After three consecutive wins, AC Milan will be looking to make it four tomorrow as they will take on Atalanta at San Siro. It’s an important game for both sides in the Champions League race.
Stefano Pioli’s men are in a good moment after what was a very tough start to the year. With three constructive wins and clean sheets in the bag, the confidence is much better and there is a belief in their playing style.
At his press conference, which you can read in full here, the manager made it clear that tomorrow’s game won’t be a walk in the park for the Rossoneri. However, they know what Atalanta are good at and how to play their own game.
Game date: Sunday, 26 February
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Mariani (VAR: Guida)
The injury situation is looking much better for Milan as Mike Maignan has recovered and will play from the first minute tomorrow. Davide Calabria and Ismael Bennacer, meanwhile, will return to group training on Wednesday.
Alessandro Florenzi’s condition is improving and he should be called up for the game against Fiorentina next weekend, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic could get some minutes against Atalanta. In short, it’s like night and day for Pioli compared to before.
Given the recent success, Pioli is expected to field the same starting XI tomorrow, with the exception of Maignan’s return and Olivier Giroud. The 3-4-3 has brought solidity to the team and one can understand why the manager wants to continue with it.
Junior Messias should get the chance again from start, after scoring the winner against Monza, and that means Alexis Saelemaekers will be on the bench again. The same can be said for Charles De Ketelaere, as Brahim Diaz has impressed more lately.
It’s worth mentioning that the likes of Simon Kjaer, Rade Krunic, Ante Rebic, Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud are all at risk of suspension. One more yellow card and they will miss the game against Fiorentina next weekend.
Probable Milan XI (3-4-3): Maignan; Kalulu, Thiaw, Tomori; Messias, Tonali, Krunic, Hernandez; Diaz, Giroud, Leao.
After a tough period in the league prior to the World Cup break, Atalanta have done well since the start of the year winning four games, drawing two and losing two. They are currently in 6th place but just three points behind Milan.
There’s no doubt that they have their eyes set on a Champions League spot but their pursuit took an unexpected knock last time out, as they lost to Lecce. Manager Gian Piero Gasperini stated that facing Milan is ‘great motivation’ to bounce back for his side.
Atalanta will be able to field a rather strong XI but there are still four notable absences to take into consideration: Hans Hateboer, Merih Demiral, Mario Pasalic and Duvan Zapata. Four players that otherwise probably would have started.
The absence of Zapata won’t be felt that much, though, as Atalanta have the Danish youngster Rasmus Hojlund up front. Since the start of the year, he has scored six goals and assisted an additional one.
Probable Atalanta XI (3-4-3): Musso; Toloi, Palomino, Scalvini; Zappacosta, De Roon, Koopmeiners, Maehle; Lookman, Hojlund, Boga.
Head to head
Milan have struggled against Atalanta at San Siro, with the win last season being their first against them there since 2014. On the other hand, Milan have won three of the last five fixtures between the two sides.
The most recent encounter ended 1-1 as Atalanta took the lead in the first half thanks to Ruslan Malinovskyi (no longer at the club). After missing quite a few good chances, Milan scored the equaliser in the second half through a lovely Ismael Bennacer strike.
Both teams will be going for the win tomorrow, though, as important points are at stake in the Champions League race.
➤ AC Milan are unbeaten in their last four Serie A matches against Atalanta (three wins and a draw in the reverse fixture this season): the Rossoneri could play five consecutive league games without losing against the Bergamaschi for the first time since 2008-2012 (six encounters in that case).
➤ AC Milan won 2-0 in their last home Serie A match against Atalanta (15 May 2022), after a run of seven consecutive games at San Siro without beating the Bergamaschi (D4 L3); the last Rossoneri manager to win two games in a row at home against them in two consecutive league campaigns was Fabio Capello (in 1992/93 and 1993/94 seasons).
➤ AC Milan have won their last three matches in all competitions each with a 1-0: the Rossoneri have never won four games in a row this season (last time they did was at the end of the 2021/22 campaign) and the last time they enjoyed more consecutive wins without conceding goals was in February 2018 (five in that case, three in Serie A and two in the UEFA Europa League).
➤ AC Milan have picked up just one point in their last four matches against sides in the top six positions in the Serie A table at the start of that matchday (D1 L3), their last such win was against Inter (3-2 on September 3rd, 2022)
➤ Atalanta have lost three of their last four matches in all competitions (W1), having earned four wins and two draws in their first six matches of 2023; the Bergamaschi won their last league match away from home and they can win two consecutive matches on the road in Serie A for the first time since September 2022 (four in that case).
➤ In the last four games played with three central defenders, AC Milan are averaging 0.7 Expected Goals per game (all competitions) versus an average of 1.2 in the previous 28 games this season; conceding an average of 0.3 goals per game compared to 1.4 per match before the new defensive structure.
➤ Only Cremonese (seven) and Empoli (six) have conceded more goals following a corner than Atalanta and AC Milan (five each) in Serie A this season; on the other hand, only Torino (0), Monza and Sampdoria (one each) have scored fewer goals from this situation than the Nerazzurri and the Rossoneri (two each).
➤ Malick Thiaw is one of the two defenders, along with Kim Min-Jae, who have the most combined aerial duels (11) and headed clearances (10) in Serie A in February (21 for both the AC Milan player and the Napoli player).
➤ Rafael Leão – who scored in his last Serie A match at San Siro against Atalanta – has not been involved in any AC Milan goal in his last seven appearances in all competitions: the last time he played 8+ consecutive games with the Rossoneri without a goal or assist was in March 2021 (nine).
➤ Atalanta’s Rasmus Højlund is the fifth youngest non-Italian player in the three points for a win era to score at least six goals before reaching 20 Serie A appearances (only Adriano, Icardi, Kessié and Pato were younger).
Ones to watch
It will be very exciting to see Maignan back in action, obviously, and it will be very interesting to see how this will affect Milan’s build-up. The Frenchman is very good with his feet and we have seen that before.
In addition to him, another defender should be highlighted in the shape of Malick Thiaw. The stat above paints the picture well with regard to his recent success, and against a physical Atalanta, he will be an important player.
As for Atalanta, the youngster Giorgio Scalvini should be watched a little extra. He has been linked with Milan and is believed to be a great talent. It remains to be seen if he or Toloi (most likely the latter) will be tasked with stopping Leao.
It’s impossible not to mention Rasmus Hojlund in this section. He has been on fire lately and his speed could cause some issues for Milan. Of course, with the three-man backline, the Rossoneri tend to sit a little deeper and that might help.
It will be a tough game for both sides, but there are bound to be some openings. Milan are in a good moment as opposed to Atalanta, but the latter have also done well at San Siro. However, the feeling is that Pioli’s men will succeed.
AC Milan 2-1 Atalanta
Milan 2 – 0 Atalanta