Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Bologna
Wednesday, September 25, 18:45 Hrs GMT
Milan fans could form a very interesting research sample as far as judging emotional swings is concerned. Known for publicly expressing their wrath and disapproval of some of their management’s decisions time and again, they get rather effortlessly driven by often lunatic-like optimism when it comes to maintaining a strong belief in the potential of their team. However, the fact that Bologna, their hosts on Wednesday, are one of those few teams in Italy who have been off to an even poorer start when compared to Milan’s, is perhaps the only reason to remain hopeful of a better showing from their team.
Already having been defeated twice in the four league games, the fixture list being ‘easy’ towards the start doesn’t seem to be a factor anymore and the next 90 minutes of football action will certainly go down as one of the defining moments for the future of Allegri’s career. If Milan’s fortunes go further south, nobody should be the least bit surprised to see Berlusconi on the lookout for a successor. Given the tumultuous situation the Rossoneri find themselves in, Bologna could not have asked for a better time to face them at home and should really be charged up going into this game.
Team News & Tactics
It has been nearly two years since Stefano Pioli took charge of Bologna and has led the team to two unspectacular but satisfactory campaigns – which is definitely impressive considering the modest budget and wage structure with which the club operates. But the season hasn’t started on a promising note, so to speak. Bologna are yet to register their first win and the latest beating at home at the hands of Torino might have put their confidence well below the desired levels. However, if the defensive shambles that Milan exhibit so frequently in league football these days do not manage to boost your confidence levels, one might be afraid, nothing ever will.
Pretty similar to their visitors for the night, Pioli is expected to deploy a 4-3-1-2 formation with Alessandro Diamanti playing in the hole behind the forward line. The Bologna captain, apart from being one of the better players in Serie A when it comes to making good use of set-piece situations, is exactly the sort of player the Milan defence are most vulnerable against. Milan lack the understanding of space occupation both in midfield and defence and this should regularly present Diamanti opportunities to find his attackers in potentially dangerous positions bypassing the defensive lines. Diamanti is not the quickest on the ball but has got skills aplenty and a very sharp technique to be a threat every time with ball at his feet.
In the attack, Rolando Bianchi will continue to start while he will be partnered by Argentine forward Jonathan Cristaldo who has been taken on loan from Metalist Kharkiv. Cristaldo hasn’t started a league game yet and this will be a huge moment indeed for him, should he be given the starting nod replacing Davide Moscardelli. Neither of the two forwards is at their most potent inside the box and that might force Bologna to rely a lot more on Diamanti for converting the chances too.
The three man midfield will be expected to sit deep and allow Milan to take control in the early part of the game. That Milan fail to achieve much despite seeing the better of the ball must not have gone unnoticed to Pioli and he’d be more than happy to let Milan drag forward only to leave spaces exposed at the back. For Bologna, Pazienza will be a vital player tracking down the movements and runs of Milan’s exuberant young midfielder Andrea Poli. Alongside Pazienza, Laxalt and Della Rocca should complete the midfield.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-1-2]: Curci; Garics, Antonsson, Mantovani, Morelo; Laxalt, Pazienza, Della Rocca; Diamanti; Cristaldo, Bianchi
Mario Balotelli has developed this knack of doing his reputation the maximum possible damage at the most critical points in the season. His dissent against the officials post the loss to Napoli has now earned him a three game suspension and that leaves Milan completely toothless in attack. Things are getting worse with each matchday passing for Milan and they do not seem to be getting on the track very soon.
The loss to Napoli was the first in 27 years at San Siro and that has left Milan healing deeper wounds than those suffered from a lowly position on the table. In their defence however, Milan did not do too many things wrong against Napoli but sadly, Napoli’s conversion rate was top notch in the game. Milan dominated the major part of the 90 minutes but to little avail. Whether the same tempo can be carried forward to Bologna is hard to predict given the kind of inconsistency that has become a very characteristic feature of this squad.
Max Allegri has some real thinking to do and he must realize the solution to Milan’s currently problems does not lie in applying a few tactical tinkering. The players do need to be corrected on their very basic technique itself in occupying the space better and in moving along as a unit. Very often, the players fail to move with a plan, lacking synchronization in their movement and that makes the job very hard for some of their teammates.
These instances drop the hints of poor planning and a lack of clarity in assigning each player a distinct role. In the prolonged absence of Montolivo, Poli is expected to contribute on the creative front and though he has been impressive in patches, needs to develop a number of elements in his game before being reckoned as the man Milan could trust. Nigel De Jong adds some real muscle to the midfield but again, lacks the understanding with his colleagues to utilize the space better. Muntari has been surprisingly impressive in his ball winning role but Allegri may choose to to field Nocerino in this game, giving the Ghanaian some rest. The Italian midfielder has completely faded away after dropping glimpses of promise throughout his debut season and many wonder how he still finds himself a place in the side. But if there’s any moment for Nocerino to reclaim himself, it is now.
Valter Birsa has been tried by Allegri most recently in the trequartista role but he often drifts out wide to give the attack a three man look. Birsa is likely to continue playing beside Matri and Robinho.
Probable Starting Lineup: Abbiati; Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Emanuelson; Poli, De Jong, Nocerino; Birsa; Matri, Robinho
Player To Watch Out For
One may argue, Bologna are in with a real shout in this one and should Diamanti manage to play to the best of his abilities, Milan are in for one long, long night. A vision for the final pass, the ability to hold on to the ball in the final third, cutting in dangerously from wide positions and taking wonderful set-pieces are some of the traits of Diamanti’s game. Undoubtedly, across both the camps, he will be the man to keep your eyes on.
Bologna 1-1 Milan
Milan are unlikely to recover from their slump – even less so away from home. And while that may propel the home side’s chances to produce an incredible result in midweek, the likeliest outcome of this game is both sides cancelling each other out. It may not be one of those games you’d love to watch.