AC Milan will look to get back to winning ways in Serie A as they welcome Sassuolo to the San Siro.

Serie A giants AC Milan were in for a rude shock in their last league game against Fiorentina as it ended in a shock 4-3 defeat. The defeat brought their unbeaten start to the league campaign to an end, handing the initiative to Napoli in the title race. Thankfully for Stefano Pioli & co., arch-rivals Inter Milan put the Gli Azzurri to the sword, ensuring they did not pull away from the Rossoneri at the Serie A summit.

With an impressive away win against Atletico Madrid now in the bag, the Rossoneri will be in high spirits going into the game. Back at home in the San Siro, they will be hoping to put Sassuolo to the sword.

The visitors pack a punch on their day and the game will be no walk in the park. Milan have to ensure that the childish mistakes they made against Fiorentina do not rear their heads once again. I Neroverdi are on a three-game winless streak and will themselves be keen to get their season back on track.

With just four wins out of 13 in the league this season,  Sassuolo are enduring a poor start to the season. However, as shown in the loss against Inter Milan earlier in the season, they can turn on the style when needed. The onus will be on Milan to ensure they do not give the visitors any sort of encouragement. After all, it was Sassuolo who won the last meeting between both sides earlier this year.

Milan, meanwhile, will also be aware that rivals Inter are now breathing down their neck in the title race. The Nerazzurri’s win against Venezia on Saturday, brings them to within a point of Pioli’s side, albeit having played a game more. A win on the afternoon will restore a five-point cushion going into what will be a busy schedule of games in December.

For now, all attention will be on the visit of Sassuolo to the San Siro. The Hard Tackle takes a look at just how both teams could line up on Sunday and what tactics they might employ.

Team News & Tactics

AC Milan

There is both good news and bad news for the home side going into the game. The Rossoneri will welcome back first-choice goalkeeper Mike Maignan who was unavailable for their last few matches. Stand-in goalkeeper, Ciprian Tatarusanu was at best decent and Maignnan’s return will be a major boost to the backline.

However, with Fikayo Tomori still out injured, the Milan defence is still far from full strength. The Englishman joined the likes of Olivier Giroud,  Ante Rebic, Davide Calabria and Samu Castillejo on the sidelines. In his absence, Alessio Romagnoli will look to continue at centre-back alongside Simon Kjaer.

Pierre Kalulu and Theo Hernandez will start out wide as the full-backs. They will be tasked with making life difficult for Sassuolo and providing an impetus to the attack while moving forward. They can benefit further should the double pivot of Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer hold their own in midfield.

Having sold Manuel Locatelli to Inter earlier in the summer, the Sassuolo midfield lost one of their best players. However, they still possess the tenacity and could prove to be dogged contenders if given the freedom to assert themselves.

The trio of Rafael Leao, Brahim Diaz and Alexis Saelemaekers will be tasked with creating opportunities offensively for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to exploit. With both Giroud and Rebic out, the onus will be on the giant Swede to make the difference. Whether Junior Messias will once again come off the bench to make a difference remains to be seen.

The game also represents a good opportunity for Saelemaekers, who has struggled for form to get his touch back. The Belgian international started the season off well but has become more of the invisible man the last few weeks.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Kalulu, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Bennacer, Kessie; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Leao; Ibrahimovic

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Sassuolo

Sassuolo lost not just one of their best players, Manuel Locatelli in the summer but also their manager Roberto De Zerbi to Shakhtar Donetsk. His successor Alessio Dionisi was always going to have a difficult time initially and it shows. I Neroverdi have won just four of their first 13 games and find themselves in the 13th spot in the league. They can, however, turn on the style when needed and will hope to have the rub of the green this Sunday.

The visitors will be without the services of Pedro Obiang, Filip Djuricic and Jeremie Boga. Davide Fratessi was also set to be unavailable after picking up a red card, leading to a suspension. However, his ban was overturned and he has now been included in the travelling squad.

Dionisi looks set to deploy his side in a 4-3-3 formation that can get the best out of his players. Andrea Consigli is in line to start in goal behind the back four of Rogerio, Gian Marco Ferrari, Vlad Chiriches and Jeremy Toljan.

The trio of Hamed Traore, Franceso Magnanelli and Maxime Lopez will need to be at the top of their game to win the battle in the middle of the park. This is especially true given the ball-retention ability of the Milan double pivot. Just how well Sassuolo can retain their shape when not in possession could decide the fixture.

Sassuolo’s front three of Giacomo Raspadori, Gianluca Scamacca and Domenico Berardi can cause trouble if left unchecked. Milan should be especially wary of Berardi who is a really difficult player to pin down. The Italian international is a real handful and more often than not influences how his team’s attack performs on any given day.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Consigli; Rogerio, Ferrari, Chiriches, Toljan; Traore, Magnanelli, Lopez; Raspadori, Scamacca, Berardi

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Key Stats

  • Sassuolo have won just one of the last 10 meetings between both sides. Milan, on the other hand, have won seven of them, drawing the other two.
  • AC Milan have won their last four home meetings against Sassuolo.
  • Sassuolo have not enjoyed successive wins over AC Milan since 2015.
  • A loss on the day will see AC Milan lose consecutive games against Serie A opposition for the first time since April. On that occasion, the defeat came against Sassuolo.
  • No team has kept more clean sheets in home games in Serie A than Milan since the beginning of May (5 in eight home games).

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)

The veteran striker will lead the line for AC Milan and will hope to deliver this time around. He missed key opportunities against Fiorentina last week and was also unable to show off his prolific side against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano.

With balls set to be launched to him aerially, the onus will be on Ibrahimovic to be tactically aware and not stray offside. With both Giroud and Rebic unavailable, Milan have only Junior Messias to call upon to shake things upfront. At 40, Zlatan is not getting any younger. However, he is still capable of turning the tide of the game when on form. He will have to do just that against Sassuolo.

Prediction

AC Milan 2-0 Sassuolo

While the loss to Fiorentina showcased AC Milan’s soft underbelly, the away win against Atletico Madrid displayed the Rossoneri’s ability to hit back. Winning at the Wanda Metropolitano is no mean feat and Milan will take heart from the fixture.

Back at home, Stefano Pioli’s side will hope to seize the initiative early on and keep their visits on the backfoot. Securing a win will not just see them stay in contention at the top but also put some distance between themselves and Inter Milan, who are currently breathing down their neck in the third spot.

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