AC Milan and Napoli take one each other in what is a must-win game for both sides as they reel from recent setbacks in the Serie A title race.
European giants AC Milan and SSC Napoli take on each other in the standout tie in the Italian top flight this weekend. Both teams threatened to pull away in the title race with a bright start to the season. However, recent reversals have seen them cede ground to defending champions Inter Milan, who have since solidified their position at the top of the table.
The Nerazzurri won their game 5-0 last night, and the onus is now on the chasing pack to keep up. A win on the night will take AC Milan within a point of their local rivals, while a win for Napoli will see them move to within four points. With Atalanta also in the mix, the game could have much bigger implications in not just the title race but that for a UEFA Champions League spot.
Atalanta’s defeat to AS Roma has now handed Napoli a golden chance to move over their rivals in the standings. Truth be told, it is shaping up to be an amazing title race that could yet take several twists and turns before the end of the season.
Despite the talent available for both teams, they will not be at fulls strength for the crunch game. Several big names will be missing, and the onus will be on Stefano Pioli and Luciano Spaletti and their tactical understanding. At the very least, it promises to be an exciting game that could make or break the club’s season. The Hard Tackle now looks at how both clubs could line up on the night and what can be expected of them tactically.
Team News & Tactics
Pumping iron to show our resolve 💪
— AC Milan (@acmilan) December 17, 2021
Stefano Pioli’s side have suffered two losses in their last five Serie A games and were also dumped out of Europe unceremoniously earlier this month. This season, the Italian Scudetto represents their best chance of silverware, and anything short of three points will see them lose ground.
To add insult to injury, dropping more points will hand the initiative to their arch-rivals Inter Milan, who appear to be coming into form at just the right time. A title race between the Milan clubs would be a sight to behold and add spice to what is already a simmering rivalry.
Pioli looks set to utilize his usual 4-2-3-1 f0ormation but will have to contend with several key players who miss out, thanks to injuries. The absence of Simon Kjaer, Davide Calabria, Ante Rebic and Rafael Leao will be a difficult pill to swallow for a side needing to get back to winning ways. Pietro Pellegri and Theo Hernandez are also a doubt for the game, further weakening Pioli’s hand.
Mike Maignan is a sure starter in goal and will play behind the centre-back duo of Alessio Romagnoli and Fikayo Tomori. Fode Ballo-Toure and Alessandro Florenzi will occupy the full-back spots and will look to keep a mobile Napoli attack quiet on the night.
Ismael Bennacer and Tiemoue Bakayoko struggled to impress against Udinese, and this means the usual double pivot of Sandro Tonali and Franck Kessie will return to the starting lineup. The trio of Rade Krunic, Brahim Diaz and Alexis Saelemaekers will be tasked with carving out openings in attack for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is once again amongst the goals.
The presence of Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias on the bench does offer Milan the opportunity to change things up when needed. Pioli’s side have at times looked bereft of heart and passion, and the Milan boss will be keen to have his side raring to go on the night.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Ballo-Toure, Tomori, Romagnoli, Florenzi; Kessie, Tonali; Krunic, Diaz, Saelemaekers; Ibrahimovic
This season, Napoli were the early trendsetters and were comfortable at the top of the league going into December. However, a run of just one win in their last five Serie A games has brought the Gli Azzurri to a screeching halt.
Spaletti’s side are currently seven points off the top of the table and have dropped to the fourth spot in the table. A win on the night will keep them within touching distance while also ending Milan’s title chances at the same time. A loss, however, will bring them within sight of AS Roma and Juventus, who will be keen to take that coveted fourth spot.
📃 Our squad for #MilanNapoli 👇
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) December 18, 2021
The visitors are also facing injuries and have several players ruled out of the game. Ace defender Kalidou Koulibaly and star striker Victor Osimhen look set to miss out alongside Mario Rui. To make matters worse, Lorenzo Insigne and Fabian Ruiz are also unavailable for the game.
Napoli look likely to set themselves up in a 4-2-3-1 system themselves. David Ospina is a sure starter in goal and will be protected by the back four of Giovanni di Lorenzo, Juan Jesus, Amir Rrahmani and Kevin Malcuit.
Ruiz’s absence will leave a huge hole in the midfield. The onus will be on Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Diego Demme to step up and make themselves count. Tonali and Kessie have shown themselves to be far from their best this season, and applying pressure in the right spot could give Napoli the edge in midfield.
The onus to create opportunities will fall o the trio of Hirving Lozano, Piotr Zielinski, and Matteo Politano. The club’s all-time top scorer, Dries Mertens, will lead the line and hope to get his side back to winning ways.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Malcuit; Demme, Anguissa; Lozano, Zielinski, Politano; Mertens
- AC Milan have won just one of their last 13 games against Napoli. The Rossoneri have not defeated the Partenopei at home since 2014.
- Luciano Spaletti has not lost to Stefano Pioli in their eight meetings (W6 D6). The former is also undefeated in his last 13 games against AC Milan.
- Napoli are undefeated in 11 of their last 12 away matches.
- Napoli have scored at least two goals in 10 of their previous 12 games.
- Napoli have the best defence in Serie A this season. They have conceded just 13 goals in 17 games so far this campaign.
Player to Watch
The onus to lead the Napoli line falls onto Mertens, the club’s all-time goalscorer. The Belgian is currently the second top scorer for his club this season behind Victor Osimhen. However, with the latter missing, the Belgian will once again be the main man.
Despite his age, Mertens is a formidable player who is difficult to keep hold of. A wily footballer, he can play anywhere along the frontline and has shown good movement on the pitch. How well he and Piotr Zielinski can combine to trouble the AC Milan defence could make the difference on the night. A clinical finisher, all he needs is one chance.
The Rossoneri, for all their ability, have shown themselves unable to cope with pace and power if used judiciously. Mertens and Zielinski will ask several questions of Stefano Pioli’s side. How they will respond without Simon Kjaer leading the defence remains to be seen.
AC Milan 1-1 Napoli
Both teams are missing star players for the game due to injury issues. Milan, in particular, will be hard hit by injuries to key match winners. Whether home advantage can make up for it remains to be seen. Milan have shown themselves to be unable to rise to the occasion when called upon to do so. The meek way they surrendered to Liverpool’s second-string side at home was a prime example of just that.
Napoli, too, have players out injured but need to win more than Milan. The question is whether taking the initiative to Milan will see the home side show their resolve to fight or crumble again under pressure. Mertens and Zielinski have it in them to hurt the Rossoneri, and if not kept in check, they could do just that.
It could be a closely-fought encounter at San Siro given that there is not much to separate these two sides. And a draw could be the likeliest outcome of this contest.