Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Sunday, April 13th, 2013, 18:45 Hrs GMT
For Clarence Seedorf, things are actually quite simple from here on. Milan must win everything that remains on their plate and then hope for things to have transpired favourably enough elsewhere. The recently gathered momentum now allows the side to harbour some serious hopes for lesser European football next season. Surely, Europa League is not a tournament big clubs lose their sleep over qualifying for, but Milan are definitely not playing like one at the moment so the Thursday night football isn’t as deplorable as the elitist would have you believe and Seedorf understands this more than most.
During the business end of the season, it is never desirable to face a side that is still fighting for a realistic objective – read the one that is struggling for survival. The teams having already ensured safety are usually complacent at this stage and are ‘easier’ taking three points off. The bottom struck teams in contrast bring their a-game as the season approaches its conclusion and are hard to crack. Milan fans’ minds would be fresh with the memories of that night in Tuscany on the final matchday last season where an already relegated Siena made life difficult for them. Catania on the other hand, are still far from over and would surely not bend over. Currently seven points adrift of safety, Gli Elefanti will be heading close to what they mocked their Sicilian cousins last season for having been reduced to. The irony will in all likelihood multiply a million times since Palermo would already have made their way back to the top division. So in order to keep the last gasp hopes of letting a Sicilian Derby not be a matter of history alive, Catania must act and more importantly play desperate.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Three wins on the trot and the world appears a better place for the Rossoneri faithful. Clarence Seedorf came in with a lot of promise but it took him time to deliver the change. He now has a well thought-out tactical plan in place and has got, at least in two departments, the right set of players to execute his plans. Mario Balotelli in particular, was facing a cloud of uncertainty over his future at San Siro during the troubled phase of the season and his lack of application on the field wasn’t helping the matters much either. Under Seedorf, he hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm but has surely regained his touch, has a better idea of his role in the side, looks composed and goals should hopefully follow – not that he’s been on a dry run.
Attacking midfield is one area Seedorf should really be content with his efforts in. The trio of Kaka, Honda and Taarabt is perhaps as threatening as anyone in the peninsula and is developing a very enviable and telepathic understanding between them. With Balotelli too dropping down from time to time, the mobility of the quartet as a whole is pretty impressive and keeps the defenders guessing at all times. Both Honda and Taarabt are winter acquisitions and have had an impact on the change in Milan’s game straightaway. Honda still awaits the opportunity to slot into a more central role but it seems he’s finally adapting to his current position that is to the right of Kaka who operates centrally.
Skipper Riccardo Montolivo should continue partnering with Nigel De Jong in the double pivot midfield. The two perform very distinctly different duties and are adept at what is being asked out of them. The defence however, continues to be the weak link for Milan and the onus always lies on the attack to ensure the opposition stays outscored. Ignazio Abate is likely to make a return to the starting eleven while Rami, Mexes and Emanuelson should complete the defensive line. Abate’s return might mean a greater focus on building the attacks through wider areas but unless the Italian international improves on his crossing in the final third, he is unlikely to have a real impact on the game.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Abbiati; Abate, Rami, Mexes, Emanuelson; Montolivo, De Jong; Honda, Kaka, Taarabt; Balotelli
Last week’s heartbreaking home defeat to Torino would have put a huge setback to the hopes of survival for the Sicilians but all is not lost just yet. However, it’s going to be one hell of a ride from here on should Catania salvage the hopes to see season in the top flight. It’s a matter of mystery how a side having finished the previous season at a respectable 8th position has undergone a sudden nosedive of such proportions. Catania have also had a string of coaches sacked and replaced midway in the season, including the two sackings of Rolando Maran. Following the last week’s defeat against Torino, former coach Maurizio Pellegrino’s services have been hired to see out the season – one might suspect that club has almost conceded all hopes of survival.
Francesco Lodi, who was earlier sold to Genoa at the start of the season has made a comeback on loan but isn’t likely to extend his stay should the club go down in a matter of next few weeks. Lodi is a quality player and is exactly the kind of attacking spark that Catania have missed for the better part of their season – the worst goal scoring stats among all clubs are vindicative of the same. Lodi has been linked with Milan in the past too and might fancy another opportunity to impress his hosts for Sunday to recapture their interest in his services. Not that Milan are in any dire need of making a signing in his position but Milan’s transfer policies are hardly driven by reason.
Pellegrino is expected to retain the 3-5-2 shape in his first game in charge of Catania and Lodi will be at the heart of the midfield. Plasil and Rinaudo should complete the midfield while the trio is likely to be flanked by Izco and Monzon on either side. Catania should aim at stuffing the midfield with numbers and choking their hosts for space in the key areas. The midfield should fold back to a few yards while off the ball and add to the numbers in defence. The two man attack, that will mainly rely on set-piece situations and counters will consist the Argentine duo of Gonzalo Bergessio and Pablo Barrientos.
Probable Starting Lineup [3-5-2]: Frison; Gyomber, Spolli, Rolin; Izco, Lodi, Plasil, Rinaudo, Monzon; Bergessio, Barrientos
Player To Watch Out For
The winter signing has been an absolute sensation for the Rossoneri and it comes as no surprise to see the club contemplating to make his loan deal permanent. The Moroccan adds an entirely new dimension to the Milanese attack and adds attributes such as pace, energy and intent to the team’s play. He hasn’t been able to find the back of the net for a while but that might very well end on the Sunday night.
Milan 3-0 Catania
Seedorf’s men look all set to extend the winning streak against the lowly Sicilians. The attack is in good shape and the home factor should only help further. A goal or two from Balotelli should seal the deal for Milan.