Stadio Armando Picchi, Livorno,
Saturday, December 7; 17:00 Hrs GMT
It will be hard to predict whether this lasts but Milan have surely gathered some momentum in the season after going through the worst possible start. Having won their last two successive games rather convincingly, Milan will be keen on maintaining this rare winning streak. Livorno, the hosts for the weekend are facing a number of problems of their own. Currently into the relegation zone, they are tied on points with two teams above them but they’d need a string of results to go their way to gain some momentum and step out of the bottom three.
Team News & Tactical Brief
One good thing to see from their season so far is, despite the poor start to their campaign, Livorno have held on to Davide Nicola, something quite unlike a pedestrian club in peninsula. However, following their latest 3-0 defeat at the hands of Chievo, there were strong rumours about him facing the axe and a fourth straight defeat here will only let the speculations grow even further.
Nicola is believed to be opting for a tactical tinkering against Milan introducing former Roma midfielder Leonardo Greco in a slightly advanced role up the pitch with Paulinho playing just in front of him leading the attacking line. This move gives the formation a 3-5-1-1 shape but Greco’s role in particular will be a much more mobile one and he may very regularly be seen dropping a few yards deep, doing a lot more running vertically.
The idea behind the five man midfield is clearly to outnumber Milan in the centre of the park and focus particularly on the movements of Kaka and Balotelli. Pasquale Schiattarella should start on the right wing and aim to link up with Greco overlapping the weak looking Milanese defence on the left flank. Livorno are unlikely to see the better of the ball and hence on the offensive front, they’d mainly rely on counter-attacking opportunities. On loan Inter youngster Ibrahima Mbaye, who is likely to patrol the other flank will need to be on the top of his game to minimize Milan’s attacking options from that area – particularly through Montolivo.
The three man central midfield will mainly act as a defensive shield to the backline and the collective positioning alertness of the defensive unit will hold a key against an in-form Milan trident that has dropped some hints of what’s in store in the days to follow.
Probable Starting Lineup [3-5-1-1]: Bardi; Coda, Emerson, Ceccherini; Schiattarella, Luci, Duncan, Biaginati, Mbaye; Greco; Paulinho
After registering their first away win in the season, Milan must be running high on confidence and a successive fixture pairing them against a team struggling to get out of the drop zone could not have come at a better time for them. The attacking department surely has developed a better understanding and comes across as a cohesive unit.
It is slightly tricky to distinguish Milan’s attempted Christmas Tree from a more apparent 4-3-3 as both Birsa and Kaka tend to drift out wide and stretch the defence, in process creating more and more space for Balotelli to exploit through the centre. At the same time, Kaka doesn’t fail to find the right positions in the more central areas to be at the receiving end of a defence splitting pass or an attempted long ball. Walter Birsa is another vital component of this attack as he’s inventive with the ball and scores good points on the work rate count as well. His shooting leaves a lot to be desired but that should improve soon.
Allegri has not been able to find the right midfield combination yet and has tried several players in one role or the other. It is almost certain that when fit and available, Montolivo and De Jong are natural starters and that only leaves a third place vacant where a number of players present their case. Andrea Poli easily beats the competition if Allegri’s vision for the third midfielder is restricted to a passer and not a destroyer. It looks like the manager will be tempted to field the three together on Saturday and experiment whether the team is able to cope up on the defensive front fielding only one defence minded player in the midfield.
Milan still struggle considerably on the injury count but the good news is both De Sciglio and El Shaarawy are expected to start from the bench and they might have a role to play in the second half.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-2-1]: Abbiati; Bonera, Mexes, Zapata, Emanuelson; Montolivo, De Jong, Poli; Birsa, Kaka; Balotelli
Players To Watch Out For
The 21 year old custodian has already been snapped up by Inter but has understandably been loaned back to Livorno straightaway to allow him more playing time and get the direct exposure of the big stage. Bardi has already risen to fame after reaching to the finals of the recent UEFA Euro U21 championship and will surely be looking at making his presence count against the big teams in big games. This is surely one such chance and considering the headlines his closest competitor Mattia Perin has been making of late, Bardi must be charged up to match him on all fronts.
Mario Balotelli (Milan)
Balotelli has not had the best of the seasons and by his standards, it will be fair to suggest, has been disappointing. However, his form is still absolutely critical to Milan’s season and has to hit the top gear very soon. His goal against Catania may have pumped him up to be back to his best and the sooner he returns to top form, higher the hopes Milan can salvage from the season.
Livorno 1-3 Milan
Momentum is visibly in favour of the visitors ahead of this game here. Milan’s defensive frailties are not unknown to anyone but the apparent superiority in attack should allow them to come out with three points from Tuscany.