AC Milan will be desperate to snap their winless run and end 2018 on a high, when they welcome SPAL to San Siro on Saturday night.
The 2018-19 Serie A season will reach its halfway stage this weekend, with Matchday 19 bringing the latest round of fixtures. The final match on Saturday will be played out at San Siro, when a stuttering AC Milan side play hosts to SPAL, who have been struggling as well.
After a promising start to the season, AC Milan have petered off considerably in recent weeks. Gennaro Gattuso’s men have failed to win each of their last five games across all competitions, winning only one of their last seven in Serie A. Despite the poor run of results though, the Rossoneri remain sixth on the table, and within touching distance of a top four place.
SPAL, on the other hand, have not been any better themselves. The visitors are without a win in their last ten games, with their last success being the shock 2-0 win over AS Roma, over two months ago. As far as Leonardo Semplici’s men are concerned, their poor form reflects on their standing, as they sit 15th on the Serie A table, just four points clear of the relegation zone.
The corresponding fixture last season had ended in a 2-0 win for AC Milan, courtesy two goals from the penalty spot. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Serie A encounter.
Team News & Tactics
If the poor run of results wasn’t concerning enough for Gennaro Gattuso, he also had to deal with an extensive injury list that was making things even tougher for him. However, ahead of the visit of SPAL on Saturday, the AC Milan boss has seen his fortunes improve on the team news front.
The big news is that Suso is fit and available, with Gattuso including him in his matchday squad. But, the major absentees for the AC Milan manager continue to be Giacomo Bonaventura and Lucas Biglia, with the duo’s unavailability heaping the pressure on Franck Kessie and Tiemoue Bakayoko to continue their colossal showings week in week out.
Bakayoko, in particular, has been impressive after a tough start to the season, winning Gattuso’s confidence following the manager’s scathing comments in the early days. Alongside Kessie, the Frenchman will aim to keep things tight in the middle of the park, while linking up with Hakan Calhanoglu during Milan’s forward pursuits.
Meanwhile, Suso could start on the right side of the AC Milan midfield, having recovered from his minor muscular issue. Upfront, Gonzalo Higuain and Patrick Cutrone are likely to start, with Gattuso changing the formation to 4-4-2 once again. The two strikers though, need to step up if the hosts are to get past SPAL.
At the back, the first-choice quartet of Davide Calabria, Ricardo Rodriguez, Mateo Musacchio and club captain Alessio Romagnoli will likely start once again, with Gianluigi Donnarumma lining up in the AC Milan goal.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Donnarumma; Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Rodriguez; Suso, Kessie, Bakayoko, Calhanoglu; Higuain, Cutrone
Leonardo Semplici does not have many pressing concerns hampering his preparations for the trip to Milan. On Saturday, the SPAL boss will have just one first-team player unavailable in the worst case scenario, with Johan Djourou the only player who might miss out, due to a thigh injury.
With a near full-strength squad at his disposal, Semplici will find it easier to implement his tactics, so as to get at least one point against AC Milan on Saturday. Defence, in particular, will hold the key for the visitors.
The back-three of Thiago Cionek, Felipe and Kevin Bonifazi looking to remain compact and force the Milan attack out wide, where the wing-backs, Manuel Lazzari and Mohamed Fares will be available to do the dirty work. The wing-back pairing will also be crucial in SPAL’s attacking pursuits, with their runs into the final third.
In the middle of the park, the likes of Pasquale Schiattarella, Mattia Valoti and Simone Missiroli will create another bank of three in front of the backline, denying the Milan midfield the time and space to exploit the half spaces.
Upfront, the onus will be on last season’s top scorer Mirco Antenucci and Andrea Petagna to raise their game and get the elusive goal.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Gomis; Bonifazi, Felipe, Cionek; Lazzari, Schiatterella, Valoti, Missiroli, Fares; Antenucci, Petagna
- Ever since SPAL reformed in 2013, they have met AC Milan just twice, losing each of the fixture without managing to score a goal.
- AC Milan are without a win in five games in all competitions, and haven’t scored a league goal in 379 minutes.
- SPAL haven’t been prolific customers either, having failed to score in their last Seria A games.
- SPAL last won a game back in October, when they shocked AS Roma 2-0 to collect all three points. Since then, they have failed to notch up a success in a staggering 10 games.
- If he fails to find the back of the net, Gonzalo Higuain will have gone 10 games without scoring.
Player to Watch
AC Milan seemed to have made a coup when they landed Gonzalo Higuain as part of a loan deal, with the Argentine still being one of the fearsome forces in Serie A. But, over the last couple of seasons, the experienced striker has gone off the boil, with an ill tempered outing against Juventus starting his poor spell.
To make matters worse, widespread speculation linking him with a January move to Chelsea by cutting short his loan spell at AC Milan are proving to be unnecessary distraction, as far as Gattuso is concerned. But, till the time he is an AC Milan player, Higuain needs to perform, especially with the side going through a major rut.
AC Milan 1-0 SPAL
Almost a year since he was appointed at the helm at AC Milan, Gennaro Gattuso finds himself under immense pressure, with rumours of an impending sack doing the rounds. While Leonardo has insisted that the Rossoneri are not going to part ways with their legend, another game without a win could prove to be his undoing, especially with the winter break coming after Saturday’s game.
SPAL are in a need of inspiration themselves, but they will make things tough for their hosts, leading to a cagey affair that should see chances come at a premium. The return of Suso might just be the perfect antidote for Milan and Gattuso, with the Spaniard possibly making the difference.
The Hard Tackle predicts another largely frustrating outing for the fallen giants, but with one effort that will see them capture all three points – a 1-0 win to take some pressure off Gattuso.