Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa
Sunday, February 23, 14:00 Hrs GMT
It’s a slightly precarious phase in the season that Milan are experiencing at present. Those having followed the team for the past few weeks would attest to the fact that the gameplay has certainly improved ever since Clarence Seedorf has taken over but the results haven’t been reflecting the same. The latest first leg home defeat in the Champions League has put the Rossoneri on a massive backfoot ahead of facing Atletico in three weeks’ time but the focus must now shift back to the domestic commitments. The narrow win at home over Bologna had more to do with a momentous brilliance from Mario Balotelli than anything else and the lack of intent and penetration that was on show will surely be playing on Seedorf’s mind as his side gears up to face Sampdoria.
The Genova based side has surely been on a rise since the appointment of Sinisa Mihaljovic and presently sits safely above the relegation zone – the dreaded area they were flirting around at the time of Delio Rossi’s sacking. Sampdoria were unbeaten for three games before receiving a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Roma last week but would not mind fancying their chances against a Milan side that is pretty evidently unbecoming of its big club stature.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Mihaljovic would have certainly observed the tactical flaws in Milan’s system and would therefore focus majorly on two aspects – denying space to the advanced midfield and attempting to invent opportunities out of set piece situations. He should continue deploying the 4-2-3-1 formation but might very well fold the advanced midfield a few yards backwards to add numbers in the middle of the park and suffocate his opponents for space.
Both Daniele Gastaldello and Lorenzo De Silvestri are unavailable for selection serving a suspension and hence the manager will be forced to make a change in personnel in the defensive bay. Mustafi and Regini should occupy the two slots in the centre to be flanked on the either side by Fornasier and Costa. Since Sampdoria are likely to keep switching their midfield dynamics according to the game situation, it will be vital for the fullbacks to be proactive in making their forward runs.
The initial tactical design should plot the Sampdoria midfield across two layers with Palombo and Obiang forming the pivot. Their role should majorly focus on screening the defensive line but shouldn’t shy away from contributing on the attacking front. Since Milan do possess some ferocity in their attacking midfield, Sampdoria may not want to act all too adventurous and would rather hit their opponents on a counter.
Krsticic will slot in as the central attacking midfielder being the only link between the playmakers and the advanced forwards. Flanking him on either side will be Wszolek and Gabbiadini – the latter in particular has been a revelation for the home side this season.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Da Costa; Fornasier, Mustafi, Regini, Costa; Palombo, Obiang; Gabbiadini, Krsticic, Wszolek; Eder
It appears Clarence Seedorf is pretty certain in continuing with the formation he instinctively trusts to work in the longer run but he still needs to make a few adjustments in terms of the personnel he deploys. Skipper Riccardo Montolivo is yet to find clarity in his role in the midfield and unless his contribution is very specifically restricted to playmaking from deep, the team isn’t likely to extract the best out of him. Having missed midweek Champions League action, he is bound to start alongside Nigel De Jong who has been an absolute rock in the midfield, often rescuing the very apparent defensive frailties that Milan are stuck with.
On paper, Milan boast of a very competent and perhaps even a threatening attacking midfield. Both Honda and Kaka have been additions of highest quality to the squad whereas Taarabt has been playing at a different level ever since his move to the red half of the city. While the work rate of Kaka has been a matter of concern, the flashes of brilliance should continue to reserve him a place in the starting setup. But his inclusion means Honda is dragged out of position, which should not go unnoticed by Seedorf and should Kaka fail to bring out the desired impact in the next few games, Honda might very well be slotted in to his more favoured position. Saponara too is waiting in line and it will be hard to ignore his perfectly legitimate knocking on the door for too long.
Both De Sciglio and Balotelli had injury concerns of varying degrees during the game against Atletico and neither is expected to play over the weekend. Abate and Pazzini should replace them in the respective positions.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Abbiati; Abate, Rami, Bonera, Emanuelson; Montolivo, De Jong; Honda, Kaka, Taarabt; Pazzini
Player To Watch Out For
In an ideal world, Pazzini should be offered much more playing time than what he is at Milan but few can argue for his inclusion ahead of Mario Balotelli. However, strong voices have been raised in finding a fix to accommodate both in the latter part of the season. In Balotelli’s absence for the weekend outing, Pazzini has the chance to make a strong case for himself and considering how prolific he had been in front of goal during his maiden season for Milan, it shouldn’t take him long to hit the top form once again. He will have a vital role to play in winning what could be very crucial three points for his side this Sunday.
Sampdoria 1-1 Milan
Visual aesthetics have been brought in aplenty by Seedorf but the side has consistently failed to convert the chances and that doesn’t look like changing any time soon. This one should head into a stalemate but not before both the sides entertain the respective sets of fans in patches.