Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Monday, January 6, 2014; 14:00 Hrs GMT
AC Milan resume business in Serie A as the festive season ends hoping not to replicate the start to the first half of their season, which was clearly the worst in a long time. Long awaited mid-season signings of Keisuke Honda and Adil Rami have been completed well in time and the squad is expected to be bolstered further during the remaining weeks of the window. That Milan must cut short on the squad size to accommodate more players has been asserted time and again by Adriano Galliani. So by the looks of it, there lies a busy one month for the board to fix the areas that need attention.
Playing Atalanta at home should ideally be a perfect recipe for Milan to restart their season but this season is unlike anything ever witnessed. As things stand, Atalanta are only a point behind Milan, both languishing in the bottom half of the table having in fact won more number of games than Milan. The last time the two faced each other at San Siro was the opening day of the season and the Lombardy neighbours handed over Milan a shock which took them a while to get back from.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Honda’s arrival has clearly upped the tempo as he is the one anticipated to reignite the Milanese attack that has so far lacked the tooth. However, Honda is unlikely to play any role straightaway as he is yet to understand his exact role with the team. He is a classical Number 10 Milan have been looking after for a while now and should ideally be slotted behind the two forwards. Milan will also need to rethink their strategies now with Kaka having showed signs of redemption. But for now, Allegri is likely to continue with his own version of Ancelotti’s Christmas Tree slotting in two attack minded midfielders behind the lone striker upfront.
Riccardo Saponara did not have the best of starts to his Milan career but perhaps the local derby was too big an occasion to expect a young player to explode. He should pair up with Kaka in a more mobile role building the channel that connects midfield with the attack. Saponara’s technique is yet to be put to a real test at the highest level but he does boast of an impressive work-rate. In the absence of Muntari, he will need to considerably track back and aide the midfield defensively. Balotelli should be the man leading the attack and going by his recent tendency to drop a few yards too deep and Kaka tending to go wide, the attack may eventually take a three-pronged shape.
Montolivo has had an indifferent season by his standards so far and he needs to step up big time. Allegri needs to bring more clarity and distinction in each midfielder’s role. In Montolivo, Milan have one of the better passers in the game and he must primarily focus on the playmaking duties operating from deep. Andrea Poli has impressed in patches but again isn’t exactly sure of his role in the side. Should Milan aim to take the attack on Atalanta right from the word go, Poli is the man to be licensed to venture more in the opposition half. His dribbling is impressive but often gets outmuscled when the defence is stuffed with numbers. De Jong has been rock solid all through the season, one of the rare positives for the Rossoneri.
Milan, at times have been way too narrow in attack to make the most of their strength on the wing, not that they have much. But now that Mattia De Sciglio has returned to his natural position, his energy and pace must be put to good use. Urby Emanuelson should continue to complement him from the other flank and should either of the two advance and overlap the likes of Kaka and Saponara creating more space for them, the visitors could be in for one long night.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-2-1]: Abbiati; De Sciglio, Bonera, Zapata, Emanuelson; Montolivo, De Jong, Poli; Kaka, Saponara; Balotelli
The Nerazzurri are walking on thin ice being winless for five outings now and standing above the relegation zone only by just. Stefano Colantuono understandably finds himself facing the heat of the moment and his troops must act quickly to find back some form. Atalanta’s last game ended in a 1-4 drubbing at home at the hands of Juventus and they cannot afford to lose any more ground from this point.
However, tactical shuffling doesn’t seem to be on the cards as Colantuono is expected to go ahead with the same playing XI that faced Juve. Two banks of four is not the most commonly known formation deployed in Italy but Atalanta have a reason to regard solidity above everything else right now. Cigarini and Carmona will occupy the two central slots in the midfield to be flanked by Bonaventura and Brivio on either side. The midfield should focus on holding a compact shape for the better part of the game, particularly negating the impact Milan’s attacking midfield shall intend to create.
Almost unsurprisingly, Atalanta will find their opportunities through counterattacks and set-pieces. The wide players should aim at finding Maxi Moralez with the right pass who will be acting as the only linkage between the deep sitting midfield and German Denis up top. Fullbacks Raimondi and Del Grosso should be the ones to add width to their attack. With their runs they might also check the movements of both Montolivo and Poli in good check.
Probable Starting XI [4-4-1-1]: Consigli, Raimondi, Stendardo, Migliaccio, Del Grosso; Bonaventura, Cigarini, Carmona, Brivio; Moralez; Denis
Player To Watch Out For
Inspiration and leadership are the attributes having gone missing from Milan’s football of late. More than the losses, it is the football on exhibition that has left the fans frustrated. If there is one man who can reinvigorate this lifeless side, it is the genius from Brazil. Ever since his return, he has arguably been the best player for the Rossoneri and although he might not have been on the top of his game every single time, his effort has always been on show. An inspiring performance from Kaka could be just what the doctor ordered for Milan to kick-start the second half of the season in a grand fashion.
Milan 2-1 Atalanta
In a battle involving two sides who have only experienced misery so far in the season, there’s a reason to believe both will go in with a precautious approach. Neither team has been particularly strong with their defence but with their visible superiority in attack, Milan should be able to grind out a result here, not with the most convincing performance though.