AC Milan will look to bounce back from their early Champions League exit when they travel to Udinese in Serie A on Saturday night.

After their dismal midweek exit from Europe, AC Milan’s focus shifts only to domestic matters from now onwards. They are currently leading the Serie A standings as the campaign draws closer to its halfway point, and they will face Udinese on Saturday in a bid to preserve their slender lead at the top.

Milan suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat to the hands of Liverpool on Wednesday night. That, coupled with Atletico Madrid’s victory over Porto, saw the Serie A leaders crash out of the Champions League, finishing rock-bottom in Group B.

AC Milan have been anything but remarkable in recent weeks; damaging losses to Fiorentina and Sassuolo could have derailed their upward push while conceding three or more goals in two of the last four league outings does not reflect well on their defence.

Nonetheless, the Rossoneri’s consecutive league wins over the last week had propelled them to the top of Serie A. They have picked up an impressive total of 38 points from 16 league games so far – their best total at this stage of the campaign since 2003.

Udinese are in 14th place in the Serie A standings and have been fairly inconsistent this season. Owner Gino Pozzo, notoriously known for sacking managers at Udinese and Watford, decided to part ways with Luca Gotti after a painful 3-1 defeat at Empoli on Monday night amidst a run of just one win from their last 13 top-flight fixtures.

Gabriele Cioffi will take charge as an interim manager and hope to stabilize things with a positive result on the weekend. The two sides played out a 1-1 draw when they met back in March this year. Ahead of their latest meeting at the Stadio Friuli, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Udinese

Roberto Pereyra is currently injured and has been ruled out of this game. Ignacio Pussetto has completed his rehabilitation and will be ready for selection against AC Milan. In a piece of positive news for Le Zebrette, Brazilian defender Rodrigo Becao is back to fitness after an adductor problem and could feature in this game while both Walace and Nahuel Molina are back from respective suspensions to take their places in the squad.

Udinese widely used a consistent 3-5-2 system under former boss Luca Gotti, but a recent shift to back-four has resulted in them leaking excessive goals. The interim manager Gabriele Cioffi could return to a 3-5-2 system to which could change to a 5-3-2 under pressure providing more bodies at the back.

Despite making several high-profile errors in recent weeks, Marco Silvestri will take up his place in goal. Guarding the 30-year-old in central defence could be a three-man unit of Samir, Bram Nuytinck and Rodrigo Becao as they look to keep things solid at the back, particularly neutralizing Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s aerial presence.

Iyenoma Udogie and Nahuel Molina will act as wing-backs. Both are likely to be pinned by Milan’s counterparts and would look to avoid giving Theo Hernandez and Pierre Kalulu the liberty of flanks. Brazilian defensive midfielder Walace could return to the middle of the park to offer balance alongside two attack-minded central midfielders in Tolgay Arslan and Jean-Victor Makengo.

Beto has been a bright spot for Udinese this season, scoring three goals in his past five games. The Portuguese striker is the top scorer for his side with six goals, and he will once again lead the line alongside former AC Milan star Gerard Deulofeu to form a two-man strike partnership.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Silvestri; Becao, Nuytinck, Samir; Molina, Makengo, Walace, Arslan, Udogie; Beto, Deulofeu

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AC Milan

While there is no denying that defeat against Liverpool was woeful, Stefano Pioli’s side have had their share of injury problems. Key players like Ante Rebic, Olivier Giroud, Simon Kjaer and Davide Calabria were all injured and did not play any part in the midweek.

However, the medical room looks to be emptying at San Siro; Samu Castillejo is now back in full training after recovering from a thigh problem, while forwards Rafael Leao and Giroud are also closing in on their fitness. Rebic and Pietro Pellegri are still doubtful owing to muscle problems, while full-back Calabria has yet to return.

Pioli has mostly preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation with energetic pressing, quick transitions and controlling games the key to their style of play. Mike Maignan is a certain starter between the sticks for Milan, hoping to keep his sixth clean sheet of the season.

Kjaer will be out for several months due to a recently sustained Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury requiring surgery, so Fikayo Tomori will likely continue to partner with Alessio Romagnoli at the heart of the backline.

Pierre Kalulu should retain his place ahead of Alessandro Florenzi at right-back, whereas Theo Hernandez will slot in on the other flank as the left-back provides an outlet with his marauding lung-busting forward runs. Ismael Bennacer should return to the double midfield pivot alongside Franck Kessie as they look to drive the show from the middle of the park.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic would arguably be the centre of attraction in the final third and will lead the Rossoneri attack again with injury calamity in the striking department. Brahim Diaz was unimpressive against Liverpool but will seek redemption while Alexis Saelemaekers could also rejoin the attack alongside Rade Krunic, forming a trio attacking unit buzzing just behind the Swedish target-man.

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

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Key Stats

  • Udinese have drawn more Serie A games against AC Milan than against any other side in their Serie A history: 34 draws from 92 games (W17 L41).
  • Despite Udinese not winning a single match from their last four league games (2D 2L), they have lost only twice from their last 8 home league games this season.
  • AC Milan have only won 12 of the previous 28 away trips against Udinese.
  • In the past five meetings with Udinese, AC Milan won two, drew two, and lost one.
  • AC Milan have surprisingly done their best work on their travels this year, recording 16 away league wins in 2021. The record of most away wins in a calendar year is held by Napoli in 2017 (18).
  • AC Milan have now allowed three or more goals in two of their last four Serie A games while Udinese scored five goals and shipped seven in their last two league games.

Player to Watch

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to rewind the clock for AC Milan as he heads to Udinese with five goals in his last four away matches, including two stunning free-kicks against Genoa and Fiorentina. He is still producing some elite numbers upfront, averaging 3.2 shots, 1.1 key passes, having 7 goal contributions from just over 500 minutes of football.

While he could not replicate his form at the biggest stage in the Champions League, his leadership, winning mentality and goals are the driving force for this Milan side. He has to play a massive role if they are to get their hands on the Scudetto at the end of the season.

In what would be his 450th appearance in European top-flight, the Swede could hit another milestone this weekend. Currently at 299 goals, he could become only the third player behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to reach 300 goals in Europe’s top-five leagues.

Prediction

Udinese 1-3 AC Milan

The Rossoneri cannot afford another slip up again with Inter Milan hot on their trails. Udinese may be dangerous on their day with a decent enough attacking unit, but without a manager in the dugout, their task becomes even harder against the league leaders, who themselves will be eager to get back on track on Saturday.

Milan may lack the skill to compete amongst the big guns of Europe, but their impressive rebuild in recent years under Stefano Pioli should equip them to push for the Scudetto this term. And despite multiple injuries, they have enough depth to brush off their opponents on the weekend. The Hard Tackle predicts a comprehensive 3-1 win for the visitors consolidating their position at the summit of the Serie A table.

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