Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Sunday, January 20, 2012; 14:00 Hrs GMT
Ahead of the important clash against Bologna over the weekend, AC Milan’s attention is lying elsewhere right now. There are strong rumours in the transfer market suggesting the return of Kaka in the winter mercato. Kaka’s return is something the Milan fans have sought for long and from the hints of the signing of an ‘important player’ dropped by Berlusconi, there seems some real merit in the speculations this time. Milan are dealing with the thinnest possible squad right now with no presence of a big name and the addition of the Brazilian, who enjoys nothing short of a legend status at San Siro, could boost up the morale of this squad immensely.
Milan have failed to start 2013 on an exactly encouraging note as their elimination from the Coppa Italia was followed by the goalless draw last weekend against Sampdoria. With Napoli’s two docked points having been awarded back to them, Milan trail the Champions League zone by 11 points – their only realistic target from the season. This deficit already looks a mountainous task to cover and Milan simply cannot afford to drop any more points at home against teams from the bottom half. One of the key features of Milan’s game this season has been their lack of penetration despite enjoying a decent share of possession. Milan must do a lot more with the ball to find the back of the net more often.
Bologna have impressed in patches but have failed to drive on a good run of form due to the inconsistent nature of their campaign. Their 4-0 thrashing of Chievo was followed by a heart-breaking loss in the extra time against Inter during the Coppa Italia quarterfinals tie. They shall be more than happy to take a point off San Siro after having lost the corresponding fixture 1-3 at home early in the season.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Allegri had deployed an attacking three that was collectively 60 years of age during the game against Sampdoria. Clearly, there was lack of clarity in the role assigned to each one of them. Bojan lacked the tenacity to play in the centre and in fact, there are even suggestions that he’s a better player to come off the bench. Niang, mainly out of the lack of experience, failed to link up properly with the advancing fullbacks and was not the best with his positioning either. His crosses left a lot to be desired and it seems he will be the one to lose his starting spot in favour of Pazzini who returns from suspension.
The experienced Italian forward opened his goal-scoring account for Milan against the same opposition on the second matchday of the season but the touch has pretty much dried down since. Reclaiming his starting spot from the centre, Pazzini will hope to replicate those heroics once again and help his side claim the much needed three points here. Bojan should shift to the right while El Shaarawy will slot into his regular position on the left.
The three pronged attack is often left isolated due to the lack of participation from the midfield in an attacking move. This forces El Shaarawy to move to a more central position and play almost second striker to the centre forward supplying him with the crucial passes. However, it could be a good idea to push Bojan into that role instead and let him have a more mobile game behind the two classic forwards. Bojan is one of the better passers Milan have and his range could be put to good use in this role rather than restricting him with the crossing from the right wing.
Since Massimo Ambrosini has been ruled out for nearly a month, Riccardo Montolivo is expected to start from the deep midfield – albeit in a completely different role. Ambrosini is mainly responsible for adding a defensive dimension from that position whereas Montolivo will operate in a Pirlo-esque fashion, building up from the deep-lying playmaker’s position. Montolivo played in a similar role in his days at Fiorentina and was reasonably successful. He is not known for his defensive solidity but his vision and technique could see him excel greatly in this role. The three man midfield should be completed by Boateng and Nocerino. Boateng, in particular, has been seen more comfortable in the midfield than in the forward line. Nocerino generally enjoys more freedom to roam up and down the left flank and join the attack but in the absence of Ambrosini, he will need to track back and engage into the ball-winning duels.
Zapata is expected to partner Mexes in the central defence while De Sciglio and Constant should continue manning flanks. De Sciglio has so far fared impressively but it seems better crossing from him would not hurt.
Probable Starting Lineup: Abbiati; De Sciglio, Mexes, Zapata, Constant; Boateng, Montolivo, Nocerino; Bojan, Pazzini, El Shaarawy
The last time Bologna played Milan, Alessandro Diamanti who fielded as a second striker, continuously tormented the Milanese defensive line during the first half of the game. But as the game progressed, all Milan needed to do was to add an extra man marking Diamanti’s movement and Bologna had absolutely no other alternatives to keep the ball moving in the Milan half of the pitch. Slowly, Milan took the complete control of the game and added goals aplenty to leave the Bologna side dismantled at home.
That was however the time in the season Bologna used to play in a 3-5-1-1 shape. They now operate in a 4-2-3-1 that gives the midfield a more dynamic look since it is divided across two layers. The two fold midfield that mainly stations in their own half allows the wide players to advance and Panagiotis Kone who starts as the central attacking midfielder is the only link between the deep midfield and the three forwards. The formation instantly switches to a 4-2-1-3 with both Diamanti and Gabbiadini pushing further up from the wide positions dragging the markers off Kone, which allows him more space and time on the ball.
A very important area in the midfield that Bologna must look towards exploiting is the defensively weak Montolivo. The Italian is not known for his tackling and should Kone press him enough in his own half, not only will it put pressure on Milan but that will also mean that Montolivo’s instinctive long ball play too will be greatly curbed. Alberto Gilardino will start against his former club and any striker with a more than decent eye for goal is Falcao against this Milan defence. Untested, unproven and often tentative duo of Zapata and Mexes can be put under all sorts of troubles if Gilardino acts smart inside the box. Gabbiadini – the Juventus forward who serves a loan period at Bologna is another very highly rated youngster and has of late been very impressive for the Rossoblu.
Diamanti is undoubtedly the player Milan should be wary of. Although his starting position will be that of a wide forward, he will continue to menace the Milan defence from the more central area on the pitch and shall aim at find that defence splitting pass that makes Gilardino’s job easier. Diamanti’s pace, guile and movement shall also keep Kevin Constant in a very good check while patrolling the left flank. The midfield of Perez and Krhin should mainly remain focused on adding numbers to defence and their average position, which will naturally be pretty deep, might cut the supply of the much needed passes to the players in more advanced positions.
Probable Starting Lineup: Agilardi; Garics, Portanova, Antonsson, Cherubin; Perez, Krhin; Diamanti, Kone, Gabbiadini; Gilardino
- Milan are 11 points away from the last Champions League spot while Bologna are only 4 points into the safety zone.
- Bologna are one of the four sides (Inter, Roma and Chievo being the other three) yet to draw a game away from home.
- Milan had registered their first win of the current season against Bologna during September last year.
Players To Watch Out For
Montolivo is expected to be slotted into a different role and for Milan to create more number of chances than what they’ve usually been doing, his contribution from the deep will be decisive. His game will also have an impact on a number of his teammates. He has the vision and intelligence to find that one pass that cracks and unsettles the visitors’ defence and allows the likes of El Shaarawy to put the game beyond their reach. This game might go on to define the Montolivo that Milan shall see for the rest of the season.
Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna)
He is the most talented player Bologna have in their squad and his continuous inclusion for the national side despite not being part of a supposedly big club is a testimony to his merit and ability. Milan have been weak defensively all the season and Diamanti is more than capable of exploiting these areas and put the home side in trouble.
Milan 2-1 Bologna
Milan should have enough firepower to see things through at home but of course, not without allowing Bologna to make things interesting for the home crowd. Pazzini and El Shaarawy should be on the scoresheet for the home side while Diamanti should do the honours for Bologna.