AC Milan will aim to keep a free-scoring and rampant Napoli side at bay on Sunday at San Siro, as the race for the Scudetto starts to shape up.

A revamped Napoli side are currently at the top of the standings with 14 points, with Atalanta and reigning Serie A champions AC Milan only trailing them due to an inferior goal difference. That sets the stage nicely for a juicy match-up on Sunday night when Napoli make the trip to San Siro in what will be the marquee fixture of Matchday 7.

Despite never looking fully convincing, Milan have managed to stay on track to compete for a title defence, beating a struggling Sampdoria 2-1 last weekend, despite being reduced to 10 men away from home, and remaining unbeaten in Serie A. The primary source of concern, though, was that the red card was given to star player Rafael Leao, who will now miss the vital clash against Napoli on Sunday.

AC Milan head into this encounter off the back of a 3-1 win over Dinamo Zagreb in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League courtesy of goals from Olivier Giroud, Alexis Saelemaekers and Tommaso Pobega. This was their first win in Europe’s premier competition in nine years. Stefano Pioli’s side will be brimming with confidence. However, the ride does not get any easier, with a fiery clash with title-contenders Napoli beckoning this weekend.

Napoli, on the other hand, have got off to a flying start to their new season despite the general consensus of it being a struggle at the start of the season after a series of exits this summer. Indeed, newcomers Kim Min-jae, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Tanguy Ndombele, and Giacomo Raspadori have taken to life in Naples like a duck to water and are already making an impression, with Kvaratskhelia topping the club charts with four goals.

Napoli put in a five-star performance away against Scottish giants Rangers last weekend, with goals from Matteo Politano, Raspadori, and Ndombele wrapping up a comprehensive 3-0 win for Gli Azzurri.

Last season, Victor Osimhen’s fractured cheekbone took the wind out of their sails in their title chase, but the Partenopei can once again dare to dream as they not only have depth but quality in their ranks, with the likes of Politano, Giovanni Simeone, and Piotr Zielinski all firing on full cylinders. Napoli arguably have the best performing squad in the entire division.

The corresponding fixture last season ended with Napoli edging out the hosts with a narrow 1-0 win. But expect fireworks this time around, with this being the final game before the international break. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter, which promises to be an interesting and balanced game from a tactical point of view.

Team News & Tactics

AC Milan

AC Milan will be without long-term absentee Zlatan Ibrahimovic (ACL), strikers Ante Rebic and Divock Origi, and right-back Alessandro Florenzi (hamstring), with the quartet ruled out due to their respective injuries. With Rafael Leao also suspended, Stefano Pioli is short on attacking options and will have to rethink his team’s offensive strategy this weekend.

Pioli will continue to set his team up in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Mike Maignan is a sure starter in goal and will be protected by the back four of Theo Hernandez, Simon Kjaer, Pierre Kalulu, and Davide Calabria. The full-backs will be urged to push forward to provide another body to help in the attack, particularly Hernandez, who has the engine to sprint up and down the field all day long.

Pioli has placed a lot of faith in Tommaso Pobega’s young shoulders this season, and it has paid off, with the 23-year-old putting in an eye-catching performance in the midweek. He could keep his spot alongside anchor Sandro Tonali in the midfield double pivot.

Alexis Saelemaekers could be preferred on the left side of the AC Milan attack to replace Leao, with Junior Messias continuing on the right. Charles De Ketelaere will start through the middle as a creative presence, with the Belgian’s tactical flexibility a handy tool if things go wrong and Pioli decides to reshuffle his attack.

With Ibrahimovic and Origi out injured, Olivier Giroud has led the line gracefully and effectively, scoring four goals in all competitions so far. Indeed, the 35-year-old has a reputation for producing great displays and spectacular goals in big games at San Siro. So he will definitely be up for it and aim to add to his goal tally here.

Alternatively, if Pioli opts for a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation to cope with Leao’s absence, Ismael Bennacer could come in as the third midfielder, with Brahim Diaz and De Ketelaere likely to operate as inverted attacking midfielders behind Giroud.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Kjaer, Hernandez; Tonali, Pobega; Messias, De Ketelaere, Saelemaekers; Giroud

Napoli

Similar to his counterpart in the AC Milan dugout, Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti will have to make do without the services of his star man in Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen, who picked up a lesion problem on his right femoral bicep in Napoli’s 4-1 win over Liverpool last week. Otherwise, the Napoli manager has no pressing injury concerns and is expected to have a strong squad at his disposal ahead of the visit to San Siro and hopes to welcome Hirving Lozano back into the squad.

The visitors look set to start the game in a 4-3-3 formation. Italian goalkeeper Alex Meret, who had been the subject of criticism for his error-prone displays between the sticks last season, has made a bright start to the new season, keeping four clean sheets from eight appearances in all competitions.

This comes after Napoli were linked with a host of shot-stoppers, including Paris Saint-Germain’s Keylor Navas before failing to bring in anyone. Mario Rui and captain Giovanni Di Lorenzo are set to line up as the two full-backs on Sunday. Amir Rrahmani and Kim Min-jae ought to form the central defensive partnership once again for the Partenopei.

Spalletti could re-shuffle his pack in the middle of the park, with Tottenham Hotspur loanee Tanguy Ndombele set to return at the heart of the midfield trio. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Elif Elmas will start on on either side of the French maestro.

The attacking unit pretty much picks itself. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is a guaranteed starter on the left flank and will be key in creating goalscoring opportunities and firing off shots himself. In Osimhen’s absence, Giacomo Raspadori is the favourite to be given another chance to impress through the middle after scoring the winner against Spezia.

Meanwhile, Matteo Politano is likely to get the nod down the right. Spalletti does have more attacking options in the form of Giovanni Simeone and Piotr Zielinski to bring off the bench, with the latter running hot, averaging a goal contribution every 75 minutes.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Kim, Rui; Zambo Anguissa, Ndombele, Elmas; Politano, Raspadori, Kvaratskhelia 

Key Stats

  • AC Milan hold the edge in the recent head-to-head record between the two sides, having won three encounters in the last seven meetings with Napoli (D2 L2).
  • Stefano Pioli’s side are undefeated in their last 22 Serie A games (W15 D7). This is their longest unbeaten streak since a run of 27 games without a defeat in January 2021.
  • The hosts are on a six-game winning run at home, keeping four clean sheets. The last time they had a longer winning stretch was back in 2013 (8), although that was ended by Sunday’s opponents, Napoli.
  • Napoli have won eight of their last ten Serie A games and have six clean sheets in their last nine matches in the competition.
  • AC Milan have scored at least two goals in their last four home Serie A matches.

Player to Watch

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

Embed from Getty Images

Also known as “Kvaradona” by the Partenopei faithful, Kvaratskhelia has been a revelation this season for Napoli. The Georgian international arrived at Diego Armando Maradona stadium over the summer as a relatively unknown quantity, but he is already a household name in Naples, having starred in both Serie A and the Champions League.

The 21-year-old already looks like a steal of a signing at £9 million and is probably the most in-form player in Serie A at the moment and has already scored four goals in eight appearances for the Partenopei, the joint second-most in the division. He was brilliant once again as Napoli defeated Rangers 3-0 in the Champions League, and being a high-volume shooter from wide areas, he could well get on the scoresheet here.

Prediction

AC Milan 2-3 Napoli

This should be an entertaining encounter, with both teams intent on playing free-flowing football to entertain their fans. AC Milan have seen both teams score in six of their eight games this season, including each of their last four. With an extraordinary and successful squad turnover, things look to be falling into Napoli’s lap to win the Scudetto this season.

Napoli have a fantastic chance to make an early statement against title rivals AC Milan at San Siro. With Rafael Leao suspended, it will be difficult for the hosts to score goals without their main x-factor. This comes as music to the ears of Napoli, who have the best attack in Serie A, according to expected goals (12.6 xG).

While the visitors will miss Victor Osimhen, Luciano Spalletti has a more balanced side with excellent depth. The away side’s red-hot attack should be too much handle for Stefano Pioli’s side, and hence, we are predicting this one to end in a 3-2 victory in Napoli’s favour.

One Response to “AC Milan vs Napoli Preview: Probable Lineups, Prediction, Tactics, Team News & Key Stats”

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  1. Sulaiman Adam ibrahim says:

    Ac milan 3 Napoli 2

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