AC Milan put an end to their run of draws last weekend as they managed to beat Napoli by one goal to nil away from home. It was a crucial win for the Rossoneri who, however, must keep this up.
Milan are now back in first place and it’s safe to say that they are still very much in the Scudetto race, in spite of Inter’s one game in hand. This also means that they need to maintain a good level with just ten games left to play.
During his pre-match press conference, Stefano Pioli stated that his side shouldn’t look too much into past mistakes and slip-ups, but rather focus on what is left of the season and try to do their best.
Game date: Saturday, 12 March
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Chiffi (VAR: Nasca)
Milan have struggled a lot with injuries this season but the fact is that Pioli has been able to rely on strong XIs over the last few weeks. For this one, only the likes of Simon Kjaer and Tiemoue Bakayoko will be missing due to injury.
Alessio Romagnoli has recovered from the injury he sustained in the derby against Inter (Coppa Italia) and he will be on the bench tomorrow, by the looks of it. Pierre Kalulu has been so good lately that it’s not really a surprise.
Theo Hernandez, on the other hand, will be serving a one-game ban due to yellow card accumulation but that is the only significant absence for Pioli. Alessandro Florenzi is the favourite to replace him as things stand, just like we saw against Sampdoria as well.
There have been different reports regarding the midfield and up but, as stated by our colleagues at SempreMilan.it, Pioli will most likely opt for a tandem of Sandro Tonali and Ismael Bennacer. This also means that Franck Kessie will stay as the No.10, with Brahim Diaz on the bench.
In the attacking trio, Junior Messias and Rafael Leao should keep their spots on the wing, seeing as they did well against Napoli. Alexis Saelemaekers came on in the second half but was less successful, missing a one-on-one with the keeper (great angle as well).
Olivier Giroud will be the man up front tomorrow and that is certainly understandable, also because Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t really to play from the first minute just yet. We could get to see the Swede in the second half, though.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Florenzi; Bennacer, Tonali; Messias, Kessie, Leao; Giroud.
Empoli have been one of the surprise teams this season under the management of the well-known Aurelio Andreazzoli. They are currently in 13th place and have collected 32 points this season, which is ten points clear of the relegation zone.
Between round 11 and 17, they had a great run with four wins, two draws and one loss which included a 1-0 win away at Napoli. Things haven’t been as great since then, though, with zero wins, six draws and five losses.
The feeling is that they will secure a new contract for next season but it’s still too early for them to hit cruise control and enjoy their playing. That’s why Milan cannot afford to underestimate their opponents tomorrow evening.
Former Milan man Patrick Cutrone is currently playing for Empoli but he will be on the bench tomorrow, as Andrea Pinamonti is the starting striker. The Rossoneri will also be keeping an extra eye on Nedim Bajrami, who has been linked with them in the last few days.
Probable Empoli XI (4-3-2-1): Vocario; Stojanovic, Romagnoli, Luperto, Parisi; Zurkowski, Asslani, Bandinelli; Henderson, Bajrami; Pinamonti.
Head to head
Milan’s recent record against Empoli is very good and they won the reverse fixture 4-2. However, it’s also clear that they have struggled to perform against the bottom-half teams this season, winning only two of the last six such clashes.
In the reverse fixture, Florenzi was one of the goalscorers as he found the back of the net with a lovely free-kick. It was his first and only goal for Milan (thus far) and he’s also expected to start this time out.
It was also one of the first games at No.10 for Kessie, who responded with a brace to lead Milan to victory. Empoli did find the back of the net twice, though, and it’s not often you win a game with that amount conceded so the Rossoneri need to do better.
As said, Pioli’s men have a point to prove as they have been less successful against bottom-half teams this season. Down below, you can see the highlights of the reverse fixture and the stats ahead of the upcoming one.
➤ AC Milan have won their last two Serie A meetings against Empoli (3-0 on February 22nd 2019 and 4-2 on December 22nd 2021); they, who last won three in a row against them between 2003-2006 (four), had only won two in their previous seven against them in the competition (D4 L1).
➤ AC Milan kept a clean sheet in their last Serie A home game against Empoli on February 22nd 2019 (3-0, with goals from Piatek, Kessié and Castillejo), after having conceded in each of the previous five – before this run they had kept a clean sheet in five of their first seven such matches against them in the competition, shipping only two goals (Esposito on February 22nd 1998 and Di Natale on April 19th 2003).
➤ AC Milan have won only two of their last six Serie A meetings against sides in the bottom half of the table (D3 L1), drawing their last two, against Salernitana and Udinese.
➤ In AC Milan’s last three Serie A home games, neither side has scored more than one goal (three total goals); since January 23rd, only Genoa’s home matches have seen fewer goals (two).
➤ In the last 11 Serie A match-days (since December 17th), no side has earned fewer points than Empoli (six, level with Venezia): they have failed to win a single game in the process (D6 L5).
➤ AC Milan (252) and Empoli (233) are two of the five sides with the most high turnovers in Serie A this season (sequences of play starting within 40 metres of the opposition goal); AC Milan are also the side to have attempted the most shots from such situations (51).
➤ Only Venezia (170) have faced more shots on target than Empoli (162) in Serie A this season: Empoli however, have conceded 4.7 shots on target per game on average away from home, whilst they face 6.9 per match on home soil.
➤ Olivier Giroud could become the third Frenchman in the history of the Serie A to score 10+ goals in a single campaign for AC Milan (currently eight goals), after Jean-Pierre Papin (13 goals in 1992/93) and Jérémy Ménez (16 in 2014/15).
➤ Rafael Leão has completed the most dribbles in Serie A this season (67), whilst Empoli’s Petar Stojanovic is the defender with the most this term (45).
➤ Empoli are the side that AC Milan’s Franck Kessié has his best minutes per goal ratio against in Serie A: he has netted four goals in five Serie A meetings with them (including a brace in the reverse fixture), averaging one goal every 94 minutes.
Ones to watch
Kalulu was mentioned ahead of the Napoli game but it’s certainly worth highlighting him again. He’s going from strength to strength and it remains to be seen if he, along with Tomori, can keep Milan from conceding twice this time out.
In addition to him, the left-hand side of the defence will be interesting to watch as Florenzi will start there. It’s obviously quite telling that Pioli will opt for him rather than Ballo-Toure, but it’s also clear that the Roma loanee has great qualities and can make a difference for the team.
As for Empoli, Bajrami will have to be kept quiet as he scored in the reverse fixture and only the bar stopped him from getting a brace then, which would’ve meant 2-2. You can understand why Milan are interested in him and in that sense, they will keep an extra eye on him tomorrow.
They have some interesting players, it must be said, and another one is Mattia Viti. He will start on the bench as things stand but should he make an appearance, keep in your mind that he’s another potential Milan target.
It feels like I said this ahead of every game, but it’s tough to say. Milan have had their struggles against bottom-half teams but at the same time, they are flying high after the Napoli win and things have seemingly clicked.
The recent defensive performances shouldn’t be underestimated either and, with that in mind, Milan should come away with all three points tomorrow. And perhaps even with a clean sheet.
Prediction: Milan 2-0 Empoli