Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Friday, April 25, 2013; 18:45 Hrs GMT
Roma have already ensured a direct qualification to next season’s Champions League football, which is a massive success in the debut season for the former Lille manager Rudi Garcia. Although the Giallorossi would have aimed for much more given they kicked off the season with, a chance to surface in Europe’s premiere competition must be celebrated nevertheless.
On the other hand, Milan embarked upon what was unarguably the most disastrous of starts to the season which resulted into the untimely (or maybe not) sacking of then coach Massimiliano Allegri. However, the side endured through the testing times and under the tutelage of former midfielder Clarence Seedorf, a legendary figure at the club, the side surely seems to have recuperated and the five wins on the bounce are elaborative of that.
As Roma host the Rossoneri for a Friday night kickoff, they still harbour the thinnest of hopes for a miraculous shot at Scudetto but their fortunes, rather annoyingly are clinging by the results of the games involving Juventus. However, Rudi Garcia must be keen on maintaining the winning momentum and beating an in-form Milan side, who desperately tries to break into the Europa League playoff zone, to register a ninth straight Serie A win will be hugely satisfying.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Players acquired at the start of a new season usually take their time in getting acquainted to the setup and therefore, seeing them have an impact on the team’s fortunes straightaway isn’t the likeliest of scenarios. However, Roma’s dream start to the Serie A campaign owes a lot to two of the summer signings – Mehdi Benatia and Kevin Strootman. Unfortunately, neither is available for selection presently since Benatia has been nursing an injury for a while now whereas Strootman has been out of action for a little longer and isn’t expected to even feature for the Netherlands at the World Cup.
But that is not to suggest Roma are struggling in their absence. Their recent winning streak has been an impeccable one delivering a near perfect performance week after week. Strootman’s shoes have more than ably been filled by the winter signing Radja Nainggolan. A versatile midfielder capable of wearing multiple hats, the former Bologna man has seamlessly settled in at Rome and has ensured Strootman’s absence doesn’t hamper the team’s progress. Alongside Nainggolan, De Rossi and Pjanic should line up on Friday composing a highly enviable midfield triumvirate. De Rossi is one of the best midfielders in world football currently and is gifted with his abilities to pass and dictate the course of the game. Physically, he is a tough opponent to break while few may match his intelligence on the pitch. Pjanic perfectly complements these attributes and is extremely effective at linking up with the attacking three.
Milan’s attacking midfield has been in a good form of late and should they press their opposite numbers right from the start, Roma might face some problems in engineering their attacks. The front three for the home side should be made up of Ljajic, Gervinho and the iconic skipper Francesco Totti. Roma’s favourite son is enjoying one of his better seasons from the recent memory and is still as big a threat on the pitch as ever. Totti’s striking power and the eye for a defence splitting pass are second to none and should the Milan defence fail to improve on their understanding and discipline, Totti might very well toy with them from time to time.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-3]: De Sanctis; Maicon, Toloi, Castan, Dodo; Nainggolan, De Rossi, Pjanic; Gervinho, Totti, Ljajic
Clarence Seedorf will be dearly missing the presence of Nigel De Jong who has been a rock in the midfield for Milan all the season. The Dutch international will be serving a one game suspension which means Sulley Muntari should be awarded a start alongside skipper Riccardo Montolivo. Milan have been on quite an impressive winning run but it must be duly noted, they haven’t faced a midfield half as good as Roma’s during these five games – Fiorentina being the only exception.
Roma’s midfield trio is pretty swift in its movement and is far more versatile when compared to Milan’s. De Jong’s absence makes the matters even worse. Muntari doesn’t provide the same assurance in the double pivot and that might suppress Montolivo to a great extent from being involved into the attacking build-ups. In the last few games, Montolivo has in fact played a few yards further up the pitch and has looked quite threatening too. However, on Friday he should mainly focus on operating from deeper positions and aim at retaining the ball as much as possible.
Attacking midfield has been the most impressive of all the departments for Rossoneri and even in the absence of the winter signing Keisuke Honda, the three-pronged unit looks pretty incisive and operates as a well-programmed machine. Adel Taarabt in particular has been a revelation of sorts ever since his arrival and has added so much of energy and vigour to Milan’s attack. In Honda’s absence, Robinho should take the slot on the right wing while Kaka should continue to operate from the centre. Mario Balotelli will lead the attack but Seedorf must act decisively on introducing Pazzini at some point in the game. Balotelli’s work rate and creativity must be leveraged as he’s equally effective while creating chances for a target man as he is while putting them in himself.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Abbiati; Abate, Rami, Mexes, Constant; Montolivo, Muntari; Robinho, Kaka, Taarabt; Balotelli
Players To Watch Out For
The former Bologna midfielder has always been rated as one of the better players in the peninsula and that his signature was sought by a number of top clubs in Italy, comes as no surprise to anyone. Nainggolan has straightaway had an impact on Roma’s season and has been an integral part of the midfield three – especially while filling in for an injured Kevin Strootman. Against an in-form Milan attack and midfield, the Belgian will have to be on top of his game, should his side salvage the hopes of extending the winning streak and continue to live the slimmest hopes of having a go at the title.
Roma 2-2 Milan
The corresponding fixture between the two sides at San Siro in December last year ended with the same scoreline. Both the teams are in a supreme form presently and there’s no reason to believe either should fail to cancel out the other. A high-tempo, exciting game is on the cards which should please both the sets of fans but unfortunately, this is where the winning streak for both teams ends.