AC Milan will be aiming to consolidate their place in the top four of the Serie A table when they welcome Empoli to San Siro on Friday night.
Serie A football resumes this weekend with Matchday 25 of the 2018-19 season, beginning with a Friday night encounter. The match pits two sides on different ends of the table, as top four hopefuls AC Milan play hosts to relegation battlers Empoli at San Siro, looking to extend their unbeaten run in the league.
Milan have been on a solid run of form in Serie A over the last couple of months, having last been beaten in the league back in December. In fact, the only time the Rossoneri have ended up on the wrong end of a result in 2019 was in their Supercoppa Italiana tie against Juventus last month – a narrow 1-0 defeat.
Empoli, on the other hand, are on the opposite end of the spectrum on both form and their standing on the table. The Blues currently sit 17th on the table, just three points outside the relegation zone, having won just one of their last nine games, although that result came in their most recent game – a superb 3-0 win over Sassuolo.
The reverse fixture, played at Stadio Carlo Castellani back in September, ended in a 1-1 draw as Francesco Caputo scored a 71st minute equaliser to ensure the comeback stalemate. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Gennaro Gattuso does not have many roster issues hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Empoli. While the AC Milan boss will be without five first-team players on Friday due to injuries and suspension, he has more than enough cover in his squad to compensate for the absence of those players.
The biggest absentee for the hosts is Suso, who is suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards. The one-match ban though, might be a sort of blessing in disguise, as it would enable Gattuso to rest the Spaniard for the Coppa Italia first leg against Lazio on Tuesday.
As far as the visit of Empoli is concerned, Samu Castillejo is set to replace Suso, with Hakan Calhanoglu expected to be deployed on the left flank once again. Krzysztof Piatek, who has hit the ground running immediately after joining from Genoa last month, should continue to lead the line for AC Milan.
Meanwhile, other than Suso, the likes of Pepe Reina (muscle injury), Mattia Caldara (calf), Cristian Zapata (thigh) and Giacomo Bonaventura (knee) are all on unavailable as they continue to recover from their respective injuries.
Reina’s absence is hardly felt anyway, with Gianluigi Donnarumma doing a marvellous job in the AC Milan goal. In front of the Italian number one, Alessio Romagnoli has led the Rossoneri by example, with his regular partner Mateo Musacchio also being solid. The duo should form the central defensive partnership once again.
The big news in defence though, is the return of Ivan Strinic, who has been battling heart problems this season. The Croat, however, is unlikely to start, with Ricardo Rodriguez being the left-back once again, while Davide Calabria should line up on the opposite flank. In midfield, there is no looking past Franck Kessie, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Lucas Paqueta, although Lucas Biglia offers an option as well.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Rodriguez; Kessie, Bakayoko, Paqueta; Castillejo, Piatek, Calhanoglu
Giuseppe Iachini does not have many pressing injury concerns ahead of his side’s trip to face AC Milan. On Friday, the Empoli manager will be without just two first-team players, which includes long-term absentee Lorenzo Polvani (ACL rupture) and former Milan defender Luca Antonelli (thigh).
But, with most of his regulars available to him, Iachini will field his strongest possible lineup on Friday, with Bartlomiej Dragowski being deployed between the posts in what will be his second outing for Empoli. The Fiorentina loanee ought to be a busy man in goal against Piatek & co.
In front of the 21-year-old, Frederic Veseli, Matias Silvestre and Cristian Dell’Orco should continue as the back-three. In midfield, Ismael Bennacer’s performance will hold the key, with the 21-year-old being tasked with keeping Lucas Paqueta quiet, while Rade Krunic and Hamed Junior Traore will look to drive the visitors forward from the middle of the park.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Manuel Pasqual will be the two wing-backs, with the duo’s output in the final third playing a major role in most of the threat that Empoli will create against Milan. Top scorer Francesco Caputo will be the target man for the wide duo, while Diego Farias should be his partner.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Dragowski; Veseli, Dell’Orco, Silvestre; Di Lorenzo, Traore, Bennacer, Krunic, Pasqual; Caputo, Farlas
- AC Milan have gained 13 points from losing situations, the joint-most in Serie A this season (level with Juventus).
- Frosinone (46) and Chievo (48) are the only two Serie A sides with a worse defensive record than Empoli (45 goals conceded) this season.
- In each of their previous 13 campaigns in the “three points for a win” era, AC Milan have always finished in the top four when they have had at least 42 points at the current stage of the season.
- Since the beginning of December, AC Milan have conceded only 4 Serie A goals, a joint-record in the Top 5 European Leagues since then (tied with Barcelona).
- Krzysztof Piatek is the first AC Milan player to score in each of his first three Serie A starts for the club since Mario Balotelli (February 2013).
Player to Watch
Much before Gonzalo Higuain cut short his loan stint with AC Milan, it had become clear that the Argentine was not quite the right fit at the club, with his mind elsewhere. His replacement, Krzysztof Piatek though, has exorcised the demons of the Rossoneri’s goalscoring woes, and how.
The Polish striker has taken little time to make himself an indispensable figure at San Siro, having already found the back of the net six times – he has netted six of the last nine for his side as well.
With Milan now having more than a realistic chance of returning to the Champions League next season, Piatek will hold the key for the rest of the season. And, with a porous side like Empoli being his next opposition, the young hitman could be in for an enjoyable evening on Friday.
AC Milan 2-0 Empoli
Empoli have not been beaten by AC Milan for two games now. But, the Rossoneri are a much different side from the last two meetings between the two sides, with Gennaro Gattuso finally stamping his authority at the club. Moreover, the addition of Lucas Paqueta and Krzysztof Piatek seem to be a stroke of genius, with the duo becoming the two most important players for Milan.
Empoli, on the other hand, are in the thick of the relegation battle, although they have promised a turnaround in form with a 3-0 win over Sassuolo. But, the steely Milan defence will be a completely different proposition altogether, while the hosts will fancy their chances against the porous visitors.
Expect Piatek to be in the thick of the action once again, with Paqueta pulling the strings from midfield. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-0 win for AC Milan, which sees Gattuso & co. go within a point of local rivals Inter Milan, albeit with a game in hand.