Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Sunday, April 28, 2013; 18:45 Hrs GMT
The most critical phase of the season has been terribly wasteful for Milan and as a result, it has intensified the race for the Champions League spot. Milan looked pretty much on course to secure their participation in Europe’s premier tournament but their recent slip in form has allowed Fiorentina to come agonizingly close. Viola are now sitting only a point behind and with the kind of form they presently are in, a wise bet would certainly give them fair chances from this point to leave the Milanese hopes shattered come the end of the season.
However, there’s still a thin lead to defend and Milan’s agenda for the remainder of the season is pretty clear from here on. They simply cannot afford to drop even a single point and must straightway find back the rich vein of form they were riding on post winter. The return Balotelli to the first team is a news that should bolster the fans’ hopes and allow the team to feel confident once again of finding goals. In his absence, Milan looked quite clueless to find the guile to unlock the defences during the last two games. While his proficiency in front of goal is unquestionable, Balotelli brings much more to the table and adds new dimensions to the often toothless attack of Milan.
On the other hand, Catania are still in contention for the final Europa League spot that is currently occupied by Inter. They have failed to win any of their last four games and that doesn’t look like changing on their trip to San Siro. With a number of players out due to various reasons, the job has got only harder for Rolando Maran’s men. In the corresponding fixture, Milan had won comfortably in Sicily but their current form might not allow them to produce a result with similar ease.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Lack of innovativeness in his tactical structures has always been one aspect of Max Allegri’s coaching that has been subject to criticism. In the absence of Balotelli, Pazzini was the natural successor for the Centre Forward’s position but his lack of overall involvement on the other parts of the pitch is not very hard to observe. Knowing this, Allegri should have ideally fielded a player who could act as a link between the midfield and attack. The usual 4-3-3 saw the two layers too far isolated from each other and save a few sporadic runs from the fullbacks across the flanks, Milan could hardly threaten either the Napoli or Juventus defence.
Since Ambrosini has been ruled out for this game after the injury he picked up against Juventus, Montolivo is expected to go back to his central most position in the midfield. The Italian shall pull the strings from the centre and given his passing range and ability to create a chance from the deep, he’d certainly try to find Balotelli unmarked with a few Pirlo-esque long balls. Flamini should claim his position on the right once again after serving a one game suspension. His role has not been particularly defined in Allegri’s system but the lack of alternatives has kept him into the scheme of things and one must admit, he has done reasonably well.
Antonio Nocerino is likely to be given a nod here to start against the Sicilians after a string of average performances from Sulley Muntari. Nocerino has quite curiously fallen way behind in the pecking order and if rumours are to be believed, is certainly on his way out in the summer. Given the kind of promise that he had showed last season and his goal scoring record for Milan that reads pretty handsomely for a midfielder, one may certainly wonder if he could have been treated better by the coach. On the defensive side, Nocerino is definitely a liability and loses his position very often which allows the opposition greater levels of penetration.
After the accumulation of more than permissible number of yellow cards, Cristian Zapata will be serving a suspension and miss this crucial game. Daniele Bonera will take his position in the centre and that might raise the levels of anxiety among the fans. Abate’s mistake had led to the move where Asamoah won the penalty for Juve and that might see De Sciglio start from the right on Sunday.
The attack will be strengthened considerably with Balotelli taking the guard in the centre flanked by El Shaarawy and Boateng on either side. While El Shaarawy will do everything in his power to create more chances for Balotelli to tap in, Boateng should be seen drifting a little towards the centre and perhaps dropping a few yards deeper too to add an extra dimension between the midfield and attack and also to allow the right back to overlap by dragging at least one defender out of position. A possible link-up between Boateng and Balotelli could open up the Catania defence causing them the maximum damage possible.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-3]: Amelia; De Sciglio, Mexes, Bonera, Constant; Flamini, Montolivo, Nocerino; Boateng, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
In a dramatic fashion, Catania dropped two vital points last week in the local derby against arch rivals Palermo. For the major part of the game, Catania fans mocked at Palermo’s likeliness of playing in the second division next season but Josip Ilicic’s injury time strike must have forced them to eat a humble pie. In the consequent outburst, Catania goalkeeper Mariano Andujar was given his marching orders which shall see him missing his first game of the season as Catania gear up for their San Siro visit.
The defensive pairing of Bellusci and Spolli will miss this contest as both will be serving a suspension alongside Andujar. This will force Maran to tinker heavily both with his formation and choice of personnel. Veteran defender Nicola Legrottaglie will start in the centre accompanied by Alexis Rolin who has started nomore than six games in the season so far. Potenza and Marchese should take their regular wide positions to complete the defence. While the makeshift centre defence will probably face a test a tad too tough dealing with Mario Balotelli, it is the wide players who will be consistently pressed by El Shaarawy and De Sciglio on either flanks and thus their forward runs might well be kept in very good check.
Catania should therefore, much like in Montella days, add numbers to their width and play on the counters but in the absence of a solid central defence, Maran isn’t likely to show that kind of intent. He would want to stuff midfield choking the opposite numbers for space and particularly deny Montolivo to orchestrate his passing game. Francesco Lodi will be a key man here for Catania and in a slightly changed formation, he will find himself in an unfamiliar role that is in the deeper one of the two-fold midfield made up of five men.
Should Lodi operate from a deeper role in the absence of Izco, Maran will need one more player in the attacking midfield to feed Gonzalo Bergessio who should play as the lone man upfront. Lucas Castro can start in this role and he should be flanked on either side by Pablo Barrientos and Alejandro Gomez.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Frison; Potenza, Legrottaglie, Rolin, Marchese; Lodi, Almiron; Barrientos, Castro, Gomez; Bergessio
- Both the sides will play without their first choice goalkeeper in this game.
- From this point, Milan are in danger of losing out on a Champions League spot. The last time they did not feature there was in 2008-09 season under Carlo Ancelotti.
- The last time neither of the Milan teams made it to the Champions League was in 2001-02 season. The following season, both the clubs faced each other in the semi-finals of the competition.
- Outside the relegation zone, only Parma (2) and Torino (2) have won fewer away matches than Catania (3).
Players To Watch Out For
His absence has nearly jeopardised Milan’s chances of playing in Champions League next season and it would be reasonable to suggest whether Milan are able to meet their objective for the season or not, solely rests on his shoulders now. Not only does Balotelli need to hit the top form wasting no time, he needs to make a very strong statement of intent for the rest of his teammates who have been a little lax and languid in their approach during the last few games.
Milan 2-0 Catania
Despite the loss against Juventus, Milan should be able to reclaim themselves in front of the home support and earn the all important three points. A Balotelli brace is on the cards. A win here could trigger the run of results that Milan need from the five games and secure the European premium berth come the summer.