The five key battles that could win or lose the game for Milan against Empoli

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan take on Empoli at San Siro in what is a rare early kick-off on a Sunday, and they are hoping to build off consecutive wins in Serie A and the Europa League.

Milan will head into the clash with decent confidence after the two wins, but the feeling is that they could have done a lot better in both of those and they face an Empoli side who have actually been resurgent under Davide Nicola having looked like certainties for the drop.

The outcome of the game will be heavily influenced by some key battles, such as the one between Luka Jovic and Sebastiano Luperto. The 27-year-old centre-back returned to Empoli last summer having previously been on loan there twice, and he has established himself as a starter.

Jovic meanwhile is looking to prove that he can score goals when he starts games too. At the moment his reputation is that of being a super sub, but with Olivier Giroud needing some rest and no Rafael Leao due to suspension, he must stand up and be counted from minute one.

At the other end, Milan will be hoping that they are not hit by the curse of the ex as M’Baye Niang returns to San Siro to face his former club, hoping to get the better of Fikayo Tomori who will get the nod for Milan.

Niang has scored three goals in four games since he joined the Tuscan club, helping them pick up some valuable points, while he faces a Tomori-Thiaw pairing that have not played together for some time but are probably Milan’s first choice duo.

Moving to the midfield, Ismael Bennacer should get a start alongside Tijjani Reijnders in the double pivot and he will have to keep tabs on Szymon Żurkowski who continues to establish himself as a tricky customer.

The feeling is that Bennacer is still getting back towards 100% after so long out through injury, while Żurkowski – who joined Empoli on loan from Spezia in January – has already got four goals in six Serie A games including a hat-trick against Monza, meaning he has had a Niang-esque impact.

One area where Milan will look to overwhelm their guests is on the right side, where Christian Pulisic is likely to do battle with Empoli’s left-back Giuseppe Pezzella, a 26-year-old who has previously been at Atalanta and Udinese.

Pulisic got the goal on Thursday night that sealed a 4-2 win over Slavia Praha and in recent weeks he has been a real wind-up merchant, drawing two red cards in the victory against Lazio and another red against the Czech side. Another goal would see him hit double figures for the season.

Finally, we end with Ruben Loftus-Cheek‘s duel with Razvan Marin. Milan were actually linked with a move for the Romanian when he was with Cagliari and he has since found his way to the outskirts of Florence.

Loftus-Cheek kept up his excellent goalscoring form in 2024 with a header against Slavia on Thursday night, and he faces the double task of pinning Marin in the non-possession phase while also looking to drive play forward for the Rossoneri, and add to his tally if the opportunity arises.


Tags AC Milan Milan Empoli
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