AC Milan and Inter will meet for the third time this season when they square off in a Coppa Italia semi-final first leg clash at San Siro on Tuesday night.
Milan have found themselves in somewhat of a rut in the league as they dropped points against bottom-placed side Salernitana in a 2-2 draw and followed that up by drawing 1-1 against Udinese at San Siro on Friday night, while Inter are not coming into the game in the best form either.
Pioli spoke to the reporters who gathered at Milanello on the eve of the game and denied any notion that his side are relying too much on individuals while also hinting at an openness to trying different tactical solutions.
Game date: Tuesday, 1 March
Kick-off time: 21:00 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Mariani (VAR: Irrati)
In many ways the chance to focus on a different competition might well be a welcome one for the Rossoneri, and a two-legged affair against city rivals Inter beckons.
The injury absentees for the derby are the same as the draw on Friday night with Zlatan Ibrahimovic still out due to Achilles discomfort and Simon Kjaer out long-term, though there is the potential for Marko Lazetic to be in the squad. Sandro Tonali is suspended, meanwhile.
According to the latest from MilanNews, there should be no surprises in the defence as Pioli is expected to pick Mike Maignan in goal, with a back four from right to left formed by Davide Calabria, Fikayo Tomori, Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez.
The midfield double pivot of Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer basically picks itself due to Tonali’s absence, while in the attacking department it is expected that Junior Messias will get the nod over Alexis Saelemaekers, with Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao completing the trident in support of the centre-forward Olivier Giroud.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Tomori, Romagnoli, Theo; Bennacer, Kessie; Messias, Krunic, Leao; Giroud.
Inter’s seemingly unstoppable title push has dramatically slowed down over the last four rounds of league action as they have lost two and drawn two in that run, with the 2-1 defeat in the derby being the game that triggered some doubts among Simone Inzaghi’s troops it seems.
Inter beat Empoli and Roma to get themselves to this stage albeit needing extra-time to beat the former, and reports suggest that Lautaro Martinez and Milan Skriniar will come back into the side for the derby.
In terms of other selection news, Matias Vecino recovered from injury last week and should be on the bench, with January mercato signing Robin Gosens in line to potentially make his first appearances, even if Ivan Perisic is currently tipped to start.
Lautaro has now not scored in eight league games in a row after Friday’s 0-0 draw at Genoa but he should keep his place alongside Edin Dzeko up front. Joaquin Correa is a doubt, with Alexis Sanchez to be on the bench.
Probable Inter XI (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Martinez, Dzeko.
Head to head
As SportsKeeda write, the Rossoneri and the Nerazzurri have faced each other 230 times in competitive fixtures so far in their illustrious histories, with Inter holding a narrow 84-78 lead in wins with 68 draws.
Where Milan hold an advantage is in the Coppa Italia, with the red side of the city emerging victorious on 10 occasions, with Inter winning 8 times and 7 draws. The clubs also faced off in a two-legged affair in the Champions League twice, with Milan emerging victorious both times through 1-1 and 5-0 aggregate victories.
The two teams last met in Serie A action earlier in February, with Olivier Giroud’s quickfire second-half brace securing a 2-1 comeback win for Pioli’s men after Ivan Perisic had got the opener.
➤ Milan have progressed or won the trophy in five of their eight Coppa Italia meetings with Inter in the knockout stages – however, Inter have won five of their last eight matches against the Rossoneri in the competition (D, L2), including the last one (January 26th, 2021), 2-1 via a Christian Eriksen free-kick in the 97th minute (after Lukaku and Ibrahimovic strikes).
➤ Inter have found the net in each of their last nine meetings with Milan in all competitions (they last enjoyed a longer run in November 1997 with 12 in a row), winning six of these games (D1 L2).
➤ Milan are unbeaten in seven of their last eight matches against Inter across the Coppa Italia, Champions League and Super Cup (W4 D3). Milan’s loss percentage against the Nerazzurri is 38% in Serie A but drops to 27% in cup games.
➤ Milan have drawn 11 of their 17 Coppa Italia Semi Finals first legs – they have won only two of those matches (L4): 2-1 against Inter on June 23rd, 1985, and 1-0 against Alessandria on January 26th, 2016, thanks to a Mario Balotelli goal.
➤ Inter have been eliminated in each of their last four Coppa Italia semi-finals, after progressing from each of the previous six: Inter have lost the most matches at this stage of the competition (19).
➤ Milan have kept a clean sheet in 11 of their last 17 Coppa Italia games, with no side registering more since the 2017/18 campaign (11 also for Juventus).
➤ Inter’s last eight Coppa Italia goals have been scored by seven different players; Alexis Sanchez is the only player to have scored two in that time.
➤ Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud are the two Serie A players with the most goals scored at a single Stadium in all competitions in 2022: six goals each at the Meazza.
➤ Alexis Sanchez is the only Serie A player to have scored in four different competitions this season: he has found the net in his last two Coppa Italia appearances while no Inter player has scored in three in a row in the last eight campaigns.
➤ Ivan Perisic has been involved in seven goals against Milan for Inter (two goals, five assists), against no other side has he managed more in all competitions (also seven against Chievo and Fiorentina).
Ones to watch
After Giroud’s brace in the derby earlier in February and the fact he netted twice in the Coppa Italia quarter-final, the Frenchman will be called upon to lead the line again in Ibrahimovic’s absence and he must affect the game more than he did against Sampdoria, Salernitana and Udinese.
Then it will be up to the full-backs to neutralise Inter’s wing-backs who like to get forward, but the most crucial battles involve Kessie and Bennacer who must keep Barella and Calhanoglu quiet given their quality and creativity.
As alluded to above, Ivan Perisic always seems to enjoy playing against the Rossoneri and after he netted in the derby a few weeks ago special attention will have to be paid to his attacking runs.
Of course, the Dumfries versus Theo Hernandez battle will be fascinating to watch too after the Frenchman chopped the Dutchman down to get a red card in the 2-1 win, causing tensions to boil over.
The two teams come into this game lower on confidence than they might have done a few weeks ago, and the safe bet for this one is that both teams try and contain and to potentially set up a winner-takes-all second leg in six weeks, given the hectic schedule and focus on league commitments.
Prediction: AC Milan 1-1 Inter