The five key battles that could win or lose the game for Milan vs. Spezia

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan will host Spezia this evening as the two sides meet at San Siro for just the second time in history, with the Rossoneri hoping to make it three league wins from three to begin 2022.

Milan welcome the Ligurians with a host of selection problems including three of five centre-backs being out due to injuries or Covid, plus three central midfielders missing due to AFCON or suspension, but there are still some fascinating battles to watch.

Given the emergency in defence and midfield, Pioli will rely on attack as the best form of defence, and there should be an excellent duel between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Martin Erlic.

We know the Swede is still decisive at 40 but he is looking for a first goal at San Siro since the 2-0 win over Lazio, and if he did score then Spezia would become the 81st team he has scored against in his career, thus overtaking Cristiano Ronaldo and becoming the first player from 2000 onwards to achieve that number. Erlic has been linked with a move to the Rossoneri before, and the 23-year-old Croatian is a real powerhouse centre-back who won’t mind getting into aerial battles with Ibra.

There is no doubting that Rafael Leao has been electric since his return from injury with 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 games this year alone, and he will be targeting Kelvin Amian on Spezia’s right flank. The 23-year-old signed for them in July from Toulouse and has made 17 league appearances, and he has the pace and physicality – given he can also play centre-back – to be a potential match for Rafa.

The middle of the park will also be an intriguing battle given Milan are fielding a never-seen-before double pivot, and Rade Krunic will have to keep an eye on Spezia’s Simone Bastoni, who scored his very first Serie A goal against Milan in February 2021. He is their joint-top scorer with three goals this season including the winner in a relegation six-pointer against Ligurian rivals Genoa.

M’Bala Nzola carries the task of leading the line for the visiting side and given his size and mobility, we think that Pierre Kalulu will be tasked with keeping him away from dangerous positions rather than Matteo Gabbia, who tends to struggle against quicker opponents who can roll him.

Finally, Milan have a crucial game against Juventus on Sunday at San Siro and if Theo Hernandez gets a yellow card he will miss it through suspension. Atalanta loanee Viktor Kovalenko will be hoping to add to his tally of one goal and help his parent club by giving a top four rival a suspension to deal with in a big game.

READ MORE: Ibrahimovic has a double objective vs. Spezia as Pioli relies on attack amid crisis

Tags AC Milan Milan Spezia

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