Stadio Olimpico, Turin
Saturday, September 14; 18:45 Hrs, GMT
Ever since his departure in 2009, not a single summer has passed without Kaka being linked with a move back to Milan – perhaps not a single winter too. However, ‘better late than never’ is the commonly expressed sentiment in the Milan circles presently as the once much celebrated but of late having slipped nearly into oblivion and arguably the best Milan player in the last ten years returns to the place where it all started.
Cynics are of an opinion that the move is nothing more than a shrewd PR exercise to hit the emotional chords and take the fans’ attention off the real problems that Milan are facing in coming to terms with the demands of modern day football. But amidst this strange but not so unfamiliar scenario, almost everyone, strictly from a footballing perspective, is interested in finding how soon Kaka recaptures his original self as he is likely to start on Milan’s away trip to Torino this weekend.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Viewing Milan’s opening day performance in isolation, Giampiero Ventura has reasons to feel confident of his team doing a Verona over their visitors but that will probably be a delusion of the highest order considering the promise and quality Milan have showed since. Torino’s primary objective therefore from this game, will understandably be damage control and grind out a single point by remaining solid and organized throughout the game.
Deploying a 3-5-1-1 formation, the Torino midfield will have their task cut out to sit deep and add numbers in their own half often dropping deep enough to assist the defence. Brighi, Vives and Farnerud will take their positions in the three man central midfield while the flanks will be patrolled on either side by D’Ambrosio and Pasquale. The wingbacks will concentrate more on advancing into the opposition half trying a trick too many against the makeshift fullbacks of the visitors. After the disappointing away loss to Atalanta where the defence leaked in two goals, Ventura will expect better from his defence particularly against Mario Balotelli who is in red hot form.
One strong point in the Torino lineup is their attack. Alessio Cerci is a household name in Italian football today and it is slightly surprising to see him still play with Torino after being linked with a number of top clubs during the summer. Cerci has featured in Prandelli’s selection plans for the national side as well and is presently one of the better players in the league in his position. Slotting in as the sole link between the midfield and forward Ciro Immobile, Cerci holds a few decisive keys to unlock the Milan defence that takes no time in showing signs of vulnerability. Immobile himself, originally a Juventus academy product, is one of the most promising forwards in Italy’s youth setup and this season is his chance to showcase he has got what it takes to deliver at the highest level. A goal against Milan might help his confidence boost up immensely.
Probable Starting Lineup [3-5-1-1]: Padelli; Darmian, Rodriguez, Moretti; D’Ambrosio, Brighi, Vives, Farnerud, Pasquale; Cerci; Immobile
The concerns that were raised during the off-season regarding Milan’s extremely thin defensive department have proven to be true very early in the season. Both Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio have been ruled out for Saturday’s game and in all likelihood from the Champions League opener against Celtic during the midweek too. Daniele Bonera’s lack of match fitness doesn’t help the matters either as Cristian Zaccardo remains the only option at Allegri’s disposal to start in the right back position. Urby Emanuelson in a similar way, is the only choice to man the other flank. And while Allegri would have preferred resting one of Mexes and Zapata with the Celtic game in mind, he’s not at that luxury now.
In order to accommodate Kaka, the formation will inevitably be changed to 4-3-1-2 with the Brazilian taking up his preferred trequartista position behind two strikers. As Allegri has asserted in the past, Stephan El Shaarawy is not yet familiar with this system and the latest reports in Gazzetta claim he has picked up a right hamstring injury that might keep him out from the Celtic game too. Summer’s second big signing Alessandro Matri is therefore likely to partner Balotelli in the attack. Unlike Balotelli, Matri doesn’t bring a whole lot of muscle and guile in his play but does have a poacher’s instincts nevertheless. Expect Matri to be the final target man in the attack.
Much like it did for the first two seasons of Allegri in charge, Milan will once again be narrow in attack which does provide an opportunity for the fullbacks to overlap but at the same time demands the midfield to be on their toes at all times as they’re so easily outnumbered on counterattacks with the attackers having overcommitted in the opposition half. Keeping this in mind, Allegri is likely to start Sulley Muntari over Andrea Poli as the Ghanaian is a physically stronger option in the midfield. Montolivo and De Jong should complete the line.
The biggest challenge that the Milan midfield faced in the 4-3-3 system was the lack of clarity in Montolivo’s role. Now with the midfield three being withdrawn by a yard or two and two of the three emphasizing more on the defensive duties, Montolivo can focus more on spraying passes forward and building up play. He has a clear target to link up with in Kaka, who if manages to turn back the time, is still one of the best in business. So how does the partnership between the two flourish, will be one aspect that will define the quality of football Milan play in the next few months.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-1-2]: Abbiati; Zaccardo, Zapata, Mexes, Emanuelson; Montolivo, De Jong, Muntari; Kaka; Balotelli, Matri
- Torino have failed to defeat Milan in over eleven years since their last win over the Rossoneri came back in November, 2001.
- Last season, Milan did a double over the Turin outfit winning a high-scoring 2-4 battle at Stadio Olimpico.
Players To Watch Out For
Alessio Cerci (Torino)
Milan’s defensive problems need no further documentation and if there’s one man who can stretch them to their limit, it’s Cerci. The Italian possesses speed, skill and control in abundance to trouble the defensive partnership of the Rossoneri that often looks far from cohesive. With wingbacks in his additional support, Cerci has the options to spread the play out wide should his movements consistently be marked.
Indeed, there’s no choice here. And way beyond the footballing reasons, is Kaka the player you want to keep an eye on in this game. This season is one that shapes his remaining career and he has no time to lose, should he nurture hopes of a selection in the World Cup squad. His favoured position on the pitch will rightfully be given back to him straightway and it’s up to him to deliver without any further delays.
Torino 1-2 Milan
It will take a brave man to predict a clean sheet for Milan given their defensive woes. The home side is more than just likely to get their name on the score-sheet and might even force the Rossoneri to chase the game. The visitors though, boast of enough pedigree to produce the desired result. Balotelli is once again the likely source for goals and the icing on the cake will be an assist or two from Kaka.