Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, Verona
Sunday, November 10, 2013; 14:00 Hrs GMT
These days, there aren’t many teams in the world that wouldn’t start favourites while the opposition name reads AC Milan. But outliers always represent an important component in any statistical space and that’s exactly what Chievo’s start to the season has reduced them to – an outlier with an even pitiable campaign than that of Milan. Much to the displeasure of Chievo fans, as if the woeful performances were not enough, arch rivals Verona have been off to a dream start to their return to Serie A – quite similar in fact, to Chievo’s miracle start under Gigi Delneri back in 2001. At this point in time, it will take a brave man to assert Chievo will avoid relegation, come the end of the season.
Things hardly look encouraging for either of these two sides from the North of Italy as the two gear up to face each other in what could be a battle to avoid any further woes. Milan presently lead the bottom half of the table, a massive 16 points off the final Champions League spot. Two back to back defeats against Fiorentina and Barcelona have done the worst to their confidence and the dressing room hardly appears settled with the unending talks of the imminent changes at all levels in management. Regardless of the direction Milan’s season takes from here, the club looks certain to undergo a bigger overhaul than many expect in a not so distant future.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Sitting rock bottom of the table, Chievo have managed only a solitary win in the season having lost 8 games already. Surely, it’s a surprise Beppe Sannino still manages to hold on to his job. Given the revolving chair system in Italy, it’s indeed a rarity. Ever since their return to the top flight in 2008, Chievo have consistently been a mid-table club and it is not the easiest job to register a win at Bentegodi even for the bigger teams in Serie A. While that partly has to do with the abysmal conditions of the pitch, the point stands that Chievo have never been a pushover side and hence this sudden fall of magnanimous proportions is quite unfamiliar to the fans.
The rescue job will certainly not be an easy ask and damage mitigation is the order of the day. In a way, they could not have asked for a better time to play Milan than this. The Rossoneri have been off to their worst start in a season in over two decades and by no means, is it beyond Chievo to do what many feel is unthinkable here. The defence is in good shape after conceding nomore than one goal in their last two outings and that even a team like Roma could not muster much against them, should give them enough reasons to feel good about themselves.
Sannino should continue fielding a 3-5-2 formation that switches to a more defensive 5-3-2 rather swiftly when the team is off possession. Milan’s central midfield, despite showing signs of improvement, has failed to have much of an impact and therefore stuffing the midfield with more numbers could not be the worse of tactical cards to play for the home side. However, that does delimit the attacking options but while playing against Milan, a coach may always rely on creating something out of a set-piece situation.
There are no notable absentees in the Chievo lineup but a few changes from the Bologna game can be expected. Estigarribia might start from the bench and Boukary Drame is likely to get an unexpected start. The central midfield will constitute Radovanovic, Rigoni and Hetemaj while Sardo and Drame will flank them on either side. Paloschi and Thereau should continue forming the attacking line.
Probable Starting Lineup [3-5-2]: Puggioni; Frey, Dainelli, Cesar; Sardo, Radovanovic, Hetemaj, Drame; Paloschi, Thereau
That Allegri is facing an uncertain future at Milan has become an annoying regularity in any news copy that surrounds Milan these days. Reportedly, Barbara Berlusconi has proposed several measures to reinstate the lost glory of the club and that her plans may not feature the incumbent management entirely. If indeed, she’s the chosen one to take charge of the situation then it is difficult to predict who stays and who goes but that is a discussion for some other day.
Coming back to the game, Allegri perhaps knows only as much as you do about what could be done further to get the best out of this set of players. Adding insult to the injuries (pardon the pun), Mario Balotelli’s unending and persistent theatrics mean he will not play any role into this important fixture serving a one game ban. That means Matri is likely to be given a start as Pazzini continues being unavailable. Kaka, Birsa and Robinho are the ones who complete the other two pieces of the attack and despite the selection of the lineup, all the three will have to play a role at some point in the game.
Montolivo has seen a slight dip in form of late and it is critical for him to regain his touch at the first opportunity. Milan are a frustratingly one-dimensional and unimaginative side on the days he’s off colour and the story won’t be too different in Verona should he continue to be uninspiring. Nigel De Jong has been rock solid all throughout the season but the lack of understanding in the midfield still prevails which means Milan are far from effective at space occupation. The choice for the third midfielder is a tricky one, but knowing Allegri, Muntari should be the safer bet. However, it will be a matter of time before Poli is thrown in.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-3]: Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Zapata, Constant; Montolivo, De Jong, Muntari; Robinho, Matri, Kaka
Player To Watch Out For
For the second time in running, Kaka features into this space and for those who follow Milan closely, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. His return has been anything but eventful but the hunger and grit are more than visible in his play. Chievo are an opposition that is well below Milan as far as technical finesse of the squad is concerned. It could just be the right platform for Kaka to explode and announce his arrival well and truly.
Chievo 1-1 Milan
Despite the home side’s limitations and a horrible run of form, it is hard to look beyond a draw for Milan, particularly away from home. A goal each from Paloschi and Matri should even this out and in effect, the result shouldn’t be of a great help to either side.