AC Milan are hoping to stay on top of Serie A league table when they lock horns with Udinese at Stadio Friuli on Sunday.

AC Milan’s hundred percent record in Serie A this campaign was shattered by AS Roma last week as the two clubs drew 3-3 at San Siro. It was a heartbreaking draw for the home side, who then recovered their momentum with a convincing 3-0 victory over Sparta Praha in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.

Nevertheless, the Rossoneri are still on top of the league table, having secured 13 points from their opening five matches. They are one of just three clubs yet to face a defeat, and coach Stefano Pioli will be looking to extend that record when his side faces Udinese at Stadio Friuli on Sunday.

Milan were boosted by Juventus dropping points last week, but with Inter Milan, Napoli and Sassuolo breathing down their neck, securing all three points could be imperative as they look to remain on top.

Udinese, meanwhile, are chasing completely different objective following a dismal start to the campaign that has seen them register only one win in five matches. They are dawdling in the relegation zone with just three points on the board, which is a bad look for a side that has consistently achieved a mid-table finish in Serie A over the past four years.

On the bright side, Udinese did secure a 3-1 win over Vincenza in the third round of Coppa Italia in midweek. The result should give them some much-needed momentum heading into this game. And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides in this enticing match-up this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Udinese

Udinese pretty much have a stable lineup with Luca Gotti’s 3-5-2 seeing Stefano Okaka and Kevin Lasagna leading the attack. These two also play a key role in the first line of press, often looking to attack the opposing ball-carriers.

However, arguably the most important cog in Udinese’s attacking unit is Rodrigo de Paul. The Argentine, despite operating at the heart of Gotti’s three-man midfield, is responsible for providing all the creative support for the two attackers. de Paul is also quite useful in set-pieces so Milan must keep a close eye on him this weekend.

Udinese, unfortunately, are lacking steel in midfield as Rolando Mandragora and Mato Jajalo are both missing. So we can expect Tolgay Arslan and former Watford star Roberto Pereyra to operate in midfield, though Walace will provide Gotti with a more defensive option should he require it.

Nahuel Molina and Thomas Ouwejan, meanwhile, are the general choices in the wingback roles, though these two could remain busy in providing defensive support to the three central defenders in Rodrigo Becao, Sebastien De Maio and Samir.

The likes of Bram Nuytinck and Sebastian Prodl are unlikely to feature in this game due to lack of fitness, so head coach Gotti doesn’t have too many options at the back.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Musso; Becao, De Maio, Samir; Molina, De Paul, Arslan, Pereyra, Ouwejan; Okaka, Lasagna.

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AC Milan

Pioli made a few notable changes in midweek and should revert those rotations as he continues to deal with a congested schedule of this 2020/21 campaign.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was taken off at half-time and is more than expected to spearhead the Milan attack, especially as Ante Rebic continue to miss due to injury. There might be a start for Rafael Leao, however, with the Portuguese youngster most likely to replace Rade Krunic at left-wing.

Pioli is expected to shuffle his pack elsewhere as well, with Alexis Saelemaekers replacing Samu Castillejo at right-wing and Brahim Diaz making way for the in-form Hakan Calhanoglu, in the number ten role.

Ismael Bennancer was one of the top performers in the midweek win over Sparta Praha. He is a guaranteed starter in midfield, though he might have to accompany Franck Kessie this time around, instead of Sandro Tonali.

Further changes are expected at the back where Diogo Dalot, despite an impressive display in midweek, could make way for Theo Hernandez at left-back. There might not be a similar rotation on the opposite flank, however, as Andrea Conti has just returned from an injury.

Meanwhile, at centre-back, Pioli has no option but to continue with Alessio Romagnoli and Simon Kjaer as Mateo Musacchio remains sidelined. But on a bright note, Gianluigi Donnarumma is back from quarantine and should replace Ciprian Tatarusanu in goal.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Bennacer; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Leao; Ibrahimovic.

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Key Stats

  • Udinese have drawn more Serie A games against AC Milan than against any other side (13). The Rossoneri have won 40 of the previous 90 meetings between these sides in the top-flight, compared to just 17 wins for Friulani.
  • AC Milan have won only three of their last 12 away league games against Udinese, with their most recent such victory coming in November 2018 – a 1-0 win, thanks to Romagnoli’s goal in the 97th minute.
  • Udinese could lose five of their opening six Serie A games of a season for the third time in their history, after 1961/62 and 2017/18.
  • AC Milan have won four of their five league games this term (D1) – only in 1995/96 (under Fabio Capello) and in 2003/04 (under Carlo Ancelotti) have they won five of their opening six games of a Serie A season in the three points for a win era.
  • AC Milan have found the net in each of their last 25 league games (59 goals over this period, with an average of 2.4 per match). – only twice in their entire Serie A history have they managed a longer such run (29 in 1973 and 27 in 1949).

Player to Watch

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

AC Milan's key man. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

AC Milan’s key man. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic raised quite a few eyebrows in midweek after missing a penalty, just before half-time. The striker was involved in Milan’s first goal and had an opportunity to kill the game by winning a spot-kick. But, his shot hit the upper right side of the post, eventually going over the goalkeeper.

That said, the Swede has been in excellent form in these early stages of the campaign, having netted six goals in just three league matches. It essentially means that Ibrahimovic has averaged a goal per 45 minutes, which is insane at this level of football.

And on Sunday, the 39-year-old will look to further improve his record against a Udinese side, who have appeared sloppy at the back this season. His massive frame, strength and positional awareness should cause a lot of problems for the likes of De Maio and company, and it would be a good idea to bet on Ibrahimovic to be the game-changer this weekend.

Prediction

Udinese 0-2 AC Milan

Udinese have very little chance of salvaging anything from this game if we consider the contrasting form of these two sides heading into the game. The home side might find it difficult to break the defensive shackles of the Kjaer-Romagnoli duo, while the mighty Milan attack, led by the evergreen Ibrahimovic could cause loads of problems at the back. We are expecting a comfortable 2-0 victory for the Rossoneri.

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