After three consecutive draws in all competitions, AC Milan will be looking to bounce back with a win on Sunday evening. Three important points are at stake as they will take on Napoli away from home.
Just like the other top sides in Serie A, Milan have dropped points in the last few weeks with the draws against Salernitana and Udinese. However, the mid-week clash against Inter (ended 0-0) provided some positive signals, which might give them a boost.
During his pre-match press conference, Stefano Pioli made it very clear that his players need to face every game that remains with great focus and determination. That’s the only way for them to bounce back.
Game date: Sunday, 6 March
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: Stadio Diego Armando Maradona
Referee: Orsato (VAR: Valeri)
Alessio Romagnoli was forced to leave the mid-week derby early due to an injury and it looks like he won’t be called up tomorrow. The medical staff doesn’t want to risk him and there’s no point, given how well Pierre Kalulu replaced him.
As per Gazzetta Dello Sport, there will be a total of three changes to the starting XI, with Kalulu being one of them. Davide Calabria will be back from start after getting some rest against Inter, while Sandro Tonali will be back from suspension. The young midfielder will replace Rade Krunic in the XI, with Kessie switching to the No.10 role.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been out with an injury ever since Milan’s game against Juventus but it appears he will be called up tomorrow. He trained with the squad today and yesterday, which might result in him getting a few minutes towards the end of the clash.
Despite some good chances missed against Inter, Alexis Saelemaekers is expected to start on the right wing and it’s another important opportunity for him. Junior Messias is dangerously close to permanently leapfrogging the Belgian in the pecking order, meaning a good display is needed.
Theo Hernandez and Brahim Diaz are just one yellow card away from suspension but given the upcoming games after tomorrow, it’s nothing to worry about.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Theo Hernandez; Bennacer, Tonali; Saelemaekers (Messias), Kessie, Leao; Giroud.
Under the management of Luciano Spalletti, Napoli started the season incredibly well with ten wins and two draws in the first 12 rounds. They experienced a tough period shortly after but since the start of the year, they haven’t lost (5W, 3D).
The Partenopei leapfrogged Milan in the standings just last round as Fabio Ruiz scored a fantastic last-minute winner against Lazio. Even if their performances haven’t always been great, the results have been consistently positive. Many thought they would eventually drop off, but that hasn’t happened and it seems unlikely.
Given the standings, tomorrow’s clash is obviously a very important clash for both teams and Spalletti’s men have the upper hand after the 1-0 win at San Siro. The manager will be able to field a strong XI as well, seeing as just Tuanzebe and Malcuit are missing.
Gazzetta Dello Sport made a combined XI for both teams a few days ago and six of the players were Napoli ones: Di Lorenzo, Koulibaly, Fabian Ruiz, Politano, Zielinski and Osimhen. There’s no doubt that Milan could do with a playmaker like Zielinski, or Ruiz for that matter.
Probable Napoli XI (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Fabian Ruiz, Lobotka; Politano, Zielinski, Insigne; Osimhen.
Head to head
Milan haven’t been that successful against Napoli lately as they have registered just one win in the last 14 encounters. In addition, the last two meetings have both ended 1-0 in favour of the Partenopei.
In the reverse fixture, Elmas gave Napoli the lead very early and Milan had loads of chances to score the equaliser. They thought they had done so when Franck Kessie slotted it home inside the penalty box. However, a controversial VAR call ruled out the goal.
The Rossoneri’s last win against the Naples side came last season away from home as Ibrahimovic bagged a brace. Having said that, it’s clear Napoli will be considered the favourites for this one.
➤ Milan have won only one of their last 14 Serie A meetings with Napoli (3-1 away from home on 22nd November 2020) and in this period they have suffered eight defeats (D5), including losing each of the last two (both 0-1).
➤ Milan won their last away match in Napoli (3-1 on 22 November 2020) but have not strung together two wins in a row at the Azzurri’s home ground in Serie A since 1981 (the second game ended 1-0 for the Rossoneri thanks to a Ferrario own-goal).
➤ At least three goals have been scored in each of the last five games between Napoli and AC Milan at the home of the Partenopei in Serie A (22 in total, 4.4 on average).
➤ Napoli have gained the most points in the second part of the current Serie A season (18 points in eight games), while Milan rank fourth in this period (15 points from eight games); the Azzurri started the season with eight wins in the first eight games, followed by the Rossoneri in the standings (seven wins, one draw).
➤ Milan have drawn their last two games in the league but haven’t drawn three in a row in Serie A since September 2018, with Gennaro Gattuso (three draws against Cagliari, Atalanta and Empoli).
➤ Milan have conceded seven goals from corners in Serie A this season (only Cagliari have more with eight), including one against Napoli; the Rossoneri have conceded 24% of their goals against in Serie A this season (no team has a higher percentage).
➤ These two sides have scored the most goals from outside the box in Serie A this season: Napoli have 10, thanks largely to Fabian Ruiz’s six goals (a high this season), while Milan have nine (Ibrahimovic with three is Milan player with the most).
➤ With a win, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne can become the first Serie A forward to reach 250 wins in all competitions with a single team since 2010.
➤ Among the Rossoneri players with at least one goal scored in both 2020/21 and 2021/22, Rafael Leao is the only Milan player to have already improved in terms of goals scored compared to last season (eight goals this season against six last term).
➤ Eljif Elmas is the youngest player with at least five assists in Serie A this season (behind him in this ranking is Theo Hernández): the Macedonian scored his last goal in Serie A in the game against Milan, a 1-0 win at the Meazza for Spalletti’s team.
Ones to watch
Since Romagnoli is injured, Kalulu will get the chance once again and his performance against Inter was very promising. Keeping Osimhen quiet won’t be easy for the Milan defenders and thus the young Frenchman will have to bring his A-game, which we got to see mid-week.
In addition to Kalulu, it will be interesting to see what impact Kessie can have in the trequartista role. He obviously adds physicality that Diaz lacks but it comes with a cost, seeing as the Ivorian isn’t as creative in attack. Maybe he will get revenge for the goal that was ruled out in the reverse fixture.
As for Napoli, one has already been mentioned and that is Osimhen. He has eleven goals and four assists this season and he will certainly cause problems for the Milan defence. The question is how well the latter will cope with it.
Milan cannot afford to give the likes of Ruiz and Zielinski space on the edge of the box either as they are lethal from distance. The former showed it just last week and we have seen it from the Polish international many times. In short, Napoli’s key players are definitely of more attacking nature.
It’s a very tough game to predict normally but especially this time out, as the form has changed so much for all of the top teams lately. It’s clear, however, that this clash could be the turning point/confidence boost for either side.
The record suggests that Napoli are the clear favourites but Milan will be eager for revenge after the reverse fixture controversy, and they are somewhat on the up after the good display against Inter.
Prediction: Napoli 1-2 Milan