Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Saturday, March 2, 2013; 19:45 Hrs GMT
Having dropped two invaluable points in the derby despite dominating the game for the larger part, Milan must be kicking themselves for allowing Lazio to claim the third spot back. However, there’s little room for disappointment as they welcome Lazio in a tie that will go a long way in determining the third team from Italy in the next edition of Champions League. Of course, it is still a long way to go in the season and considering the uncertainties in Serie A, one may never be sure of anything based on the result of one game but that does not undermines the importance of a fixture like this.
It is these games that define the course of the season for a team and winning them changes the complexion completely. The corresponding fixture belonged to Lazio when Milan had travelled to the capital city back in the month of October last year. However, despite being largely unchanged, this Milan side is riding on another level of confidence and Lazio are definitely not going to find it easy dealing with the vigour of a rediscovered Milan at San Siro.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Massimiliano Allegri will be without the services of Philippe Mexes and that will force him to start Mario Yepes alongside Christian Zapata in central defence. However, the Colombian pairing inspires little confidence. Not to suggest, Mexes is the most reliable defender in the world but with age surely catching up with Yepes’ legs, he’s definitely not the player you’d prefer to see as the second-best available option to field in the heart of your defence. However, that has been the story of Milan’s season so far – the lack of depth in the squad. Despite that, the kind of results this team has produced is truly remarkable.
In the derby last weekend, it was observed that Milan did not hesitate in committing one man too many forward in the first half but as soon as Zanetti switched flanks with Nagatomo at the half time, the gameplay changed for Milan both attackingly as well as defensively. Although De Sciglio played one of his better games in the season, it should not take a rocket scientist to conclude he is a far better player from the right side and that is where he should be stationed to ensure his penetration is able to unsettle what will be a tight looking Lazio midfield. Kevin Constant therefore may receive a nod to man the other flank and both the full-backs might find it a little tough to balance between their attacking and defensive duties. Particularly against Hernanes, who tends to stretch his markers wide from time to time, both will need to stay alert.
Antonio Nocerino had received an odd start against Inter but unsurprisingly, he failed to impress. That should see him lose his place in the pecking order as Allegri might pull Boateng back to the midfield. The Ghanaian had started in the attacking three ahead of Niang against Inter which was a rather precautionary measure considering Boateng’s abilities to track back. But in the home game, Allegri might feel more confident and go ahead with his much younger attacking trident of Niang, Balotelli and El Shaarawy. Montolivo will continue to pull the strings from the deepest position in the midfield and once again his will be the most crucial role in the attacking build-up. Sulley Muntari will occupy the third midfield slot and his will be a very important role on the left where not only he will be needed to assist Montolivo defensively but he will be expected to create space for Constant to overlap.
The big news ahead of this game for Milan is El Shaarawy signing a contract extension till June, 2018. He has easily been the best player for Milan this season and a gesture of committing his future to the club from the little Pharaoh is surely one that deserves appreciation. El Shaarawy found his scoring boots back against Inter and it is imperative for Milan that his form continues. Balotelli is now the focal point of Milan attack and that in a way works in favour of El Shaarawy. No longer is he the only point of reference for the opposition markers and that allows him to be more mobile and even play behind the ball for a much longer duration. Milan’s attack looks complete in every sense of the word but for the finishing abilities of Niang which given the kind of promise he’s showed, should certainly improve with time.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Abbiati(GK); De Sciglio, Zapata, Yepes, Constant; Boateng, Montolivo, Muntari; Niang, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
Vladimir Petkovic could most definitely not have asked for a better first season in charge of the Biancocelesti. They looked slightly jaded at the turn of the new year but have found back the right kind of form going into a game like this. Their progress in the Europa League shows clear intent of going far in to the competition and perhaps even have a shot at the title depending on a few other results. However, their priority remains the league and securing that elusive third place on the table.
At the moment, Lazio are the occupying that third slot but a loss at San Siro should mean Milan will temporarily leapfrog them in the race. Not to forget, Inter too aren’t far behind either of these teams. And therefore, one might not be totally surprised to see Petkovic going with a more pragmatic approach into this game. He is likely to deploy a 4-5-1 formation that should effectively switch to a 4-1-4-1. Sergio Floccari will be the lone man up front as Lazio are missing their star forward Miroslav Klose. Mauri too is out injured and hence there’s nobody to play right behind the forward to feed him the balls.
Lazio have every reason to be wary of Milan’s attacking threat and that explains the extra defensive dimension to the midfield in the form of Ledesma. Their primary attacking weapon is Hernanes who will look to push forward and create space for Floccari by dragging the defenders out of their position – Milan defenders are anyway not known for their positional sense. Lazio pose even bigger threat from the set-pieced as Milan have showed their inability to deal from the dead balls time and again. Candreva and Lulic are the ones adding width to the attack and theirs will be a very crucial role since Lazio are extremely narrow in the final third.
The visitors have a very good chance to choke Milan for space while they are on the ball. With the kind of formation they are likely to deploy here, they are unlikely to over-commit numbers forward and against the pace and trickery of the Milan forward line, it will be crucial for the Lazio defence to remain disciplined all throughout the game.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-1-4-1): Marchetti(GK); Pereirinha, Biava, Dias, Radu; Ledesma; Candreva, Gonzalez, Hernanes, Lulic; Floccari
- Lazio have won only three of their eight league games in 2013.
- The last time Milan beat Lazio in a league game at San Siro was in 2008.
- Milan are the only team in the league not to have drawn a game playing at home this season.
Battle To Watch Out For
Riccardo Montolivo (Milan) v Hernanes (Lazio)
This particular duel should potentially decide the outcome of this tie. Montolivo has been one of the best midfielders in Serie A this season and Hernanes’ abilities need no explanation. The Italian will slot into a deep position, aiming to create opportunities for the attacking players through his piercing passes and long balls.
Hernanes on the other hand, plays further up the pitch and the onus will be on Montolivo to negate his impact. The two shall be seen very often in a ball-winning battle and the one scoring points over the other shall help his side immensely.
Milan 2 – 1 Lazio
Milan must learn from their mistakes against Inter. With the kind of attacking threat they possess, they are bound to score goals but the key lies in converting the chances. Purely going by the home record for Milan of late, they should be able to grab the three points here and for the time being, overtake Lazio in the race to the third spot. However, Lazio are not to be dealt with easily and the visitors should certainly find the back of the net. However, their lack of firepower up front should underline the difference between the two sides at the end.
Blast From The Past