Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Friday, February 15, 2012; 19:45 Hrs GMT
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Roberto Donadoni. During his ten year long stay at Milan, Donadoni won silverware aplenty and also enjoyed the honour of being part of Arrigo Sacchi’s side that is widely renowned as one of the best club teams assembled ever. His managerial career though has not been equally eventful; far from it in fact. His failure with the Italy national side at Euro 2008 has very heavily been criticized and his consequent sackings from Napoli and Cagliari haven’t done much good to his resume either. However, the story has taken a better turn ever since he took charge of Parma during the early days in 2012. A team that was battling relegation midway in the season managed to finish 8th in the league by the summer which is truly remarkable. Parma have continued to impress this season as well and have had a prolonged presence in the top half of the table.
Their form has taken a dip of late with their last win in the league coming more than a month back. Their home form has been very highly talked about but on the road they have struggled to find the right momentum. Parma still stand a chance to finish in the Europa League bracket by the end of the season but it’s high time for them to pull up the socks. Having already earned a point against Milan in the corresponding fixture, Parma have reasons to be confident ahead of facing them at San Siro.
Milan are going into this fixture with their minds psychologically burdened about the upcoming week that is definitely going to be the most testing one from the season so far. After facing Barcelona midweek in the Champions League knockout clash at San Siro, they have the derby lined up against Inter in the next round. The derby will be pretty decisive since both the clubs are currently fighting for that third Champions League spot allotted to Italy. Considering this, Allegri is likely to rest a few key players in this game which might give a breather to Donadoni and his men.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Stephan El Shaarawy is almost certain to be rested for this fixture. Leading the attacking duties for Milan almost singlehandedly, he has nearly played for 2000 minutes in the season and has hardly missed any action. His goal-scoring form has been slightly of colours lately but that doesn’t undermine his importance to this team. However, keeping Barcelona fixture in mind, it is the right decision to rest him at this stage.
That means Kevin Prince Boateng will be given the nod to start from the attacking position – something he doesn’t really fancy. It is evident that the Ghanaian was way more comfortable in a deeper position from the midfield that allows him to play behind the ball but he will need to do away with the comfort zone to earn his place in the starting eleven.
The attack will be led by the newly arrived Mario Balotelli who has already grabbed all the limelight with his sensational performances in the last two games. Balotelli has scored thrice in two appearances for his new club and is likely not to stop. Niang should continue to start from the right and while his energy and pace are vital for Milan, he needs to improve considerably with his crossing abilities. Niang will create space for Abate to overlap on the right but the Italian too is hardly any improvisation over Niang as far as delivering accurate crosses is concerned.
Milan midfield’s lack of creativity became all the more obvious in the game against Cagliari but with the return of Montolivo it might change, only slightly though. Montolivo should start from the deep lying playmaker’s position and unless greatly pressed, he will be at the luxury to spend time on the ball and find the right pass to unlock the Parma defence. Offensively, Montolivo won’t find much help from his colleagues in the midfield as neither of Flamini and Muntari possesses any innovation in their game.
Probable Starting Lineup: Abbiati(GK); Abate, Mexes, Zapata, De Sciglio; Flamini, Montolivo, Muntari; Niang, Balotelli, Boateng
First choice goalkeeper Antonio Mirante continues to be unavailable to the coach and joining him on the sidelines is Inter’s on-loan midfielder McDonald Mariga. Rest of the squad is available for selection and Donadoni is likely to go back to the 4-3-3 formation after trying out a three man defence against Genoa last weekend.
Parma are slightly susceptible in defence having conceded 21 goals playing away from home already. Argentine Gabriel Paletta should start from the centre while joining him at the heart of the defence will be Alessandro Lucarelli who started out wide in the previous game. The two should be flanked by Aleandro Rosi and Massimo Gobbi on either side. The two do tend to advance up the pitch from time to time and overlap the wingers who create space by dragging the defenders closer to the box. Parma will be aware of Milan’s inability to deal with set-pieces and aerial balls and the duo should be seen creating a number of opportunities by finding the right cross from the flanks.
Donadoni must have done his homework regarding the lifeless Milanese midfield that offers very little offensively but he must instruct his frontline to keep Montolivo in good check by continuously pressing him. The Italy international is the only creative spark for Milan and shutting his passing options shall mean Parma are more than protected inside their own half. Chilean midfielder Jamie Valdes who may also drop deep enough to play as a sweeper to the defence should carry out this job. Parolo and Marchionni shall complete the three man midfield.
In Biabiany, Parma have an exciting winger who can create all sorts of problems for the Milan defence with his pace and tenacity. De Sciglio shall be manning the left flank for Milan and in the role that is slightly unfamiliar to the usually right full back, Biabiany might fancy winning a number of battles on the flank. Algerian forward Ishak Belfodil should start from the centre while Nicola Sansone will be stationed on the left.
Probable Starting Lineup: Pavarini(GK); Rosi, Paletta, Lucarelli, Gobbi; Marchionni, Valdes, Parolo; Biabiany, Belfodil, Sansone
- Milan have scored 4 goals against Parma in the home games for last two seasons.
- Parma have won only two games this season playing away from home.
- Milan are the only team not to have drawn playing at home this season.
Players To Watch Out For
In the absence of El Shaarawy, the onus now lies completely on Balotelli’s shoulders to win Milan the all important three points. The margin for error is pretty thin considering how intense the race to the third spot has been in Serie A. Balotelli has set the bar of expectations pretty high with his exploits straightaway on his return to Italy and that must continue for Milan to keep their chances of Champions League qualification alive. Though Donadoni has played down the remarks about Milan being dependent on Balotelli, frankly, he is being modest. Milan do need their newly acquired attacking weapon to fire on all cylinders.
Ishak Belfodil (Parma)
Colombian forward Victor Ibarbo had a great game against Milan last week and Belfodil must have learnt his lessons from that. His pace and strength might be too much to handle for the Milan defence that has anything but stabilized. His link-up with Biabiany can be particularly dangerous. With 7 goals already to his credit, he is definitely a player Milan must be watchful of.
AC Milan 2 – 1 Parma
Although Parma have the quality to trouble Milan from time to time – mainly on counter, the home side is expected to do just about enough to win the three points that matter more than anything else at this stage. Mario Balotelli is the trump card for the Rossoneri and he will be the one who separates the two sides.
Blast From The Past