Stadio Is Arenas
Sunday, February 10, 14:00 Hrs GMT
Cagliari have had an indifferent season so far in Serie A. Their record sees them lying three points above the dreaded relegation zone, but on many occasions this season, they have surprised even the biggest teams in the peninsula like Inter and Roma. Their 4-2 victory over Roma in their previous match led to the dismissal of Zeman. After all the uproar about the venue of this match, it looks like the match will be played in Is Arenas, after Stadio Olimpico was ruled out by Cagliari, although past records suggest that this match might very well be forfeited by Cagliari.
Milan have been nothing short of exceptional in recent times and all credit for that should go to Allegri who masterminded such a turnaround with the given squad. In their previous match against Udinese, the visiting team was left heartbroken by Balotelli, who marked his return to Serie A and San Siro with two superb goals, although his tally could have been higher on the night.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Cagliari will be missing the likes of Nenè for this match due to injury and Nainggolan and Avelar due to suspension. Cagliari’s luck has dwindled this season and it is highly possible that they will drop into the relegation zone should Genoa get a result against Parma in their match. Only three points separate Cagliari from the 18th spot on the table and they have the second worst goal-difference after Serie A’s favorite whipping boys – Pescara.
Marco Sau and Nenè have been their best players for this season with the duo combining for 11 goals and 4 assists. However, with due to the
absence of Nenè for this match, the focus will shift entirely to Sau. The last time he played against a Milanese side, he scored a wonderful brace against a hapless Inter defence. In spite of his short stature, his close control, dribbling and finishing have been lauded this season and the Sardinians have reasons to believe that he will guide them to safety.
Although Cagliari are very strong in aerial duels and counter attacks, they are weak when going up against skilled players. They lack the ability to finish well and are over-dependent on Sau. They have committed a high number of individual errors this season and they tend to give away free-kicks in crucial areas. Also, they cannot defend well from set pieces. Cagliari usually prefer to attack down the right and play with width. Also, their style of play leads them to play long balls more often and they resort to aerial balls rather than passes on the ground.
Cagliari will field a 4-3-3 formation in this match with Agazzi under the bars. The back-line is formed by Pisano on the right and Murru on the left. The central defensive pairing is formed by Rossettini and Astori. The midfield will be formed by the trio of Dessena on the right, Conti through the center and Ekdal through the left. The absence of Nainggolan has led to a vacancy in the trequartista position and hence Cagliari will try to go with a 3 striker system. The forward line is formed by Ribeiro, Sau and Ibrabo.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Agazzi(GK); Pisano, Rossettini, Astori, Murru; Dessena, Conti, Ekdal; Thiago Ribeiro, Sau, Ibrabo
Milan will be missing the likes of Mexes, De Sciglio, Bonera, Ambrosini and De Jong due to injury and Montolivo due to suspension for this match. Although this week Muntari and De Sciglio trained for some time at Milanello, it is too early for them to return to first-team action. Their absence leaves Allegri with only two recognized defenders – new arrival Zaccardo and the unreliable Antonini. The arrival of Zaccardo has raised more questions rather than answers given the fact that Milan are currently trying to lower the age of the squad.
Allegri will field a 4-3-3- formation in this match so as to maximize their attacking options. Allegri has used this formation in 13 matches so far with 9 victories and 2 losses coming his way. Also, given the fact that Milan have not lost to Cagliari in their last 8 encounters, they will try to extend their winning run. Post a horrible start to the season, Allegri has turned this team around and how! After being castrated as a failure and one-Scudetto wonder, Allegri has utilized the players at his disposal to their optimum and the result is there for all to see. If we only go by the record of Milan in the last 10 matches, they should be on top of the Seria A table.
Abbiati will start this match under the bars with the defence line being formed by Abate on the right, Zapata and Yepes at the center and Constant on the left. Ever since De Sciglio’s injury, Allegri has preferred to use Constant at the left-back role rather than Antonini. Allegri has little defensive options to resort to from the bench, although we may get to see Zaccardo take the field some time during the second half of the match. In the absence of Montolivo, Flamini will start at the heart of midfield – his first since the year 1990. Accompanying him in midfield will be Nocerino on the right and Boateng on the left.
The forward line sees possibly the most exciting trio in Serie A presently – Niang, Balotelli and El Shaarawy. Uncle Fester did pull out a rabbit from his transfer hat this time round, but we know all too well that Milan’s problems lie elsewhere, more specifically in the middle of the field. However, seeing this forward line, Milan can be forgiven for dreaming and dreaming big.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Abbiati(GK); Abate, Zapata, Yepes, Constant; Nocerino, Flamini, Boateng; Niang, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
Player to Watch Out For
Mario Balotelli (Milan)
The boyhood fan of Milan has finally returned to his favorite club. Balotelli’s arrival in Milan has been nothing short of extraordinary and given that he has made an immediate impact, the transfer seems to have been a fruitful one. His two-goal cameo in the last match has got Milan fans salivating at the prospect of a 100% fit Balotelli playing alongside El Shaarawy. He will take some time to get 100% match fit, but once that time comes, the duo should give oppostion defences some nightmarish moments.
Cagliari 0 – 2 Milan
Milan have been undefeated in 2013 and they will look to keep that record intact against Cagliari. Knowing very well that the other matches in February and March will test them to the hilt, Milan will look to maximize the number of points earned from this match. A victory here and a slip by Lazio in their match against Napoli will see Milan rise to the third spot in the league table – a situation unimaginable not a long while ago.