Stadio Giuseppe Meazza; Milan
Monday, December 16, 2013; 19:45 Hrs GMT
The European pedigree of AC Milan received yet another testament after advancing to the knockout stages of the Champions League despite fielding what is arguably the weakest squad that has represented the Rossoneri at this stage – certainly the weakest in the Berlusconi era. However scrappy the performances may have been, Milan have done just about enough to progress and not only that gives the fans a reason to feel good about, the revenue figures for the season significantly go up, results of which might be seen during the winter transfer window. Milan have already secured two signings in the form of Adil Rami and Keisuke Honda but the squad definitely needs fixings in more areas.
AS Roma have been the story of the season in peninsula. Few would have ever questioned the strength and quality of their roster but that has been so for two seasons now. The onus lay on Rudi Garcia to place the pieces correctly and formulate a unit that delivers to its potential. So far, the job has been carried out in a breathtakingly refreshing fashion. Not only have Roma remained the only unbeaten side in Serie A, they have produced these results in some style. Until their very recent dry run of form where they mustered nomore than four points off as many games, the Gialorossi had had the world set their eyes on them. But the morale boosting victory over Fiorentina last week and the return of Francesco Totti should fill them with the right impetus as they gear up to face the San Siro test.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Several speculations were doing rounds among the Italian media about Riccardo Saponara being thrown into the mix straightaway, slotting him alongside Kaka in a Christmas Tree formation with Balotelli playing at the tip of the attack. But Allegri’s fondness for youth is in complete contrast with Berlusconi’s and hence in the best case, Saponara might be offered some minutes of playing time later into the second half.
Stephan El Shaarawy’s notorious affair with injuries this season hasn’t let Milan fans miss Alexandre Pato too much. It has been confirmed the Italian wing forward will be out of action for another two weeks which effectively means he’d have spent an entire half of the season without one significant moment to show for – compare this with the first act of his last season. His absence delimits Allegri’s tactical options too as there is hardly another player suited to play as a wide forward. This should mean Allegri might go back to his tried and tested 4-3-1-2 and Alessandro Matri is the likeliest to feature in the attacking two.
Skipper Riccardo Montolivo has had an average season at best, especially considering the standard he has set for himself since his arrival at the club last season. How soon he rediscovers his form is very critical to Milan’s fortunes. Nigel De Jong has been one consistent performer but the technical limitations to his game do not let him contribute to the offensive side of the game beyond one point. Sulley Muntari and Andrea Poli have been competing for the third midfield spot for quite some time now and looks like the former should be preferred for this contest given his ball winning ability in the middle.
Both Abate and De Sciglio are expected to take the right and left flank in defence respectively while Bonera and Zapata should take their positions in the centre. Roma are one particularly threatening unit inside the final third and they possess some quality players who can easily outwit their Milan counterparts inside their own half. One typical Christian Abbiati error and Milan may not find a way back in this one.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-1-2]: Abbiati; Abate, Zapata, Bonera, De Sciglio; Montolivo, De Jong, Muntari; Kaka; Balotelli, Matri
Roma’s season has surely taken a decline in last months and it is no surprise the decline has co-incided with iconic Francesco Totti’s absence. Totti was reminiscent of his days from the last 90’s during the initial stages of the season and was playing at a different level altogether. His vision, passing, skills and shooting were all top notch and executed the manager’s tactical ideas to perfection. Totti’s presence elevates the general standards of the game from his colleagues too, which goes without saying and the audacity in the team’s play was something that distinguished them from the rest of the pack.
However, there’s only so much you may rely on a 37 year old’s individual exploits. That is to no way suggest that Roma have been a one man show but have surely lacked finding the alternatives during their skipper’s unavailability. His comeback therefore is bound to inspire Roma immensely and Milan have a reason to feel the timing of this return could not have been worse for them. Totti shall start from the centre of the front three playing as an auxiliary forward, often dropping deep to the hole. The flexibility of the other two forwards – Gervinho and Florenzi is an asset to this side and the three will often be seen exchanging positions leaving the defenders guessing to find their man.
Miralem Pjanic is unavailable for this game serving a suspension but he’d ably be replaced by Michael Bradley who is one dynamic player having multiple facets to his game. Bradley will mainly been seen doing the maximum running from the right not allowing the Milan midfield to find any sort of rhythm to their game. Daniele De Rossi, arguably the best in business, will be the defensive cover whereas Kevin Strootman will play a few more yards further up the pitch. Both De Rossi and Strootman are adept at exchanging roles at any point in the game and their passing range and on-field intelligence is second to none. But for a miraculous show from their hosts on Monday, the Roma midfield should have a field day at San Siro, creating chances in abundance. Their conversion rate so far has not been the most encouraging stat but that might start to change from here.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-3]: De Sanctis; Maicon, Benatia, Castan, Dodo; Bradley, De Rossi, Strootman; Florenzi, Totti, Gervinho
Players To Watch Out For
Having learnt his trade at Milan’s youth setup and playing in the same position, De Sciglio has inevitably drawn comparisons with the club great Paolo Maldini. Promise, he has showed in excess during the past but is yet to deliver consistently. Injuries have not been exactly kind to him this season but now that he is a recuperated figure once again, he must rise to the levels of expectations. Against a well-oiled machine like Roma, his industry in linking with the attack as well as alertness in not losing his man even for a moment will be crucial for Milan to salvage any hopes of delivering an upset.
Francesco Totti (Roma)
At 37, fans want him to make perhaps one last comeback to the national side and represent Italy at the highest level in six months’ time. Whether Totti honours these sentiments or not is a discussion for another day but what it proves is his longevity is unmatched. Roma have certainly not remained the same side ever since he has been sidelined due to an injury but his return is certain to raise the tempo of the team’s game in general. Against a defence that is far from Milan’s standards of the yore, Totti will be licking his lips at the prospects of marking the most sensational return. A goal or two won’t hurt at all.
Milan 0-2 Roma
Though Milan have dropped some signs of resurgence of late, Roma’s quality should be a little too much for them to handle despite the home advantage. A goal apiece from Totti and Gervinho should allow the visitors to sail comfortably through this and win very important three points.