AC Milan will get their 2023-24 Serie A campaign underway on Monday night as they make the trip to face Bologna at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara.
The game pits up-and-coming head coach Thiago Motta against a man who can now be considered a Calcio veteran in Stefano Pioli, with Milan hoping to better what is a fantastic record against the Rossoblu.
Pioli admitted in his pre-match press conference that his side cannot be perfect at the moment given the changes in the squad and the fact they have had a month together, but he urged them to show three key principles.
Game date: Monday, August 21
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CEST)
Venue: Stadio Renato Dall’Ara
Referee: Luca Pairetto (VAR:Marini)
Some have branded the summer as a ‘revolution’ for Milan given just how much has happened since that final game of last season against Hellas Verona, after which Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his retirement.
Less than 48 hours after that news and with fans just about beginning to digest the idea of a Milan without Zlatan, Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara were sacked, arousing questions about the plans moving forward.
Giorgio Furlani and chief scout Geoffrey Moncada stepped up as the new management, with their first real big decision being to sell Sandro Tonali in a club-record deal, which created another violent storm.
Things didn’t slow down there either. Eight signings have arrived ranging from Marco Sportiello and Luka Romero on free transfers to Tijjani Reijnders, Christian Pulisic and Samuel Chukwueze who all cost €20m+.
In terms of team news for the game against Bologna, the only players who are not available are Ismael Bennacer (long-term knee injury) and Yunus Musah (whose suspension from Valencia carries over).
According to what is being reported by most media sources, Pioli will go with Mike Maignan in goal as expected with Malick Thiaw and Fikayo Tomori as the centre-back pairing and Theo Hernandez at left-back.
The right-back is down as Pierre Kalulu, with Davide Calabria not at 100% after his muscle issue and thus unlikely to be risked for the opener.
Rade Krunic will continue in his new-found role at the base of the new-look midfield three, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek ahead on his right and Tijjani Reijnders on his left as the two mezzali.
Moving to the front three, Christian Pulisic is expected to be preferred over Samuel Chukwueze on the right wing by virtue of having had more time with the group. Rafael Leao is down as the left winger, and Olivier Giroud up front.
Probable Milan XI (4-3-3): Maignan; Kalulu, Thiaw, Tomori, Theo Hernandez; Loftus-Cheek, Krunic, Reijnders; Pulisic, Giroud, Leao.
Bologna have a new lease of life under Thiago Motta, having finished in their highest placing since 2012 last season as they ended up in ninth place.
It has been an intriguing mercato for them thus far as Jerdy Schouten left in the direction of PSV Eindhoven while Gary Medel and Marko Arnautovic also went, the latter heading to Inter on an initial loan.
Their signings help fill gaps, though. Sam Beukema is the most expensive arrival from AZ Alkmaar at centre-back, while Dan Ndoye is a right winger who joined from Basel.
Stefan Posch (RB), Giovanni Fabbian (CM), Nikola Moro (CDM) and Oussama El Azzouzi (CDM) complete the list of paid-for signings, which give Motta some strength in depth.
The most notable friendly results were a 2-2 draw against Palermo, a 3-2 defeat to Monaco, a 2-1 win over FC Utrecht and a 1-0 loss against AZ Alkmaar.
As per Sky, Skorupski should start in goal with Posch, Lucumi, Bonifazi and Lykogiannis as the back four. They should match Milan up with a three-man midfield that features contract rebel Nico Dominguez as well as Ferguson and Aebishcer.
The front three is down as having Orsolini as the right winger, Zirkzee down the middle and new signing Moro on the left side.
Probable Bologna XI (4-2-3-1): Skorupski; Posch, Beukema, Lucumi, Lykogiannis; Aebischer, Dominguez; Ndoye, Ferguson, Moro; Zirkzee.
Head to head
Milan have played against Bologna 182 times in their 124-year history – the sixth-most of any Italian team – and they have 86 wins, 46 draws and 50 defeats in that time at a win rate of 47.3%.
As the stats below show, the Rossoneri’s recent record against the Rossoblu is excellent and they have a long unbeaten streak that they will be looking to extend.
In the same fixture last season, there was a nightmare start in Reggio-Emilia for Milan when Nicolo Sansone converted a cross after 34 seconds to give Motta’s side the lead against a much-changed Milan line-up.
However, Pioli’s men got themselves back level before the break with Tommaso Pobega getting his fourth and probably his best goal of the season with a rocket, though there would be no winner.
In the game at San Siro, Milan won 2-0 thanks to goals from Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud in what marked the debut of the green third shirt and Charles De Ketelaere’s only goal contribution.
➤ Milan haven’t lost in 26 of their last 27 matches against Bologna in Serie A (W19, D7); the only win for the Emilians in this period was back on 6th January 2016 (0-1 at the Meazza stadium with an Emanuele Giaccarini goal).
➤ Milan are unbeaten in each of their last 17 away matches against Bologna in Serie A (W12, D5), the last home win for the Emilians against the Rossoneri was back on 10th March 2002 (2-0 under Francesco Guidolin).
➤ Milan and Bologna will meet on matchday one for the fourth time in Serie A: there has been two wins for the Rossoneri and one for the Rossoblù so far. Their last game on MD1 was a 2-0 win for the Rossoneri at San Siro in 2020 with an Ibrahimovic brace.
➤ Milan have not drawn any of their last 11 Serie A season openers (W6, L5) – their last draw in the first league match was back on 9th September 2011 (2-2 against Lazio at San Siro).
➤ Bologna are unbeaten in 10 of their last 11 matches at Dall’Ara in their first Serie A match of the season (W5, D5) – their only defeat in the period came against SPAL (0-1 on 19th August 2018).
➤ Under Stefano Pioli, Milan have always won on MD1 in Serie A (W3); the last manager who achieved more consecutive wins in the Rossoneri’s first match of the season was Fabio Capello (five between 1991 and 1995).
➤ Bologna conceded the joint-fewest goals in home games in Serie A last season: 14, level with Inter.
➤ Only Lazio (12) and Inter (11) scored more goals than Bologna (10) in the first 15 minutes of play in Serie A in 2022-23, while Milan netted the most goals in the first 30 minutes of play (21).
➤ In 2022/23, Stefan Posch (six goals) became the first defender to score more than five goals in a single Serie A season for Bologna since Salvatore Fresi (eight in 2001-02).
➤ In his period at Villarreal (from 2018-19 to 2022-23), only Lionel Messi (475) and Vinícius Júnior (340) completed more dribbles than Samuel Chukwueze in LaLiga (308).
Ones to watch
Bologna’s main threat should be on their right side again given Orsolini scored 11 goals and added 4 assists in 32 league games last season, while Posch from right-back had 6 goals and 2 assists in 30 games.
The all-action midfielder from Scotland, Lewis Ferguson, netted 7 times in Serie A during the last campaign, earning links with Milan. Dominguez – another player the Rossoneri have been linked with – is an important presence at the base of the midfield.
For all the threat Posch provides in the attacking third, he will have to be at his best defensively to deal with Leao. He has increased his goal tally in each season he has been in Italy with 20 goals the next target.
Tomori and Thiaw will be called upon to eliminate some of the errors that plagued last season into the preseason, while Krunic, Reijnders and Loftus-Cheek will be in focus as the new-look midfield.
This feels like a very tough fixture for Milan to kick off the season, especially given that the team are not yet at their cohesive and free-flowing best by Pioli’s own admission.
A Motta side will never be a pushover, and while the pressure is on for the Diavolo to rack up wins early on given the difficulty of their first 10 games, this will be no stroll in the Reggio-Emilian evening sunshine.
Bologna 1-1 AC Milan