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

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan will face off against Sassuolo in front of over 70,000 fans at San Siro this afternoon hoping to end their winless run of five games.

The year of 2023 has not been kind to Milan as they lost against Torino in the Coppa Italia, Inter in the Supercoppa and Lazio in the league, and were forced to settle for 2-2 draws against Roma (from 2-0 up) and Lecce, but they welcome a struggling Sassuolo side today.

The game will be influenced by a number of key battles, starting with the one between Rafael Leao and Jeremy Toljan. Leao ran riot down the left wing when Muldur started at right-back for Sassuolo in the 3-0 win to clinch the Scudetto, but was kept quiet in the 0-0 draw earlier this season when Toljan started. The Portuguese will look to get between the German and centre-back Martin Erlic to assist Giroud, and he needs a goal to add to his two in six so far this year.

In midfield there will be a fascinating duel between Sandro Tonali and Davide Frattesi. The all-Italian contest pits together two young midfielders who are often at the heart of what their respective teams create and are good at distributing play as well as driving it, so Tonali and Frattesi will have to be good in both phases, possession and non-possession.

Milan are Domenico Berardi favourite victim in Serie A as he has 10 goals against the Rossoneri, who are also the club in the top flight against whom he has been involved in the most goals (14: 10 goals, 4 assists). Theo Hernandez‘s job will be to stop the Italian cutting inside onto his left foot and also pin him back by linking up better with Leao, while the defence must limit Berardi’s set piece opportunities.

Olivier Giroud‘s goal drought continued in the midweek defeat to Lazio meaning he has not scored for Milan since the win against Spezia before the World Cup break, and he will come up against an experienced defender in Gian Marco Ferrari. The Italian kept the French striker quiet in the 0-0 earlier this season before he was replaced by Yacine Adli, and will look to repeat that again today.

Finally, we come to Davide Calabria against Armand Laurienté on Sassuolo’s left wing. The 24-year-old French winger has two goals and three assists in 13 appearances for the Neroverdi since joining from Lorient and has been one of their brighter sparks, so Milan’s captain will simply have to be better than he was on Tuesday night when Mattia Zaccagni ran rings around him.

Tags AC Milan Milan-Sassuolo

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