AC Milan have just nine games left of the season and are currently the frontrunners in the Scudetto race, looking to extend their winning run tomorrow against Cagliari.
Milan are coming off back-to-back wins against Napoli and Empoli, bouncing back after a period of some disappointing draws. As a result, they are now in first place and since Inter drew against Torino, the Scudetto is in the Rossoneri’s hands.
During his pre-match press conference, Stefano Pioli stated that his side need to approach the game with the utmost respect as ‘all the teams have great motivations’ at this stage of the season.
Game date: Saturday, 19 March
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: Sardegna Arena
Referee: Di Bello (VAR: Fabbri)
A few players, namely Sandro Tonali and Daniel Maldini, have had a fever in the last few days and the former only just recovered. Furthermore, Brahim Diaz picked up a knock during today’s training session and he will thus be evaluated tomorrow.
Other than that, and the long-term absentees, Pioli will be able to rely on a strong squad for the game. Theo Hernandez served a suspension last time out but will be back tomorrow, ready to play from the first minute. Some rumours also suggest Alessio Romagnoli could start over Pierre Kalulu.
As for potentially replacing Tonali and Diaz, our colleagues at SempreMilan.it report that Franck Kessie could be dropped down to the midfield tandem, with Rade Krunic starting in the No.10 role. However, it Diaz could still play from start if he’s condition is deemed good enough.
In the attacking trio, Junior Messias and Alexis Saelemaekers will battle it out on the right as usual, while Rafael Leao is a certainty on the left flank. Both of the right-wingers have failed to impress lately and it will be interesting to see what choice Pioli will make, with the Rebic hypothesis lurking.
Olivier Giroud will be the man up front tomorrow but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s condition has improved a lot and as such, he could come on earlier than just the final part of the second half.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Tomori, Romagnoli (Kalulu), Hernandez; Bennacer, Kessie; Messias (Saelemaekers), Diaz (Krunic), Leao; Giroud.
After sacking Eusebio Di Francesco in the middle of the last season, Cagliari once again parted ways with their manager Leonardo Semplici just three games into this term. They replaced him with Walter Mazzarri and it’s a decision that can be questioned.
The Sardinian side are just one position off the relegation zone and have just three points to spare, meaning they still have survival to play for. Bar two consecutive defeats in the last rounds, they have done well this year with two wins and three draws, including a draw against Napoli and a win against Atalanta.
It will probably be a fight until the end for Cagliari and only then can we evaluate the hiring of Mazzarri. The teams below them haven’t exactly been brilliant either so they might not need to do wonders.
In Cagliari’s XI, we find Milan’s academy product Raoul Bellanova, who left the Rossoneri to continue his adventure with Bordeaux in France. He’s currently at Cagliari on loan with an option to buy and he has been one of the standouts this season.
Probable Cagliari XI (3-4-2-1): Cragno; Goldaniga, Lovato, Altar; Bellanova, Marin, Grassi, Dalbert; Baselli, Joao Pedro; Pavoletti.
Head to head
Milan’s record against Cagliari is very positive, having lost just one of the last 36 games played against the Sardinian side. In addition, there have only been eight draws in that period, meaning the Rossoneri certainly have H2H advantage historically.
In the reverse fixture, Sandro Tonali and Olivier Giroud both scored their first goal for Milan, with the latter even bagging a brace. It was a rather comfortable 4-1 win in the end and the Rossoneri’s superiority was quite clear.
As said, Milan’s record against Cagliari is certainly very good and that game was further proof of that. Down below, you can see the highlights of the reverse fixture and the stats ahead of the upcoming one.
➤ Cagliari have won only one of the last 36 Serie A games played against Milan (D8 L27), a 2-1 win in May 2017.
➤ Cagliari have conceded goals in each of their last 11 home games against AC Milan in Serie A; the Rossoblù only have a longer ongoing streak only against Roma in the competition (15).
➤ After a run of five unbeaten games (W2 D3), Cagliari have lost their last two games without scoring (0-3 against Lazio and 0-2 against Spezia); they previously lost three games on the bounce without scoring in December.
➤ Cagliari failed to score in their last Serie A home game, last failing to score in consecutive home league matches last May, against Fiorentina and Genoa under Leonardo Semplici.
➤ AC Milan have won their last two league games 1-0 (against Napoli and Empoli) last winning three on the bounce in May 2021, against Benevento, Juventus and Torino.
➤ Milan have scored in all 14 away Serie A games this season – only in 1967/68 have they managed to score in 15 away games in a row in the topflight (a run of 15).
➤ Milan are both the team with the most shots from high turnovers (51) and the side that has scored the joint-most build up goals in Serie A this season (eight, as Inter) – Cagliari are yet to score a build up goal this term.
➤ No side has scored more goals in the opening 15 minutes of Serie A games this season than Milan (11 goals, as Lazio and Verona), while no side has scored fewer than Cagliari during this period (two goals, as Salernitana and Genoa).
➤ João Pedro has scored three goals in 10 matches against Milan in the top-flight, all between 2017 and 2018; however, he has failed to score in his last five games against the Rossoneri – the Brazilian has been involved in 50% of his side’s goals this season (14 – 10 goals, 4 assists), the highest ratio for a player this term.
➤ Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored in all his last seven Serie A games against Cagliari (eight goals) – the last player to score in eight consecutive appearances against a single opponent in the top-flight was Christian Vieri, against Perugia between February 1999 and December 2003 (12 goals).
Ones to watch
It will be very interesting to see Hernandez back in the line-up tomorrow. Even though he’s only been away for one game, his absence was evident in the Empoli clash and against a team that’s not defensively brilliant, he could gave a good game.
Another player to keep an eye on will be whoever starts on the right flank. While most of the other positions are certain at this stage of the season, this one is still very much up for grabs. Frankly, Saelemaekers and Messias must show that they deserve to start even more.
As for Cagliari, Bellanova has already been mentioned but given his Milan roots, it might be worth keeping an extra eye on him. He has been in great form this season and could actually cause the Rossoneri some issues tomorrow.
Then there is the ever-present Joao Pedro, who always seems to find the back of the net or get an assist against Milan. Being the captain, he will his best to lead Cagliari to salvation.
Even though Milan are the favourites, there is still a lot of pressure on them to do well tomorrow evening. They are closer than ever to the Scudetto and they need to show their strength with a good result.
You could also flip it, though, as Cagliari are in desperate need of points to make sure of salvation for next season. In the end, Pioli’s men should come away with all three points.
Prediction: Milan 2-0 Cagliari