Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Sunday, February 1; 20:45 Hrs GMT
The season has nosedived far beyond the worst of nightmares for AC Milan fans. So much so, that a third straight home defeat across competitions on Sunday facing a lowly Parma cannot be ruled out at all. Coach Pippo Inzaghi’s future looked uncertain after the Coppa Italia exit during the midweek fixture – his second loss to Lazio in space of four days – but the management has been pretty vocal in extending their support to the former Rossoneri striker. However, a failure on Sunday could very well change all the variables in the equation.
Parma coach Roberto Donadoni spent the most glorious years of his playing career at the red half of the San Siro being one of the attacking mainstays in the legendary Arrigo Sacchi’s team. However, reliving the Curva Sud nostalgia will be the last thing on Donadoni’s plate on his visit to the stadium as his team is struggling hard to stay afloat in the top flight. An eighth straight away defeat in the league shouldn’t help the cause at all but then, Milan of late have been amazingly courteous to the visiting teams over the last few weeks.
Team News & Tactical Brief
The mid-season transfers are understandably occupying a large share of column inches in every football tabloid and much like the previous couple of seasons, Milan are seemingly more active during this particular window rather than at the start of the season. Fernando Torres’ move to Atletico had opened up a place in the attack and in a rather ambitious looking move by the club’s current standards, Milan have secured Roma’s Mattia Destro on a loan deal that turns permanent at the end of the season. The buzz among the Italian media is, this could mean an end of the road for Giampaolo Pazzini who has categorically asked for more playing time. But the Milanisti should definitely be excited to see the latest signing start in the front three flanked on either side by Keisuke Honda and Jeremy Menez. The Frenchman will be asked to move on the left wing filling up for Stephan El Shaarawy who’s expected not to feature for a month to the very least.
The absence of a real marksman in their ranks has clearly hurt Milan this season and Destro’s arrival therefore is met with a lot of excitement. Menez’s goal-scoring stats for the season aren’t the worst but his decisiveness in the box can surely be questioned. His over-ambitious shots at times add to the amusement that Milan’s season has been in general. His impact might multiply in the role of a wing-forward since his dribbling skills and pace are often too much to handle for the oppositions. Honda has so far been an abject entity and adds little to the roster but there are reasons to be hopeful of him coming good at some point in the season. Inzaghi has so far showed no inclination to add another attacking dimension by deploying a central attacking midfielder or a trequartista and that doesn’t look like happening on Sunday as he isn’t likely to do something radically different in what could very well be his final game as Milan coach should the results not go in his side’s favour.
The unavailability for some of the regular fixtures in the midfield should ideally be a major bone of contention for any manager but given the first choice players have hardly inspired any confidence, Inzaghi isn’t exactly dealing with a selection headache. Both Riccardo Montolivo and Nigel De Jong aren’t expected to start and in their absence, the only alternatives Milan could possibly field are Andrea Poli and Sulley Muntari. Chelsea’s on-loan central midfielder Marcos van Ginkel is likely to start on the right. Both Poli and van Ginkel are two of the better passers Milan possess and one may see Inzaghi taking the bold approach of giving the duo the license to move to take a few extra yards forward linking up with the attacking three. Muntari isn’t a defensive rock but should he deliver a disciplined performance, he could do the job screening the defensive line.
In defence, Ignazio Abate is expected to make a return reclaiming his position on the right side of the wall while Pablo Armero could probably play his last game for Milan unless the Luca Antonelli deal has already been completed by then. Milan are fielding one wide player too many both in midfield and in attack but the assistance from the fullbacks on adding width to the attack will be crucial.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-3]: Lopez, Abate, Rami, Alex, Armero; van Ginkel, Muntari, Poli; Honda, Destro, Menez
It won’t be unfair to suggest, the most Parma has been in news this season is for the recent development concerning Antonio Cassano. The veteran Italian journeyman has ended his contract midway in the season owing the club’s failure to pay wages. Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has expressed an interest in hiring the Italian’s services for the remainder of the season as Parma’s worries continue to multiply.
Currently placed at the rock bottom of the league table, Parma have only managed to accumulate 9 points off the season and but for a miracle, they’d surely be plying their trade in the lower division next season. Donadoni has been held on to by the management thus far which is incredibly strange going by the general practice of revolving chair followed at the provincial clubs in Italy. On the up side, Parma can take heart into the fact, they’re won a Serie A game more recently than Milan have and given the current slump the Rossoneri have experienced, the visitors might very well fancy their chances.
Much like his counterpart, Donadoni too is expected to field a 4-3-3 shape. Of all the games they’ve played, the Milan midfield is often outrun by their opposite numbers and the strategy is to deny them any space on the ball. Milan lack any tactical alternatives and are way too one-dimensional, which is where Parma can aim to trump them. An early attacking onslaught can put the hosts on the back-foot and they completely lack the ideas and motivation to stage a comeback after going down by a goal. Former Milan midfielder Antonio Nocerino has been on various loan spells since the start of the season and this is the third destination he’s landed in since leaving Milan last year. The Italian’s career has gone down a few notches since being part of the national team’s Euro 2012 squad. He might see this move to Parma as an opportunity to resurrect his career. Teaming up with him in the midfield shall be Jose Mauri and Francesco Lodi. The latter is serving a loan spell from Catania after the Sicilians were relegated at the end of the last season but the move to another top division club has hardly done him any good.
Italian forward Raffaele Palladino has scored no more than 2 goals for the season but remains the only option for Donadoni to start in the centre while Silvestre Varela and Uruguay’s Cristian Rodriquez who’s spending a loan spell from Atletico should complete the forward line. As strange as it may seem, Juventus youth product Paolo De Ceglie, who starts as a left wingback remains Parma’s top-scorer for the season and is perhaps the only genuine attacking threat the Ducali possess in their armour.
Probable Starting Lineup [4-3-3]: Mirante; Cassani, Paletta, Lucarelli, De Ceglie; Mauri, Lodi, Nocerino; Varela, Palladino, Rodriguez
Player To Watch Out For
The latest Rossoneri signing is the talk of the town currently as it’s been some time since Milan have spent that kind of money; but then, the last time they did, it was an Alessandro Matri so the least the Curva Sud faithful are hoping of Destro is to better those numbers. A lot of Italian football pundits believe Destro is yet to meet his potential and that the lack of playing time in Rome could have hampered his progress but the move has come at a right time and at a club where his services as a high quality striker are dearly sought. A bright debut performance, even against a lowly opposition should help the Italian instantly win over the Milanisti who have set the bar way too low for now. A goal or two while doing that wouldn’t hurt.
Milan 2-0 Parma
Nobody remembers having seen Milan play a more abject brand of football. But even then, a Parma side that has all but conceded its place in the top flight shouldn’t be the one to further inflict any wounds on this side. A much-needed victory for the morale of the dressing room and more importantly, for Inzaghi to feel safe about his job looks like it’s coming.