lavezzi but the Uruguayan talisman has ensured his team has got off to an even better start. After scoring four in the last Europa League game against Dnipro, Cavani once again found the back of the net during the win over Genoa. No longer do Milan boast of a world class defence and that should only add to the confidence of Cavani. He certainly is the man who should decide the fate of this game.
Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan)
It is nearly impossible to look beyond El Shaarawy for this space. He is having a dream run of form in a season that has otherwise seen his team fall from one level to another. Having scored a goal for Italy too in the midweek international fixture against France, El Shaarawy must feel confident ahead of the big game. He is the only hope for Milan to put the Napoli defence under any possible trouble.
Napoli 3-1 Milan
It doesn’t look like the end of misery of Milan. San Paolo is one of the most intimidating venues in Italy if not the most intimidating one and a team in such a woeful state should not hope for taking away anything from here. As the game progresses, Milan will definitely get better but one may just feel they will have done themselves enough damage in the very first third of the game itself.
Blast From The Past