Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi
Saturday, March 30, 2013; 17:30 Hrs GMT
In the month of November last year, when Chievo travelled to San Siro to face Milan, the situation was quite different for both the teams from what it is now. The visitors were struggling to avoid slipping into the relegation zone whereas the mighty Milan were finding it difficult to find their feet in the season with an overhauled squad. However, as Milan are about to make their trip to Verona, they are in serious contention to grab the second spot in the league whereas Chievo too are comfortably placed well above the drop zone. Under Eugenio Corini, they have made a strong comeback since the horrid start to the season and shall be looking at winning points in the big home games to boost the confidence for the remainder of the season and also to consolidate their place in the next year’s edition of Italy’s top flight.
Milan on the other hand have already put the heartbreaking Champions League loss against Barcelona behind them and it showed in their performance against Palermo. A number of Milan players were part of the Italy team on the national duty over the last one week but there is hardly any news of anyone being rested on those grounds for this important clash. Every game from here on is extremely vital for Max Allegri’s men as they aim to challenge Napoli for the second place.
Team News & Tactical Brief
In their last home game, Chievo got the better of Napoli but that result must not lead them to any false confidence as going by the current form, Milan and Napoli have been leagues apart. Corini is likely to go back to the more secure 5-3-2 tactical diagram that offers more solidity to the back and is made up of a robust midfield. The primary focus will be on nullifying the impact that Montolivo tends to create for Milan sitting deep in midfield. The three man midfield that the home side fields will be of a very compact shape despite the lack of width available to exploit the flanks.
Hetemaj should be replaced in the central midfield as Rigoni will be starting alongside Guana and Cofie. Milan too deploy a three man midfield but theirs is a far spread once across the width of the pitch and their better hold on the ball will force the Chievo midfielders lose their shape. The home side’s main focus will be to deny their opponents any space and hit them on counter. Milan have considerably improved with their defensive organization and their fullbacks are extremely dangerous going forward. This might restrict both Frey and Drame to the defensive duties and but for a few counter attacking moves, they should not be venturing too much into the Milan half of the pitch.
Stadio Bentegodi presents one of the worst surfaces in Italy to play and the roughness of the pitch will force both the teams to resort to long balls. Aerial supremacy therefore will come in handy and it is one area where Milan are susceptible. Alberto Paloschi – the Milan academy product – has been strongly touted to be the next addition in an already formidable looking Milan attack and this will be the perfect opportunity for him to make a strong case.
Probable Starting Lineup [5-3-2]: Puggioni; Frey, Andreolli, Danielli, Acerbi, Drame; Guana, Rigoni, Cofie; Paloschi, Thereau
Few would have imagined Milan being anywhere close to the third place at this stage in the season but the turnaround in fortunes that the club has seen is historic of sorts. The Champions League berth that once looked pretty unrealistic now looks to have been secured and Milan are realistic contenders to even finish second only to Juventus come the summer. One may just wonder what shape would the Scudetto race have taken had Milan demonstrated even half this resolve towards the start of the season.
All that is for the hypothetical debates though; what matters at this stage is this all important clash against Chievo where a win could help Milan open up some gap at the third place over the closest rivals Fiorentina, Roma, Inter and Lazio. An away trip to the city of Verona is one of the more difficult ones considering the awful nature of the surface but it is the results in these games that define the course of the season for the bigger clubs.
Despite the involvement in the international fixtures from an array of players, Max Allegri is not facing any new major injury concerns and that for a manager of an injury prone squad like Milan should itself be a reason to feel positive. Ever since Allegri switched to the 4-3-3 formation, the choice of personnel has been even more important since the task is pretty categorically cut out for every role.
Midfield plays a very crucial part in this system but surprisingly it is still one area where Allegri is not sure of the best possible combination out of the players available to him. Montolivo is the only certain starter and it is slightly perplexing to see how much has Nocerino fallen in the pecking order. He is certainly a better player than what his form has suggested this season and sooner rather than later he must be integrated back into the setup as his goal-scoring touch is something few Milan midfielders can match. In this fixture however, Flamini and Muntari are expected to start which will again mean El Shaarawy will need to drop a few extra yards down to link up with Montolivo and direct the play sideways to the advancing fullbacks.
Milan are particularly dangerous on the right flank where Abate’s pace is good enough for almost every fullback in Serie A and of late his link-up with Niang too has been pretty impressive. Niang thereafter takes care of the crossing part where Abate leaves a lot to be desired. Balotelli will spearhead the attack and honestly, nobody should be surprised to see him once again on the score-sheet.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-3]: Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Zapata, De Sciglio; Flamini, Montolivo, Muntari; Niang, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
- In his first six games for Milan, Mario Balotelli has already scored seven times.
- Milan have scored 25 away goals this season which is only fewer to those scored by Roma (30) and Juventus (28).
- Chievo have lost 14 home games this season. Only Genoa (15) and Pescara (20) have been defeated in their own backyard on more occasions.
Players To Watch Out For
The Milan academy product, despite all his potential, never got a real chance to represent the Rossoneri at the highest level. However, of late there have been rumours linking him with a move back to Milan. With some more major departures likely at Milan’s end in the summer, Paloschi may make a strong case for himself by excelling in these games against the club that developed him. With seven goals to his name, he’s currently the joint top goal-scorer for Chievo and will need to be at the top of his game to put Milan under some pressure. An early goal from his boots might help Chievo make a game out of this one.
Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan)
In the entire Balotelli brouhaha, Il Faraone has taken the backseat lately as far as the headlines in tabloids are concerned. However, few would disagree over the fact that he still remains the most instrumental player for Milan and his contribution in the supporting act for Balotelli, though hard to quantify, is as vital as ever. However, finding back the scoring boots won’t hurt too much either.
Chievo 0-2 Milan
Milan have enough firepower to create all sorts of troubles for the Chievo defence and with Balotelli now leading the attack, the chances are bound to be converted. Although Paloschi is likely to trouble the Milan defence from time to time, they should be able to negate the impact giving Milan one of the rare clean sheets that come their way.