AC Milan will desperately try to retain their place at the top of Serie A table when they lock horns with Sassuolo on Sunday.

AC Milan’s remarkable start to the campaign has been derailed, to an extent, following back to back draws with Parma and Genoa over the past week. It has allowed Inter Milan to make up some ground and the Rossoneri are now running the risk of losing their place at the top of Serie A table if they fail to register all three points in their upcoming game against Sassuolo on Sunday.

Although Milan are still among only two clubs yet to taste a defeat in Serie A this term, the Serie A title race is really starting to take shape as clubs Juventus and AS Roma have also done well in recent weeks. Both the clubs are currently trailing Stefano Pioli’s men by just four-points and could bridge that gap further if things go in their favour in this weekend’s round of fixtures.

In fact, Milan’s weekend opponents Sassuolo could reduce the gap to two just points if they secure a win at home on Sunday. The Neroverdi are currently sitting in sixth place with 23 points on the board, meaning they are pretty much in contention for the race for Champions League positions in Serie A this season.

The Rossoneri, on the other hand, haven’t drawn three back to back matches since January so we can expect the visitors to come out all guns blazing in this one as they look to retain their place at the top. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this crucial encounter in Serie A this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Sassuolo

Can Roberto De Zerbi lead Sassuolo to a win over Inter Milan? (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

Can Roberto De Zerbi lead Sassuolo to a win over AC Milan? (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

Sassuolo boss Roberto De Zerbi is without the services of some of his key players including Filippo Romagna. But on the bright side, he was blessed with the return of two of his best forwards in Gregoire Defrel and Francesco Caputo, as well as defender Vlad Chiriches in the midweek game against Fiorentina.

We expect Caputo to replace Giacomo Raspadori in the number nine role for Sassuolo this weekend. The 33-year-old should spearhead the attack for the home side, with the help of creative players such as Domenico Berardi, Jeremie Boga and Filip Djuricic, who was rested in midweek in the form of a substitute appearance.

As far as the midfield is concerned, it would have been a special game for former AC Milan youth prodigy Manuel Locatelli. But, the Italian international has been suspended after picking up five yellows cards in the season. His absence could thus pave the way for Franceso Magnanelli to earn a rare start alongside Mehdi Bourabia, although coach De Zerbi could also prefer Pedro Obiang.

In the defensive department, the full-backs in Jeremy Toljan and Rogerio should occupy a deeper role, although it will be interesting to see whether the latter ventures forward considering Milan’s left-sided overload.

Nonetheless, the onus of stopping the opposition from finding the back of the net will be on the central defensive duo of Gian Marco Ferrari and Chiriches while Andrea Consigli should continue in goal.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Consigli; Toljan, Chiriches, Ferrari, Rogerio; Magnanelli, Bourabia; Berardi, Djuricic, Boga; Caputo

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AC Milan

Pioli is missing a set to star players heading into this game including Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ante Rebic is also a doubt but is expected to recover in time, although this game could serve as an excellent opportunity for the coach to shift the Croatian into his preferred left-wing role, especially with Rafael Leao available to fill in for the absence of Ibra.

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

Ibrahimovic set to remain on the sidelines. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Rebic should, therefore, form Milan’s attacking trifecta alongside Hakan Calhanoglu and Alexis Saelemaekers while Samu Castillejo and youngster Jens Petter Hauge should provide further options for Pioli from the bench.

In midfield, Franck Kessie is a guaranteed starter, although the Ivorian is walking a tightrope, knowing a yellow card in this game could lead to his suspension in the upcoming clash against Lazio. As for his midfield partner, Sandro Tonali should continue to deputise for the injured Ismael Bennacer, with Rade Krunic emerging as a potential alternative.

And finally, in the defensive department, Pioli is currently dealing with the absences of Matteo Gabbia and Simon Kjaer. So the Italian has no option but to persist with the central defensive combination of Alessio Romagnoli and Pierre Kalulu while Theo Hernandez and Davide Calabria should occupy the full-back positions.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kalulu, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Tonali; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic; Leao

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Key Stats

  • After four wins in their first six Serie A matches against Milan, Sassuolo have lost six of their next eight games. The Neroverdi have also failed to score in four of their last seven matches against the Rossoneri in the competition, after having found the net in each of their first seven meetings.
  • Sassuolo have won only three of their last 14 Serie A home matches against Lombard teams (L11); the most recent home win for the Neroverdi against such opponents came back in March (3-0 vs Brescia) while the last home win against the Rossoneri came in March 2016 (2-0).
  • Sassuolo have picked up only two points in their last nine league matches against teams starting at the top of the Serie A table at the beginning of the matchday, however, those were in their last two meetings (both draws with Juventus).
  • Among the teams currently in the top seven in the Serie A table, Sassuolo have won the fewest home games (2).
  • Milan have drawn their last two league games. The last time they went on a longer such streak was in January (3).

Player to Watch

Hakan Calhanoglu

AC Milan star Hakan Calhanoglu is suspended for the tie (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

AC Milan star Hakan Calhanoglu might be the game changer this weekend. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Stefano Pioli has heaped praise on Calhanoglu heading into this game, citing his intelligence and contribution in the final third. He has also hailed him as a real leader and his leadership qualities could be essential for a Milan side that are missing some of their key first-team players this weekend.

From a tactical perspective, the Turkish international should operate in the number ten role, looking to provide the creative essence in the final third. His impressive combination play, coupled with his proficiency from set-pieces could be equally critical as Milan look to breach the lines of the Sassuolo defence.

Calhanoglu’s track record this season has also been impressive and it is fairly reasonable to bet on him as the main game-changer for the Rossoneri on Sunday.

Prediction

Sassuolo 1-2 AC Milan

AC Milan have evidently lost their mojo in recent games due to the absence of several star players. So they may once again have to grind hard for a victory this weekend. Pioli’s men do have what it takes to churn out all three points in this game but could find it difficult to contain the Sassuolo attack that has been reinforced by the return of Defrel and Caputo. We are thus expecting a narrow victory for the Rossoneri in this one.

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