Once more unto the breach we go: AC Milan face Lecce at San Siro on Sunday night with another new manager at the helm, looking to get their season firmly back on track.
Pioli was confirmed as the Rossoneri’s new head coach last Wednesday morning after Marco Giampaolo was sacked just 111 days into the job.
The 53-year-old has already created his own slogan for the team to adhere to by stating that they must ‘win whether their heads are up or down’, and the game against Lecce represents the first chance to see his ideas in action.
|Game date||Sunday 20 October|
|Kick off time||20:45 (CEST)|
|TV Channel||ESPN+, Premier Sports 2|
The build-up to the game has been dominated by what Pioli’s team selection may look like in his debut as Milan boss.
He will have his hand forced at right-back as Davide Calabria picked up a red card in the 2-1 win at Genoa before the international break, so Andrea Conti will start there.
In terms of injuries, Mattia Caldara is not yet fully fit after the ligament injury he sustained last season, but he is now training with the group.
There are conflicting reports about how Milan’s XI will look, with La Gazzetta dello Sport reporting on Friday stating that Pioli is set to drop Krzysztof Piatek altogether.
However, Sky Italia believe that Pioli will start with Piatek as the centre-forward, with Rafael Leao out on the left.
One thing that does seem set is the midfield, where Lucas Biglia will be the regista, supported by Franck Kessie and Lucas Paqueta to his right and left respectively.
PREDICTED MILAN XI (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Conti, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Biglia, Paqueta; Suso, Piatek, Leao.
Newly promoted Lecce secured their long-awaited return to the top flight last season after a seven-year absence and a real rollercoaster in between involving financial trouble.
They have not found their return to Serie A easy though, and they travel to the San Siro sitting in the relegation zone after two wins in their first seven games under head coach Fabio Liverani.
Those two wins were impressive though and came in the last five games; a 2-1 win in Turin against Torino and a 3-1 win at SPAL showing that they are not to be taken lightly on the road.
Lecce look set to have a fully fit squad to pick from aside from midfielder Giannelli Imbula, who has thigh problems and is a doubt for the game.
Eyes will of course be on two former Milan players in striker Gianluca Lapadula – tipped to start on the bench – and goalkeeper Gabriel.
PREDICTED LECCE XI (4-3-1-2): Gabriel; Rispoli, Lucioni, Rossentini, Calderoni; Petricionne, Tachtsidis, Majer; Mancosu; Falco, Babacar.
HEAD TO HEAD
The Rossoneri have dominated this fixture over the 37 meetings between the two sides in all competitions, winning 23 occasions and losing just twice.
Milan have prevailed in four of the last six games in Serie A against Lecce, the other two being 1-1 draws away from home.
Perhaps the most memorable fixture between the sides came in the 2011-12 season at the Stadio Via del Mare when Max Allegri’s side found themselves 3-0 down at half-time.
Kevin-Prince Boateng was brought on and it proved to be an inspired decision as he scored a hat-trick to make it 3-3 before Mario Yepes netted a dramatic winner.
Match facts (via WhoScored)
- Milan have won their last 8 home matches against Lecce in all competitions.
- Milan have scored at least 2 goals in their last 9 home matches against Lecce in all competitions.
- Milan have been winning at both half time and full time in 6 of their last 7 home matches against Lecce in all competitions.
- Milan have kept a clean sheet in 5 of their last 7 home matches against Lecce in all competitions.
ONES TO WATCH
For Milan there are a number of players who are looking to re-launch their season under Pioli, but it seems more important for two forwards over anyone else.
Suso will be shifted out to his more natural position of being wide right, something which should make him feel more comfortable and provide a better situation for him to build on the one assist he has so far.
Meanwhile, Piatek will also be under the microscope as he continues to seek a goal from open play in 2019-20. Pioli has tried to simplify his game and take the Poland international back to being a ‘penalty box’ striker – something which again should help.
Lecce are equally struggling for goals, having scored just seven so far in seven games.
Four of these have come from trequartista Marco Mancosu, and the 31-year-old is proving to be the leader that the team needs to remain competitive.
The versatile Diego Farias is also worth keeping an eye on, though interestingly he is not expected to start the game, meaning he and Lapadula could be impact subs.
We are never usually bold with predictions given the nature of how the season has gone so far, and it is very feasible that Milan could find this game difficult against an opponent who will set up to frustrate.
However, Pioli is known for getting a quick rise out of his team and we expect a different kind of atmosphere on Sunday, something reflected in the prediction. An early goal, as always, is key.
Prediction: Milan 3-0 Lecce