Serie A is back and AC Milan – being the reigning champions – will kickstart the season against Udinese on Saturday evening. After a positive pre-season campaign, the enthusiasm from last term has remained among the fans.
Milan inevitably have a bit more responsilbity on their shoulders heading into this season after claiming their first Scudetto in eleven years. The pre-season games (6/7 wins, 27 goals scored) provided positive indications and helped rekindle last season’s enthusiasm among the fans, but the toughest part is to come.
Saturday’s clash will be the first of the season, along with Sampdoria-Atalanta, as they are both scheduled for 18:30. It’s tradition for the champions to open the season at home, and that’s why Milan have that slot.
Game date: Saturday, August 13
Kick-off time: 18:30 (CEST)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Marinelli (VAR: Mazzoleni)
Stefano Pioli has been able to rely on most of his key players during pre-season and some of the youngsters have also had the opportunity to impress. As things stand, the injury situation is positive but there are a few question marks for the manager.
Starting with the certainties, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is recovering from his knee surgery and he won’t be available until the start of 2023. Sandro Tonali has improved a lot and is being examined on a day-to-day basis but he won’t be risked for the game. Meanwhile, Divock Origi has almost recovered fully and should be on the bench.
Olivier Giroud was left out of the final two friendlies of the pre-season due to muscle fatigue and he has been eased back into training this week, doing some individual work. However, his presence from the first minute is in serious doubt with Ante Rebic tipped to start.
Aside from that, the starting XI will be very similar to what we saw at the end of last season. Obviously, Franck Kessie has left the club and that means Ismael Bennacer will take his place in the midfield tandem. And since Tonali is injured, Rade Krunic is in pole position to start as well.
Junior Messias vs. Alexis Saelemaekers will likely be a constant battle on the right throughout this season, but the former’s performances in pre-season make him the favourite for the game.
Rafael Leao is virtually a dead cert to get the nod on the left wing, and as mentioned it should be Ante Rebic – who impressed in preseason with four goals – who leads the line.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Theo; Bennacer, Krunic; Messias, Díaz, Leao; Rebic.
Udinese finished in 12th place last season and thus had a rather comfortable ride, with 17 points to spare relegation-wise. They didn’t have a brilliant start, though, which eventually led to the sacking of Luca Gotti.
Gabriele Chioffi replaced him as interim manager and steered them to safety. However, he was never going to be the long-term solution and that’s why Udinese poached Andrea Sottil for this season. The 48-year-old took Ascoli to the Serie B promotion play-offs last season but they were knocked out in the first round.
In any case, he impressed with the squad he worked with and he’s also a good fit for Udinese as he used the 3-5-2 formation. A few notable exits he must take into consideration are Mari, Molina, Pussetto, but Udinese have brought in the centre-backs Perez (from Atletico Madrid) and Bijol (CSKA Moscow) to make up for it. In fact, both are expected to be starters.
Then, of course, Sottil will be able to rely on Udinese’s danger men in Beto and Deulofeu, who both did really well last season. Milan will have to watch out for these two and it’s an early test for both Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu.
Probable Udinese XI (3-5-2): Silvestri; Becao, Perez, Nuytinck; Soppy, Pereyra, Walace, Makengo, Udogie; Deulofeu, Success.
Head to head
The stats from the head-to-head between these two teams are rather interesting. The last three games have all ended in draws: 1-1, 1-1 and 1-1. The last win dates back to November 2020, when Ibrahimovic scored the 2-1 winner with a bicycle kick. And the meeting before that was the incredible 3-2 comeback win at San Siro.
While the last three meetings ended in stalemate, Milan have the upper hand in the head-to-head department as Udinese haven’t won since 2019 (the opening game of that season). And their last win before that was in 2017, but they have admittedly done well to at least claim a point recently.
The last time these two met, there was a bit of controversy as Udinese scored their equaliser with a handball. Udogie more or less admitted it after the game but VAR blamed inconclusive images, which is a slight modification of the truth as while it wasn’t 100% clear at first, the handball could be seen upon closer inspection.
➤ Udinese have drawn more matches against AC Milan than against any other side: 36 of 94, 41 wins for the Rossoneri and 17 wins for the Friulians. In addition, each of the last three league meetings between the two sides have ended level (always 1-1); only between 1992 and 1994 has this fixture produced a longer streak of draws in the top-flight (four).
➤ Milan have lost only one of their last 10 league matches against Udinese (W4 D5), however the defeat arrived on MD1 of 2019/20 (1-0 on 25th August 2019 at the Dacia Arena with Rodrigo Becão’s goal).
➤ Milan are unbeaten in 14 of their last 15 home league games against Udinese (W8 D6), scoring 31 goals during this period (2.1 on average per match).
➤ This will be the sixth time Milan and Udinese will meet on MD1 in a Serie A season. One win for each side (for the Rossoneri in 1950 and for the Friulians in 2019) and three draws in the five previous such meetings.
➤ Milan haven’t drawn any of their last 10 Serie A matches on MD1 (W5 L5), with their last such draw coming back in 2011/12 (2-2 v Lazio).
➤ Following wins against Bologna in 2020/21 and Sampdoria in 2021/22, the Rossoneri could win three MD1 games in a row in Serie A for the first time since 1987 – 1996 (10 in that case).
➤ Udinese have only won one of their last six Serie A matches on MD1 (D2 L3): in 2019/20 under Igor Tudor against Milan.
➤ The Scudetto holding team has won each of their last six games on MD1 in Serie A; the last time such a side failed to win their season opener was in 2015/16: Juventus-Udinese 0-1 with Cyril Théréau’s goal.
➤ In 2022, Milan have conceded the fewest goals (nine in 19 matches) across the top five European leagues, while also keeping the most clean sheets during this period (12).
➤ Milan’s Rafael Leão netted 11 goals in Serie A last term (the joint-most for the Rossoneri, alongside Giroud), he also ranked top for assists (8), total shots (97), shots on target (38), dribbles completed (98) and touches in the opposition box (193).
➤ Iyenoma Udogie is the defender with the most goals in 2022 in the top five European leagues (five goals) – in addition, he has been involved in six goals in his last six Serie A games (three goals and three assists).
Ones to watch
Milan have the obvious danger men, such as Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao, but another one to keep an eye on tomorrow is Ante Rebic. Pre-season proved that on a good day, he can be really prolific, while the most reassuring signs were probably regarding his condition.
Then, of course, we have the potential official debut of Charles De Ketelaere who has made two appearances for Milan thus far. It’s still hard to say exactly what he will bring to the team and that’s why it will be so interesting to see him in action in a proper league game. Perhaps it will be tomorrow.
We have already mentioned them, but the importance of Deulofeu and Beto cannot be underestimated. The former is still being linked with a few clubs and he will want to show his best side tomorrow, while the Portuguese forward is a powerhouse up front. The Milan defenders will have to monitor him closely.
Not only will Milan have to find a way past Rodrigo Becao presuming he starts in the back three, but they will also have to watch out for his knack of scoring against the Rossoneri from set pieces, having done it twice already in six games.
Both teams will most likely take a cautious approach to the game at the start, with it being the first of the season and all, but that doesn’t mean the entire clash will be a slow one. Milan will likely push for the goals and the sometimes sloppy defending we have seen in pre-season could cost them a goal, albeit not enough to deprive them of the win.
AC Milan 2-1 Udinese