Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, Bergamo
Sunday, January 27th; 14:00 Hrs GMT
For people who do not follow Italian football from close circles, Cristian Zaccardo is far from a familiar name. The only telling highlight of his career at the senior level that has spanned over a decade now is the own goal he scored past Gianluigi Buffon against United States in the group stages during the World Cup 2006 – Zaccardo eventually would go on to be the only player to trouble Buffon from open play in the entire tournament. Well, it looks like he will earn much more visibility in the days to come post the successful completion of his transfer to AC Milan. This is the first time he will be playing for one of the bigger clubs in Europe, provided Milan are still enjoying that status.
With this signing, there were immediate suggestions of Zenit’s offer for Abate being considered but Galliani has asserted the Right Back is not for sale. In the other news, Milan are once again linked with Kaka after Mourinho’s remarks about the possibilities of the transfer. Meanwhile, Mattia Destro has quite categorically mentioned he is happy staying put at Roma for now. Amidst all the uncertainties regarding the activities in the transfer window, Milan are making a short trip to the fellow Lombardy side Atalanta in what could be a very deciding game for their chances of qualifying for Champions League football next season.
Atalanta must be excited at the prospect of facing Milan having already beaten them earlier in the season at San Siro. However, they clearly recognize the difference in the levels of form their opponents are in presently in comparison to the month of September. The season has been pretty topsy-turvy for the home side but they have already defeated two of the supposedly big sides in the peninsula – a fact that should add to their motivation ahead of welcoming Milan.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Coach Stefano Colantuono will be going into this game without the availability of midfielder Luigi Giorgi after his late dismissal from the last weekend’s game against Cagliari. Giorgi joins Capelli, Bellini, Marilungo, Lucchini and Schelotto who have all been ruled out. It is expected that the manager will switch to a more stable 4-3-1-2 formation that doesn’t let the midfield be outnumbered with the trequartista too dropping deep from time to time.
German Denis – the chief attacking threat for the home side – shall lead the attacking pack, although this time from a much more central position. Giacomo Bonaventura should start in the hole behind the two strikers. He will double up as a central midfielder while the team is off possession. On loan Napoli midfielder Luca Cigarini should be pushed a little forward to start as the central midfielder. With his natural defensive instinct, Cigarini may also shield the defence tracking back regularly. Carmona and Biondini should complete the midfield.
The real challenge for the midfield three will be to deal with their counterparts who should fancy venturing forward consistently. This may mean Atalanta will be forced to maintain a very compact shape inside their own half and the midfield will be stationed just a little too many yards far from the trequartista. They might resort to long balls eliminating the chance of the opposition outplaying them due to technical superiority or initiate any build-up towards the goal purely out of counterattacking methods.
Maxi Moralez is likely to be relegated to the bench in favour of Argentine forward Facundo Parra who will partner Denis to form the two man attack. Milan’s defensive susceptibility is secret to nobody and a striker of Denis’ pedigree should be at ease against them.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-1-2]: Consigli; Raimondi, Stendardo, Canini, Brivio; Carmona, Cigarini, Biondini; Bonaventura; Denis, Parra
Massimiliano Allegri should be fairly content with the realization that his team has already entered the Europa League zone. Considering the abysmal start that the team had to the season, this certainly is an achievement. Milan are still operating with an extremely thin squad and with the recent rumours of Acerbi having been offloaded for a loan spell to Genoa, the squad will be further reduced in numbers. Should the deal go through, Milan will buy Constant in completeness which from the larger perspective is not a very bad piece of business after all.
Going into this game, Allegri should continue fielding 4-3-3 with Montolivo continuing to start as the deep lying playmaker in the absence of club captain Massimo Ambrosini. Boateng, who looked terribly out of sorts in the first few months of the season, seems to have found his footing as he has been pushed down to the midfield. The third slot is still up for grabbing as none of the players has cemented his place there yet. Flamini is likely to start from the right which is slightly perplexing given the fact his future at the club is far from certain. Antonio Nocerino did show some signs of improvement in the last few games he started but his exclusion since might start to raise some questions in the days to come.
Milan will primarily look to guide all their attacks from the right attacking channel where De Sciglio should be seen overlapping Flamini and link up with Niang who tends to create space for the fullback to take the ball deeper. The duo has showed their ability to provide decent crosses and it will be imperative for central players to latch on to them with more intent. Pazzini had failed to time his runs to perfection to meet some of the dangerous looking crosses in the game against Bologna and it must not have failed to meet the eyes of Allegri.
In the attack, once again Stephan El Shaarawy will continue to be the most important piece in the jigsaw and his penetrating runs that torment even the most organized of defences should create all sorts of troubles for Atalanta. El Shaarawy has been off the scoring charts for quite a while but his overall contribution and importance to this team is beyond any quantifiable parameters. His energy and intelligence, if properly coupled with Pazzini’s proficiency in front of goal, can see Milan run away with the desired result but Pazzini so far hasn’t done enough to inspire any real confidence.
The defence will see the return of Bonera who should be partnering the slowly establishing Zapata in the centre. Mexes’ own goal had led to some rather avoidable anxiety towards the last few minutes against Bologna and Milan must ensure such defensive mistakes are completely done away with.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-3]: Abbiati; De Sciglio, Zapata, Bonera, Constant; Flamini, Montolivo, Boateng; Niang, Pazzini, El Shaarawy
- Atalanta have not won any of their last five league games.
- Last season, Milan won both their games against Atalanta with a 2-0 scoreline in their favour.
- German Denis is the top scorer for Atalanta with 7 goals so far in the season which is exactly half of what Stephan El Shaarawy has got for Milan.
Player To Watch Out For
The former Udinese striker is one of the more prolific goal-scorers in the league and is a constant threat in front of goal. Milan will field a defence that is not known for its reflexive intelligence and positional sense. This could work in favour of Denis who often catches defenders off the guard and should he manage to find a lead for the home side, Milan will be in for one seriously tough afternoon in Bergamo.
Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan)
It’s been more than a month since Il Faraone scored in a league game and although that is no indication of any sort of deterioration or fatigue in his game, fans wouldn’t mind a strike or two from his end troubling the scorers. El Shaarawy remains the most vital attacking dimension for Milan and even if he fails to end this mini drought of scoring, it is imperative for him to be on top of his game, should his team build hopes to take home three points.
Atalanta 1-2 Milan
The defensive flaws will definitely come into the fore one more time and Milan are bound to concede but the general quality in their play should see them do just about enough to secure yet another extremely important win in this battle between the two Lombardian clubs.