San Siro, Milan
Sunday, September 20, 18:45 Hrs GMT
AC Milan will be looking to earn all three points on offer when they take on Napoli at home for the first time this season. Their season has not started off too well, with an opening day loss to Hellas Verona. In the previous match against Torino, they escaped by the skin of their teeth in the dying moments of the match. Although they did win their match against Celtic in the UEFA Champions League, they still have a long way to go before they can really challenge anyone in Serie A.
Napoli, on the other hand, have started the new season on a perfect note, winning all of their matches in Serie A. Granted, they are yet to face a top team in the league but the manner in which they have begun their season indicates that they will certainly see themselves with a chance to win the Serie A this time around. Although Napoli defeated Borussia Dortmund by a margin of 2-1 in their Champions League encounter, the Archbishop of Naples believes that it was San Gennaro who led the team to victory and not Benitez.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The season has barely started but the injury list at Milan just keeps on growing. For their match against Celtic, Allegri was able to name only 13 first-team players. With ex-player Pato too raising questions about Milan labs, the focus has certainly shifted on the number and the frequency of injuries to various players. For the upcoming match, Milan will be missing the likes of Bonera, De Sciglio, Silvestre, Pazzini, El Shaarawy, Montolivo and Kaka.
With two first-team players, each from defence, midfield and attack sidelined for the foreseeable future, Milan have been forced to call up youngsters to fill the void. It remains to be seen how long they can survive in the first team or how they can step up to fill the hole. Milan did have a generous slice of luck in their Champions League encounter against Celtic, where a Muntari goal and an own goal sealed all three points for them. However, Allegri knows very well that luck will not always be on their side, and with Napoli coming to San Siro, things are bound to get tougher. On a positive note, Saponara, Abate and Niang returned to training.
Allegri will field a 4-3-1-2 formation for this match with Abbiati manning the posts. The Milan back-line will be formed by Abate and Emanuelson as right and left backs respectively. Abate’s return sees Zaccardo go back to the bench after a horror show against Torino, where his error led to the first goal. The central defensive positions will be taken up by Mexes and Zapata. Although Allegri has said that Milan do possess world-class centre-backs, we are yet to see them in action. The midfield will feature the likes of Poli on the right, De Jong through the center and Muntari on the left. With essentially two defensive midfielders deployed in the starting line-up, creativity from the middle of the field might turn out to be a bone of contention for Milan in this match.
The forward line is formed by Matri and Balotelli. Although these two players did gel well for few moments against Torino, it remains to be seen how they can prosper in each other’s company for the whole match. With only Niang as a striker on the bench, these two are likely to play the entire match. Robinho returns to the starting line-up – this time, not as a striker but as a trequartista.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-1-2): Abbiati(GK); Abate, Mexes, Zapata, Emanuelson; Poli, De Jong, Muntari; Robinho; Matri, Balotelli
Napoli have their entire team at their disposal for this match. However, Benitez is unlikely to make any changes to his lineup. With a full squad to choose from, Benitez might to wait for their match against Sassuolo to make some changes and give the reserve players a run in their first team. After losing Cavani to PSG in the beginning of the season, Napoli roped in Higuain and most importantly, brought in Benitez, who guided Chelsea to Europa League crown last season. Also brought in were Albiol and Callejon from Madrid, both of whom have been used the most so far this season.
Napoli have lost one key player for the second successive season now but their race to the Serie A crown still remains as strong as ever. After missing out last year to eventual winners Juventus, Napoli now have got a team which can not only challenge Juventus but can realistically think of winning the crown this time. Their forays on the European front might be limited but their pedigree on the domestic arena is unmistakable. Napoli have not won at the San Siro since 1986, a record which they will look to break this time. While Milan have won 11 of their last 13 home matches in Serie A, Napoli have won 8 of their last 9, scoring at least 2 goals in each.
Napoli will deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation with new recruit Reina under the bars. The back-line will be formed by Maggio on the right, Zuniga on the left with Albiol and Britos playing through the center. The two defensive midfielders will be Behrami and Inler. Dzemaili might start in place of Behrami but that is likely to be decided minutes before the match. The attacking line is formed by Callejon on the right, Insigne on the left and Hamsik through the center. The lone forward for this match will be Higuain.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Reina(GK); Maggio, Albiol, Britos, Zuniga; Behrami, Inler; Callejon, Hamsik, Insigne; Higuain
Player to Watch Out For
Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
With the departure of Lavezzi and Cavani to PSG, the attacking trident used by Mazzarri has been reduced to a solitary player – Hamsik. The creative talents of Hamsik have grown by leaps and bounds and after Cavani’s departure, some of the goal-scoring burden also seems to have fallen on the Slovakian. However, that has not deterred him in any way and if possible, it has egged him on to produce some brilliant football. Till now, he has scored as many as 4 league goals, and with only 3 games into the new season, Hamsik is bound to get better and better.
Milan 1 – 1 Napoli
Napoli have started this season with a bang, winning all the three league games and have started their European campaign on a bright note too. While Milan on the other hand have had indifferent form in Serie A. It will be extremely difficult for Milan to overcome Napoli in this match and the most a home side could muster out of this is a solitary point.