AC Milan will be aiming to continue their unbeaten start to the year when they welcome Udinese to San Siro on Sunday.

The second half of the 2019-20 Serie A season is set to get underway, as teams look to settle down and get closer to their pre-campaign objectives. AC Milan will be in action first up on Sunday afternoon, when they play hosts to Udinese at San Siro.

AC Milan have been through a topsy turvy season so far, with attack, in particular, proving to be the Achilles Heel for them. Defence, however, has been the strong suit for the Rossoneri, who have kept the joint-most clean sheets in the division. The turn of the year though, has brought about a change in form, with Stefano Pioli’s men unbeaten in their three games thus far.

Udinese, like AC Milan, have started 2020 on a strong note, winning each of their two Serie A games thus far. However, a sense of deflation could have perhaps taken over Luca Gotti’s men after they were booted out of the Coppa Italia this week by Juventus, suffering a heavy 4-0 defeat.

The reverse fixture, played at Stadio Friuli back in August, saw Udinese edge AC Milan 1-0 courtesy a 72nd minute goal by Rodrigo Becao. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, and with just one point separating the two teams on the Serie A table, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to return after being rested last time out. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to return after being rested last time out. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Stefano Pioli has a multitude of injury troubles hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Udinese. On Sunday, the AC Milan boss could be without as many as seven first-team players, with defence posing some issues.

The major absentee for AC Milan, though, is Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is recovering from a thigh injury. In the absence of the Italian international, Asmir Begovic is expected to make his AC Milan debut against Udinese.

Apart from Donnarumma, Pioli will also likely be without the services of Davide Calabria (ankle), Ricardo Rodriguez (hip), Mateo Musacchio (ankle), Lucas Biglia (thigh) and Hakan Calhanoglu (calf), while Leo Duarte is a long-term absentee due to an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the AC Milan manager is likely to name his side up in a 4-4-2 formation once again.

The absence of Calabria and Rodriguez means Andrea Conti and Theo Hernandez pick themselves as the full-back pairing. With Musacchio sidelined, Simon Kjaer will partner Alessio Romagnoli at the heart of the AC Milan defence, with the Danish defender set to make his Serie A debut for the Rossoneri.

Up ahead in midfield, Ismael Bennacer is a certain starter as the holding midfielder, with the 22-year-old tasked with providing cover to the backline. Bennacer will have Franck Kessie for company in the central areas, with the Ivorian looking to recycle the ball quickly and link up with the wide midfielders, who ought to be Samu Castillejo and Lucas Paqueta.

Upfront, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Rafael Leao are expected to form the strike partnership after being rested for the 3-0 win over SPAL in the Coppa Italia. Krzysztof Piatek and Ante Rebic will, thus, drop down to the bench and will be backup options in attack.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Begovic; Conti, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Castillejo, Kessie, Bennacer, Paqueta; Ibrahimovic, Leao

AC Milan

Udinese

Unlike his counterpart in the AC Milan dugout, Luca Gotti barely has any pressing fitness issues to contend with ahead of his side’s latest fixture. On Sunday, the Udinese manager will be without just one first-team player, with Samir Santos on the sidelines due to a long-term knee injury.

Lukasz Teodorczyk contracted an eye injury during the Coppa Italia tie against Juventus earlier this week. The Polish striker is available to face AC Milan, but will turn out with a face mask so as to avoid aggravating the concerning situation.

Teodorczyk, though, is unlikely to start, with Udinese captain Kevin Lasagna and Stefano Okaka set to return to the starting lineup to form the strike partnership for the visitors. Likely to be set up in a 3-5-2 formation once again, Udinese will have Juan Musso in goal.

Rodrigo Becao will be the key man in defence for the visitors, looking to keep a check on danger man Theo Hernandez. Becao will also pose a great deal of threat during set-piece situations. The 23-year-old will be partnered by William Troost-Ekong and Bram Nuytinck in the back three.

The width will be provided by wing-backs Jens Stryger-Larsen and Ken Sema, who will be fed by the three midfielders. Rolando Mandragora will sit at the base of the midfield, aiming to stifle AC Milan during their build-up. Rodrigo De Paul and Seko Fofana will be the workhorses in the middle of the park for Udinese.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Musso; Becao, Troost-Ekong, Nuytinck; Stryger-Larsen, De Paul, Mandragora, Fofana, Sema; Okaka, Lasagna

Udinese

Key Stats

  • The honours are fairly even when it comes to the last 28 meetings between the two sides, with AC Milan winning 13 times to Udinese’s 9 (D6).
  • AC Milan and Udinese have kept the joint-most clean sheets in Serie A this season – seven, as many as Inter Milan.
  • AC Milan are without a Serie A win at San Siro in their last four matches. The last time the Rossoneri failed to win five successive home league games was back in May 2016.
  • Udinese have not conceded in their last two league games; they could keep three clean sheets in a row in Serie A for the first time since March 2014, under Francesco Guidolin.
  • Should AC Milan win and should he feature, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will become the fastest player to reach 150 Serie A victories in the era of three points for a win (222 games), overtaking Esteban Cambiasso (230 games).

Player to Watch

Theo Hernandez

Man in form. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

Man in form. (Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

All the spotlight has been on Zlatan Ibrahimovic since the Swede’s return to AC Milan. However, Theo Hernandez is the player who has been the leading light so far in a miserable season for the Rossoneri. Signed from Real Madrid in the summer, the 22-year-old has put the disappointment of his spell with the Spanish giants behind him rather well.

In fact, so dire has been AC Milan’s situation that it is Hernandez who is the joint-leading scorer for them this term, as things stand. The young full-back will once again pose a lot of threat on Sunday and having rediscovered his attacking flair, he could perhaps, be the X-Factor that AC Milan need against a wily Udinese defence.

Prediction

AC Milan 1-0 Udinese

This is a match between two equals. Just one point separates AC Milan from Udinese. Both sides have struggled to remain a constant threat in front of goal and it is these teams that boast two of the best defensive units in the division. So, all signs point towards another scrappy affair, much like the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival, though, gives AC Milan the edge, with Theo Hernandez another player whose form tips the scales in the hosts’ favour. Expect a keenly contested affair with a lack of goalmouth action. The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-0 win for AC Milan, a crucial result for Stefano Pioli & co.

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