AC Milan will be looking to reclaim their place at the top of the Serie A table when they welcome Crotone on Sunday.

Inter Milan’s 2-0 triumph over Fiorentina on Friday has put the pressure back on AC Milan as the Serie A title race this season continues to mesmerise the onlookers. The Nerazzurri have taken the lead over their cross-town rivals and currently have 47 points on the board, so a win will be imperative for Milan when they take on Crotone on Sunday.

The Rossoneri are on 46 points at the moment, but a draw won’t suffice as Inter do have a far superior goal difference. Stefano Pioli’s men will have to make full use of their relatively easier run of fixtures before they take on Inter later this month.

Crotone, in contrast, are at the rock bottom of the league table with just 12 points on the board. They have lost more matches than any other side in the league so far, including a 2-0 defeat to Milan in the reverse fixture. In addition, the bottom club has lost five of their last six league games and face an uphill task against the title contenders this weekend.

Things haven’t been great for Milan either though, with the Rossoneri tasting defeats in two of their last three competitive outings that includes a loss to Inter in the Coppa Italia. This upcoming game against Crotone serves as an ideal opportunity for them to regain some momentum and The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at these two sides ahead of this enticing match-up this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

AC Milan

epa05216865 SS Lazio's head coach Stefano Pioli reacts during the UEFA Europa League soccer match against AC Sparta Prague at the Olimpico stadium in Rome, Italy, 17 March 2016. EPA/ETTORE FERRARI

The man with the golden touch. (Photo by EPA/ETTORE FERRARI)

Stefano Pioli has been quite unlucky with injuries this season, but the recent return of Hakan Calhanoglu and Ismael Bennacer has served as a major boost.

Bennacer’s ability to thread laser passes forward and pick out players higher up the pitch should significantly improve Milan’s chance=creation. The Algerian is also likely to renew his midfielder partnership with Franck Kessie, while Hakan Calhanoglu is a guaranteed starter in the number ten position, especially with Brahim Diaz struggling with a thigh problem.

Calhanglu could further improve Milan’s chance-creation. His proficiency from set-pieces could bode well for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is likely to spearhead the Milan attack, with additional assistance from the two wide attackers in Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao.

Pioli, after a long time, will have the privilege of having multiple alternatives in attack, with Ante Rebic, Jens Petter Hauge and Samu Castillejo all pushing for a start as well. Mario Mandzukic, on the other hand, serves as a back-up for Ibrahimovic, though both the players are traditional target-men, meaning the focus will be on the wide players to whip in crosses into the box.

Defensively, Milan are still missing Simon Kjaer and Matteo Gabbia. They do, however, have Fikayo Tomori, having signed him on loan from Chelsea in January. The Englishman should continue to accompany Alessio Romagnoli in central defence, with Davide Calabria and Theo Hernandez operating as the full-backs.

Calabria, as usual, is expected to operate in a deeper role, aiding the two centre-backs during defensive phases. As for Hernandez, he will be tasked with the responsibility of providing the attacking support, especially as Leao likes to drift into a central position.

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

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Crotone

Crotone head coach Giovanni Stroppa will miss out on a few important players including Junior Messias as the forward continues to serve his suspension. His continued absence should see Simy and new signing Samuel Di Carmine spearhead the Crotone attack once again.

Stroppa, though, is likely to persist with his tried and tested 3-5-2 formation that gives him numerical superiority in the middle of the park. Although it could be useful especially in possession, Crotone are likely to play on the counter, which means the midfield trifecta of Ahmad Benali, Niccolo Zanellato and Milos Vulic will be primarily looking to disrupt the flow of the opposition.

The visitors could go for a man-marking approach in an attempt to prevent the likes of Bennacer and Kessie from dictating the play. The two wing-backs in Andrea Rispoli and Arkadiusz Reca are also expected to play a key role in the press, using their cover shadows to offer protection to the backline.

Speaking of which, Stroppa could make one defensive change from the side that suffered a defeat to Genoa with Sebastiano Luperto potentially coming in at the expense of Luca Marrone.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Cordaz; Magallan, Golemic, Luperto; Rispoli, Benali, Zanellato, Vulic, Reca; Di Carmine, Simy

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Key Stats

  • Milan have won four of their five games against Crotone in Serie A, keeping a clean sheet in each of the last three.
  • Milan have won their last four games against newly-promoted teams in Serie A, they have not reached at least five since May 2012 (eight with Massimiliano Allegri).
  • With 46 points in 20 games, Milan are averaging 2.30 points per match: only in 2003/04 and 2005/06 have the Rossoneri finished the season with a higher average.
  • Milan have lost two of their last three home league games after a series of 13 home games without defeat.
  • Among the 24 teams with 12 or fewer points after 20 matches, only one has managed to remain in the Serie A at the end of the season – Crotone in 2016/17 (3pts for a win era).

Player to Watch

Ismael Bennacer

As iterated earlier, the return of Bennacer will be a massive boost for AC Milan. The midfielder was in inspired form earlier in the campaign before his progress was halted by an unfortunate injury. He has already missed ten games so far this campaign but made his return in the win over Bologna.

This weekend, the Algerian international is set to play a vital role for Milan in the second line of press. It will be interesting to see how he performs alongside Kessie, and whether or not the duo can rekindle their earlier form. Watch out for his long balls!

In addition to the return of Bennacer, the presence of Hakan Calhanoglu could give the Rossoneri the upper hand, as far as chance-creation is concerned. And preventing these two could be imperative for Crotone if they are to salvage anything from this game.

Prediction

AC Milan 2-0 Crotone

Crotone defence have looked lacklustre all season and it is hard to imagine them causing any real upset this weekend. In fact, we are expecting this to be a stroll in the park for AC Milan, who have been strengthened by the return of key players like Hakan Calhanoglu and Ismael Bennacer.

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