AC Milan’s quest for the Scudetto resumes on Sunday evening against Lazio, as the Rossoneri look to bounce back from a derby setback in the Coppa Italia.

Things are heating up in the Serie A title race, with Inter Milan currently leading the way after thumping AS Roma 3-1 on Saturday. However, with just one-point being the difference between the two Milan clubs, the Rossoneri have a chance to reclaim the top spot with a victory over Lazio.

Having been dumped out of the Coppa Italia by Inter in midweek, Milan will now turn their attentions to their Scudetto bid and will travel to Rome to face Lazio on Sunday with just five games remaining in the Serie A calendar. Stefano Pioli’s men have the toughest run-in of the title contenders, with tricky tests against Fiorentina, Verona, Atalanta, and Sassuolo all coming after Sunday’s trip to Lazio.

They may take solace in the fact that they have yet to lose a league game since mid-January and have kept six straight clean sheets in Serie A, a feat necessitated by a dearth of goals — Milan have only scored five goals in their previous eight games. So, Pioli’s strikers will need to find their scoring boots sooner rather than later.

Lazio, meanwhile, are in a battle of their own, fighting for European qualification along with Roma and Fiorentina. The Biancocelesti are currently in the sixth position, which is enough to qualify for the Europa Conference League, but are equal on points with Fiorentina who have a game in hand.

They have rebounded from a poor run of form to win four of their last six matches, albeit three of those wins came against clubs now in the bottom four. Moreover, Maurizio Sarri’s men do not boast a good record in big matches this season, having lost five of their six league games against opposition in the Serie A top four.

AC Milan, on the other hand, have only lost one of their nine Serie A games this season against fellow top-six clubs, winning five. Lazio have already lost twice to Milan this season, both at San Siro, including a 4-0 Coppa Italia quarter-final defeat in February, and a 2-0 league defeat in September. They welcome the Rossoneri to Stadio Olimpico after shipping six goals without a reply against them this season.

Team news & tactics

Lazio

Due to an illness outbreak in the Lazio camp over the last week, some of Maurizio Sarri’s first-team players have been unable to train ahead of Sunday’s clash. Marius Adamonis, Stefan Radu, Danilo Cataldi and Raul Moro are all dealing with fever and gastrointestinal issues. All four players are major doubts, while Patric and Pedro will not be able to feature for Lazio due to muscle injuries.

Lazio boss Sarri could deploy his side in a 4-3-3 system. Milan’s defence has not conceded a goal since late February and will present a stiff task for Lazio. Playing through the middle of the pitch will be tough, so the Biancocelesti may have to depend on creativity from the flanks or dedicated pressing to ignite counter-attacks.

Thomas Strakosha will be on goalkeeping duties for the hosts, shielded by the centre-back partnership of Francesco Acerbi and Luiz Felipe, who is likely to come into the side in place of Patric. Manuel Lazzari will be tasked to provide width from right-back to create an overload, while Adam Marusic should retain his place on the left.

Up ahead in midfield, the onus will be the ageing shoulders of Lucas Leiva to keep a lid on Franck Kessie’s attacking involvement. The midfield duo of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto will provide the forward thrust.

Ciro Immobile is a certainty in the No. 9 role and will pose a threat to the Milan defence. The veteran hitman is on the cusp of becoming only the fourth player in the Big-Five European leagues to net over 25 goals in three or more seasons since the 2016/17 campaign. Supporting him from the wide areas ought to be former West Ham winger Felipe Anderson and Mattia Zaccagni.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Strakosha; Lazzari, Felipe, Acerbi, Marusic; Milinkovic-Savic, Leiva, Alberto; Anderson, Immobile, Zaccagni

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AC Milan

In a big blow for the Rossoneri, Stefano Pioli revealed during his press conference that midfielder Ismael Bennacer will not travel with the squad after sustaining an ankle injury in the game against Inter. Otherwise, there are no fresh injury concerns, with long-term absentees Simon Kjaer and Alessandro Florenzi the only ones out.

Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have returned to practice after recovering from their respective injuries and might be introduced off the bench in later stages of the game, as Pioli is likely to stick with the same team that lost to Inter.

Pioli has more often than not opted to deploy his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation this season, and there is little reason to suggest that he will do otherwise against Lazio. Mike Maignan is sure to start in goal for the visitors. The French shot-stopper will be protected by a formidable centre-back pairing of Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu.

The centre-back duo lack the distribution abilities of Kjaer or Alessio Romagnoli but brings athleticism, recovery pace and intelligent decision-making to the backline. Theo Hernadez is more of a left wing-back than a full-back, although his defensive ability has grown significantly over the last few seasons. Davide Calabria, his counterpart, is another offensive threat, but he is also a capable one-on-one defender.

The double-pivot is perhaps Pioli’s most well-known component that has the potential to determine the game’s outcome. Franck Kessie is a tough, energetic, disruptive midfielder who will be key for Milan. He will be accompanied by Sandro Tonali, a conventional deep-lying playmaker, who will dictate the tempo from in front of the centre-backs.

Brahim Diaz is stuck in a cycle and will need to rediscover the creative abilities he exhibited in the first half of the season. Alexis Saelemaekers could be deployed on the right-wing, whereas Rafael Leao remains the most dangerous attacker on Pioli’s attacking roster. With his direct dribbling and powerful runs from the left flank, the Portuguese sensation can make things happen on the pitch.

Olivier Giroud’s productivity in front of goal has suffered as a result of a lack of service from behind him. He has only scored one goal in his past ten games for the Rossoneri and will need to improve on his returns in front of the goal.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Hernandez; Kessie, Tonali; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Leao; Giroud

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Key stats

  • AC Milan have gone unbeaten in their last 11 Serie A games but have drawn five of those games.
  • The Rossoneri have already beaten Lazio twice already this campaign, both at San Siro. The last time they grabbed three wins in a season against the capital club was in the 2004/05 campaign (a success in Super Cup and double in the league).
  • Lazio are undefeated in 27 of their last 29 home Serie A matches and have scored the second-most number of goals in front of their home fans this term (36).
  • AC Milan boast the best away record in the Italian top flight, collecting 37 points from a possible 48 and losing only once this season.
  • Lazio have lost 13 of their last 14 league encounters against teams that started the matchday as league leaders.

Player to watch

Ciro Immobile

Lazio will be banking on their star man Immobile once again, who has already bagged 25 goals for the season. The talismanic striker is not only leading the scoring charts in Serie A but is also in great form with four goals in his last six Serie A games with Lazio chasing European qualification. His linkup play with midfield general Milinkovic-Savic will be imperative to the hosts’ chances in this game.

Prediction

Lazio 0-1 AC Milan

Both teams have been almost impenetrable at the back since the turn of the year and have kept most clean sheets in 2022 – nine for Milan and six for Lazio. So, we can expect this contest to be a cagey affair in the beginning with clear-cut chances likely to come at a premium before eventually opening up.

AC Milan will be wary of not dropping any further points from now till the end of the season while Lazio will be desperate for a result to keep their European hopes alive. While the Rossoneri will be under more pressure than their rivals, given the big-game nous of Stefano Pioli’s troops, The Hard Tackle expects them to record a vital victory in the capital ahead of a difficult run-in.

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