AC Milan will be aiming to keep AS Roma at bay and consolidate their place in the top four when they welcome Napoli to San Siro on Saturday night.
Serie A action continues this weekend with Matchday 21 of the 2018-19 season. The marquee fixture of the week will be played in Milan, with Napoli returning to San Siro for the first time since the controversial Boxing Day fixture against Inter, when AC Milan play hosts to them on Saturday night.
The results have been improving for AC Milan lately, with the Rossoneri losing just one of their last five games across all competitions – the 1-0 loss to Juventus in the Italian Super Cup last week. The upsurge in results reflect in their standing on the Serie A table as well, with Gennaro Gattuso’s men now in the top four.
Napoli, on the other hand, have been beaten just once in their last twelve Serie A fixtures, the racism marred game at San Siro last month. But, with Juventus yet to be defeated this season, it looks like 2018-19 will be another campaign wherein they will miss out on winning the league title.
The reverse fixture, played at San Paolo back in the first month of the season, was a pulsating contest, with Napoli coming from two goals down to beat Milan 3-2. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
The results might have improved in recent weeks, but the injury situation continues to remain a major concern for Gennaro Gattuso. On Saturday, the AC Milan boss will be without five first-team players, with Giacomo Bonaventura already playing his last game of the season.
The other four players, namely Cristian Zapata (thigh), Mattia Caldara (calf), Lucas Biglia (calf) and Pepe Reina (muscle injury) should return at different stages in February, which will leave Gattuso a relieved man.
Another positive news is that Davide Calabria, Franck Kessie and club captain Alessio Romagnoli are all available after serving their suspension last week. Romagnoli should return to the heart of the AC Milan defence, with Mateo Musacchio giving him company, while Calabria should be the right-back.
Meanwhile, Kessie will slot in alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko and January signing Lucas Paqueta in the midfield three. While Kessie and Bakayoko will shore up the defensive side of the game, Paqueta will be the creative force in the middle of the park, linking up with Hakan Calhanoglu to create the bulk of the chances.
In addition to Calhanoglu, Suso will be the key man in attack for the hosts, with the Spaniard driving forward to send the Napoli defenders backpedalling. The final spot in the side is a toss-up between Patrick Cutrone and Krzysztof Piatek, who joined the Rossoneri this week as a replacement for Gonzalo Higuain.
With Piatek barely getting any time with his new teammates, Cutrone is the likelier candidate to lead the line for AC Milan, with the Polish striker being an option off the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Rodriguez; Kessie, Bakayoko, Paqueta; Suso, Cutrone, Calhanoglu
Carlo Ancelotti does not have many pressing concerns hampering his preparations for the trip to Milan. On Saturday, the AC Milan boss will be without just two first-team players due to injuries, with Vlad Chiriches (knee) and club captain Marek Hamsik (thigh) the only ones on the treatment table.
In addition to the aforementioned duo, Napoli are also travelling without Allan, whose uncertain future seems to have turned his head. While Ancelotti did insist that the Brazilian midfielder will not be leaving the club this month, it looks like he will be reintegrated into the side once the transfer window closes.
In Allan’s absence, Amadou Diawara and Fabian Ruiz are likely to continue as the central midfield partnership. While Diawara will be the Anchor Man in front of the defence, Ruiz will be the workhorse who will look to make an impact on both ends.
Jose Callejon and Piotr Zielinski will likely be the wide midfielders, although the duo will sit in the half spaces on and off the ball, so as to create overloads. The width will thus, be provided by the full-backs, who should be Kevin Malcuit and Mario Rui, with Elseid Hysaj’s own uncertain future putting him in an Allan-like situation.
At the heart of the Napoli defence, Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly will resume their partnership, with the latter returning to the site of the infamous racism incident from last month. Upfront, Lorenzo Insigne should return to lead the side, with Arkadiusz Milik being his partner – Dries Mertens being the unlucky man to miss out.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Meret; Malcuit, Albiol, Koulibaly, Rui; Callejon, Ruiz, Diawara, Zielinski; Milik, Insigne
- Napoli have been dominating the recent head-to-head record between the two sides, having gone unbeaten in the last seven meetings with AC Milan (W5 D2).
- At San Siro against AC Milan, the Partenopei‘s record is promising as well, having won three of the last five games, while in the previous 19 against the Rossoneri they had failed to win a single game.
- Napoli lost their last away game at San Siro – the 1-0 defeat to Inter last month. The last time they lost their away league games against both Inter and AC Milan in a single season was back in 2010-11.
- AC Milan boast a forgettable record against the three top sides in Italy (Juventus, Napoli, Inter), having lost each of their last three games to the Serie A elite.
- Napoli have failed to find the back of the net on their last two visits to San Siro, a record they will be hoping to overturn on Saturday.
Player to Watch
The big news involving AC Milan this week, as far as recruitment was concerned. And so, Krzysztof Piatek invariably becomes the player to look out for when Napoli pay AC Milan a visit, even if he does not start on Saturday, considering he ought to come off the bench at some point.
The Polish striker already boasts an impressive record, and with a higher class of players alongside him in attack, his numbers should only improve. And, with AC Milan not exactly being a prolific outfit, it will be interesting to see if Piatek can do anything to bring an end to their profligate ways.
AC Milan 1-2 Napoli
The match pits two sides that are riding a wave of positive form, but are quite unlike each other. While Napoli are one of the most free scoring teams in Serie A, while AC Milan struggle to find the back of the net on a consistent basis.
Defensively though, both have been quite strong, suggesting there might not be many goals in the game on Saturday. In the end, however, Napoli ought to have just that extra bit of quality to outclass Milan and edge towards a narrow win. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Carlo Ancelotti’s men against his former employers.