AC Milan go into the final game of 2020 knowing that a win against Lazio will see them keep their position at the top of the league heading into the new year.
Milan are somewhat of a wounded beast heading into the game as a number of key players will be missing once again, but the team will be looking to kick on from Sunday’s 2-1 win away against Sassuolo and sign off a fantastic year on the best possible note.
Stefano Pioli insisted in his pre-match press conference that the focus remains one game at a time and that his squad are ready to take on their opponents from the capital.
Game date: Wednesday 23 December
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Marco Di Bello
Milan will head into the game with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Simon Kjaer, Matteo Gabbia, Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessie all out.
There have also been doubts over the fitness of Ante Rebic and Sandro Tonali, the former having missed the game against Sassuolo due to a foot problem and the latter having come off at half-time with a muscle injured.
Nonetheless, Sky predict Milan will have Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal protected by a back four of Davide Calabria, Pierre Kalulu, Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez from right to left.
They also believe Tonali will be fit enough to start alongside Rade Krunic, with Alexis Saelemaekers, Hakan Calhanoglu and Rafael Leao in the trident from right to left behind Rebic.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kalulu, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Tonali, Krunic; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Leao; Rebic.
Lazio have had an excellent resurgence under Simone Inzaghi and they secured a return to the Champions League thanks to a fourth-placed finish in Serie A last season, but it could have been so much more as their title challenge faded drastically towards the end.
That difficult form seems to have carried over into the new season as the Biancocelesti currently sit eighth in the table with just six wins from their opening 13 games with four defeats and three draws having scored 20 and conceded 20.
They do come into the game off the back of a 2-0 win over Napoli, but prior to that their victories came against Spezia, Crotone, Torino, Bologna and Cagliari.
As per our friends over at The Laziali, Joaquin Correa, Lucas Leiva and Francesco Acerbi are likely to be rested for this match (as they recover from injury), while Mohamed Fares and Senad Lulic remain sidelined.
Lazio will lineup in a 3-5-2 formation that will likely consist of: Pepe Reina in goal, a back three of Luiz Felipe, Wesley Hoedt and Stefan Radu, Manuel Lazzari and Adam Marusic on the right and left flanks.
The midfield trio will be Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Gonzalo Escalante and Luis Alberto, and a front two of Caicedo and Immobile.
Probable Lazio XI (3-5-2): Reina; Luiz Felipe, Hoedt, Radu; Lazzari, Milinkovic-Savic, Escalante, Luis Alberto, Marusic; Caicedo, Immobile
Head to head
Milan’s record over the last 15 years against the capital club is actually encouraging, as they have won 12, drawn 12 and lost just five of the 29 previous encounters between the two sides in Serie A.
In fact, the Rossoneri are unbeaten in 29 of their last 30 home games against Lazio in Serie A (W18 D11), their only defeat in this period was in their most recent meeting at San Siro back in November of last year.
In that game, Ciro Immobile gave the Aquile the lead after 25 minutes before Milan drew level through an own goal, but Joaquin Correa strike inside the final 10 minutes was enough to see off the hosts just as it was the season prior in the Coppa Italia semi-final second leg.
The return game though brought Milan their revenge, as Pioli’s men ran out 3-0 winners at the Olimpico thanks to goals from Calhanoglu, Ibrahimovic (pen) and Rebic.
Match facts (via Opta):
➤ Lazio have lost 66 matches against AC Milan in Serie A (W29 D59), only against Juventus (82) have the Biancocelesti suffered more defeats in the Italian top flight. On the other hand, AC Milan have drawn more Serie A games against Lazio (59) than against any other side.
➤ Milan have scored in their last 16 league games against Lazio, only against Cagliari are the Rossoneri on a longer such streak (21), among current Serie A teams.
➤ Milan are unbeaten in 29 of their last 30 home games against Lazio in Serie A (W18 D11), their only defeat in this period was in their most recent meeting at San Siro (November 2019) – the Biancocelesti have never won two away matches in a row against the Rossoneri in the Italian top flight.
➤ Milan have earned nine wins and four draws in their first 13 Serie A games this season: no unbeaten side in the opening 13 games of a season have ever finished the campaign outside the top four positions in the history of Serie A (since 1929/30).
➤ Lazio have picked up 10 points in their last four Serie A away games (3W D1): since the start of November only AC Milan (2.6) have averaged more points than the Biancocelesti (2.5) away from home in the Italian top flight.
➤ Milan have scored 2+ goals in each of their last 15 Serie A games and could become only the second team in the history of the top five European leagues to enjoy 16 consecutive games with more than one goal scored in a single calendar year (after 18 for Barcelona in 1948).
➤ Milan have scored the most goals from set pieces in Serie A this season (10), whilst they’ve also conceded the highest percentage of their goals from such situations in 2020/21 (57%, eight out of 14).
➤ Milan striker Rafael Leão is the youngest player in the top five European leagues to have scored at least three goals in each of the last three seasons, and the only one born after 1/1/1999.
➤ Since 2017/18 – the season he joined the Rossoneri – AC Milan have only played eight Serie A matches without Frank Kessiè: two wins, two draws and four defeats (25%-win rate without the Ivorian player, whilst their win percentage is 52.5% with him on the pitch).
➤ Lazio’s Ciro Immobile has scored 12 goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since the start of October: only Robert Lewandowski (19), Erling Haaland (14), Mohamed Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo (13 each) have netted more among the top five European leagues.
Ones to watch
One of the key battles will be seeing just how Pierre Kalulu and Alessio Romagnoli – a boyhood Lazio fan – deal with the front two that Inzaghi is likely to play. If they keep them quiet, then the stats show that it should be enough as Milan tend to score two at the other end.
The midfield will also be absolutely crucial. If Krunic and Tonali can play the game of their lives and shut down the creative players that Lazio have, then that is most of the battle won.
For the away side, we are informed that Immobile and Milinkovic-Savic have been Lazio’s top performers this season. When these two players are in the starting eleven, the team plays much better and it shows.
Immobile has eight goals and two assists, while Milinkovic-Savic has three goals and three assists thus far this term in Serie A.
It would be naive to presume that Milan will deal comfortably with the firepower and creative threat that Lazio have down the middle, and given only one of the usual players from the double pivot and centre-back pairing (Romagnoli) will be playing, we fear an overload.
However, the visitors have kept just three clean sheets this year and have conceded two or more in five of their 13 games, which suggests there is a leaky defence to exploit without its leader Acerbi.
Prediction: AC Milan 2-2 Lazio