Serie A preview: AC Milan vs. Udinese – Team news, opposition insight, stats and more

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan will be looking to put the disappointment of the Salernitana result behind them and kick off the weekend in the right way by beating Udinese on Friday night.

Milan dropped points on the road against the bottom-placed side last Saturday as they surrendered an early lead thanks to a Junior Messias goal to trail heading into the final stages before Ante Rebic’s shot from distance earned a point.

Slip-ups from Inter and Napoli meant that the two dropped points went unpunished but it served as a reminder that every game provides challenges, and Stefano Pioli revealed in his pre-match press conference that he is expecting a big response.

Game date: Friday, 25 February
Kick-off time: 18:45 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Marchetti (VAR: Guida)


Team news

The injury absentees for the game against Udinese are the same as from the trip south last weekend with Zlatan Ibrahimovic still out due to Achilles discomfort, Marko Lazetic undergoing a personalised routine, Matteo Gabbia with plantar fasciitis and Simon Kjaer out long-term.

According to MilanNews, there should be no surprises in the rearguard 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.

Another absentee is Ismael Bennacer who will miss the game through suspension after picking up too many yellow cards, so the midfield double pivot of Franck Kessie and Sandro Tonali almost picks itself, though there are question marks about the reception the Ivorian will get given the hysteria surrounding his situation.

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.

Meanwhile, Milan are at risk of being without three key players for the game against Napoli. Despite the direct red card he got against Inter in the league, Theo Hernandez is still one yellow card away from being disqualified for the trip to the Diego Armando Maradona, while Alessio Romagnoli and Brahim Diaz are also sat on four yellow cards.

Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Tomori, Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez; Tonali, Kessie; Messias, Diaz, Leao; Giroud.


The opponents

It has been a very up and down season for Udinese so far in 2021-22 and has certainly seen more downs since they won two of their first three games, having won just three times in the 23 rounds that followed.

Luca Gotti made it until December 7 as the head coach before being sacked and Gabriele Cioffi took over as caretaker initially, and the rollercoaster nature of his reign so far might be best summarised by the 4-0 win at Cagliari being followed by a 6-2 home defeat to Atalanta.

The Friulians currently sit three points above the drop zone albeit with two games in hand on 18th-placed Cagliari, and Cioffi has some selection decisions to make. Former Milan loanee Gerard Deulofeu should get the nod in a front two but whether he is partnered by Beto – who is on a five-game scoring drought – or Isaac Success remains to be seen.

Defender Bram Nuytinck is an injury doubt but Roberto Pereyra made his return in the 1-1 draw against Lazio in the last round having been out since November due to a shoulder injury

According to MilanNews, Cioffi should deploy his team with a 3-5-2 with Silvestri in goal, then Perez, Pablo Marí and Becao in defence; Udogie and Molina on the outside, with Makengo, Walace and Arslan completing the midfield department and in attack Beto and Deulofeu.

Probable Udinese XI (3-5-2): Silvestri; Becao, Mari, Perez; Udogie, Arslan, Walace, Makengo, Molina; Deulofeu, Beto.


Head to head

Milan have won 13 of their last 31 games against Udinese meaning they have emerged victorious in less than 50% of games, having lost 10 and drawn 8 in that run.

The two teams last faced each other earlier this season in Serie A, with the game ending 1-1 as Beto opened the scoring for Udinese but a late equaliser from Ibrahimovic robbed them of all three points.

In the same fixture last season it was a 1-1 draw at San Siro as Becao’s header looked like taking the away side to victory before Stryger Larsen’s inexplicable late handball allowed a 97th-minute penalty from Kessie to earn a draw.

Match facts:

➤ Milan and Udinese drew their last Serie A meeting, and could draw home and away in a single campaign in the competition for the first time since 2010/11 (4-4 and 0-0).

➤ Milan have gone unbeaten in their four Serie A meetings with Udinese under Stefano Pioli: the last AC Milan manager to have avoided defeat in each of his first five such matches was Alberto Zaccheroni, back in 1998-2000.

➤ Milan have lost only one of their last 14 Serie A home matches against Udinese (1-0 in September 2016, thanks to Stipe Perica’s strike – W8 D5).

➤ After their draw against Salernitana the last time out, AC Milan could fail to win in two Serie A matches in a row against teams starting the day in the bottom five of the table for the first time since December 2020 (v Parma and Genoa back then).

➤ Milan have kept a clean sheet in their last two Serie A home games (0-0 v Juventus and 1-0 v Sampdoria) – they last managed to do this in three in a row in October 2020, which is the only previous instance under Stefano Pioli.

➤ Since the beginning of 2022, Udinese have won only five Serie A points (W1 D2 L3) – only Empoli and Bologna (four each) have had fewer, while Udinese have also conceded 13 goals in the process, more than only Empoli (16).

➤ Udinese have made the fewest open play crosses in Serie A this season: 187, at least 50 fewer than any other side so far – they have indeed scored the fewest goals following a cross in the competition so far (two), with AC Milan netting four times via this method themselves.

➤ Milan’s Ante Rebic scored his first Serie A brace against Udinese at the Meazza in January 2020. He has scored each of his last six league goals away from home (including one in the last game, against Salernitana), with his last goal at the San Siro Stadium coming in April 2021, against Genoa.

➤ Theo Hernández (3144) and Rafael Leão (2625) are the two players who have covered the most distance (in metres) with progressive carries in Serie A this season – the Portuguese has also had the most carries ending with a shot in the competition so far (24).

➤ Rodrigo Becão is the Udinese outfield player with the most minutes played in Serie A so far (1965) – he has scored two goals in his Serie A career, both against Milan: in August 2019 (his
debut in the competition) and in March 2021 at the Meazza.


Ones to watch

Olivier Giroud will be tasked with leading the line again and despite having drawn a blank against Sampdoria in the last home game, he netted back-to-back braces against Inter and Lazio at San Siro and will be looking to add to his home goal tally.

Theo, Romagnoli and Brahim must be careful not to pick up yellow cards given they would miss the Napoli game, while Fikayo Tomori must bounce back after an uncharacteristically lax game against Salernitana, as must Mike Maignan and Sandro Tonali.

Ante Rebic meanwhile has history in this fixture having fired in his first goals for the club during a 3-2 win back in 2019-20 including a last-minute winner, and he should be a useful weapon off the bench.

As mentioned above, Udinese centre-back Becao has scored two goals in his Serie A career and both came against Milan and he will also face the task of keeping the Rossoneri’s attack quiet.

Matteo Moretto reported earlier in the week that Milan are one of the clubs monitoring Deulofeu’s situation at Udinese, where he is under contract until 2024. Napoli, Fiorentina and Roma also have Deulofeu on their radar ahead of the summer, with an asking price of around €15-20m in place for the 27-year-old, who has 7 league goals this season.


Prediction

If Milan have concrete title aspirations there is absolutely no room for another slip-up like against Salernitana, especially as the first game of the round so they have another chance to put pressure Inter and Napoli.

However, Udinese are always an unpredictable proposition and that is why a walk in the park does not seem like a safe thing to assume.

Prediction: AC Milan 2-1 Udinese

Tags AC Milan Milan-Udinese

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