Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
Sunday, March 14, 18:45 Hrs GMT
Milan will look to consolidate their third position in the league when they take on Napoli this weekend at home. Their previous match was mired in controversy and even the referee, Tagliavento has now been suspended by Liga officials for dubious refereeing. The worst outcome of that match was the suspension of Balotelli – a decision over which Milan have already lodged an appeal. Slapped with a three-match ban, Milan will have a tough time against Napoli and Juventus if the ban is not removed or overturned.
Napoli, on the other hand, are coming off a 2-0 victory over Genoa last weekend. Although only four points separate them from Milan, they know very well that any kind of slip-up will see them losing their second spot to Milan. Although they have won just twice in their last five away games, Napoli are a force to reckon with. Their last away encounter ended in a 3-5 victory for them with Dzemaili scoring a hat-trick.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Milan will be missing the likes of De Jong, who is out for the season through injury and Balotelli, who is currently banned for three matches. While he claimed he was racially abused, Balotelli was banned for insulting the officials. On the brighter side, Allegri now has an entire roster to choose from, which has been a rarity this season. Also, Balotelli’s absence will mean that once more Pazzini will be leading the charge for Milan, looking to increase his goal tally.
Allegri will field a 4-3-3 formation for this match with Boateng playing the role of a wide-forward-cum-right-winger. Milan’s unbeaten streak of 2013 in Serie A has survived till April and Allegri will be looking to continue that trend against Napoli. In their previous encounter, it was young El Shaarawy who came to Milan’s rescue after an Abbiati howler led to a Napoli goal. That match was the turning point and El Shaarawy has not looked back since in what is his first full-fledged season in Serie A.
Abbiati will reprise his role under the bars with the Milan back-line being formed by Abate on the right, De Sciglio on the left and Mexes and Zapata forming the central defensive pair. De Sciglio’s performance has dipped a little over the past few matches and he knows that he will have to play out of his skin against Napoli this weekend. Montolivo, who was the man of the match against Fiorentina will start just ahead of defence and will be the play-maker from the middle of the park. Accompanying him on the right will be Flamini with Muntari on the left. Nocerino is likely to come on in the second half to replace either of the two.
The forward line sees the return of Pazzini, who has scored 13 goals so far this season. While he will be deployed to play as a center-forward, El Shaarawy will play on the left. The ban on Balotelli might just spur El Shaarawy to return to his scoring ways and he can look to reclaim the top goal-scorer spot in Serie A.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Abbiati(GK); Abate, Mexes, Zapata, De Sciglio; Flamini, Montolivo, Muntari; Boateng, Pazzini, El Shaarawy
Napoli have their entire squad at their disposal with all the players available. They have been on an amazing run this season and are presently lying at the second spot in Serie A. After gunning for the top spot for a majority part of the season, a few losses here and there coupled with a few needless draws saw them give up the top spot to Juventus, who looks on course to repeat their success from last season. With only 7 rounds remaining, Napoli will look to finish in the top three and book their spot in Europe next season.
Napoli create most of their chances through individual skills and they are extremely strong at creating and finishing off scoring chances. They are very good on counter attacks and looks to attack down the wings. However, they are susceptible in defending against long shots and rarely stop the opposition from creating scoring chances against them – a trait Milan will look to exploit this weekend.
Napoli will field a 3-4-1-2 formation with De Sanctis between the bars. The tight three-man defence will see Campagnaro on the right, Cannavaro at the center and Britos on the left. The four-man midfield will see the likes of Maggio on the right, Zuniga on the left with Behrami and Dzemaili playing through the center. The four-man midfield can shift to a five-man midfield should Hamsik drop down from the trequartista role. Leading the charge for Napoli will be Pandev and Cavani.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-4-1-2): De Sanctis(GK); Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Britos; Maggio, Behrami, Dzemaili, Zuniga; Hamsik; Pandev, Cavani
Player to Watch Out For
Riccardo Montolivo (Milan)
Montolivo has shone bright this season, especially when entrusted with the captain’s armband. In the previous match against his old team Fiorentina, Montolivo came to the fore and even scored the opening goal of the match. Even when he was booed and his every touch was jeered by the crowd, he did not celebrate his goal as a mark of respect for his former club. Montolivo will be given the captain’s armband on a permanent basis should he continue to dish out such performances.
Milan 1 – 1 Napoli
Milan will be on the lookout to claim at least one point from this match if not all three. With Balotelli out with suspension, it will be difficult for Milan to score goals, but this situation might just spur El Shaarawy to repeat his performance from their previous encounter.
Blast From The Past