AC Milan will be looking to get back to winning ways on Saturday evening against Lecce and put a difficult last couple of games behind them.
Milan started 2023 well with a win on the road against Salernitana but they were made to fight right until the end despite taking a 2-0 lead early on, and against Roma at San Siro last Sunday they threw a two-goal lead away to draw 2-2.
The more worrying result came in midweek as the Rossoneri were unable to score against Torino in 120+ minutes of action, playing against 10 men from 70 minutes onwards, and being dumped out of the cup. Stefano Pioli has made it clear he expects a response.
Game date: Saturday, 14 January
Kick-off time: 18:00 (CET)
Venue: Stadio Via del Mare
Referee: Daniele Orsato (VAR: Mazzoleni)
Pioli was clearly not happy with the result against Torino on Wednesday night as he ordered the team straight to Milanello where they spent the night, analysing the defeat and sleeping at the training ground before having a session the next morning.
The hope is that the levels will now be raised again, while the Milan squad flew to Lecce on Friday ahead of tomorrow evening’s match at the Stadio Via del Mare and they will not return to Milano after the game but instead will fly straight to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, to acclimatise ahead of the Supercoppa against their city rivals.
There are five players who did not leave with the squad, namely Mike Maignan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rade Krunic, Alessandro Florenzi and Fode Ballo-Tourè, who will remain working in the Milanello.
The closest to returning is Krunic, with the Bosnian aiming to be back for the game against Lazio. Divock Origi and Simon Kjaer meanwhile will return for the Lecce game, but Sandro Tonali is out due to suspension.
According to the latest reports, Milan should line up with Ciprian Tatarusanu in goal and a back four of Davide Calabria, Pierre Kalulu, Fikayo Tomori and Theo Hernandez ahead of him.
Tonali is suspended after accumulating too many yellow cards and Tommaso Pobega or Aster Vranckx should therefore take his spot, accompanying Ismael Bennacer – fresh from a renewal until 2027 – in the double pivot.
In attack Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao should be the right and left winger respectively, with Brahim Diaz playing in the No.10 role behind the centre-forward Olivier Giroud.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Tatarusanu; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Theo; Pobega, Bennacer; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Leao; Giroud.
Lecce’s return to Serie A can so far be classed as a positive one given that they are sat in 11th place in the table with Torino and Bologna above and below them, 10 points above the bottom three.
The objective upon reaching the top flight again was simply to stay in the division, and the business they did during the summer window saw the likes of Daniel Samek arrive from Sparta Praha, Lameck Banda from Petah Tivka, Joel Persson from Roma’s Primavera, Federico Di Francesco from SPAL and Assan Ceesay from FC Zurich.
It has not all gone the way of the Giallorossi though as they won just one of their first 13 league games this season, which had them hovering above the drop zone, but they have won three of their last four to surge up the table.
Among those wins were impressive 2-1 home victories against Atalanta and Lazio respectively, either side of a 2-0 victory at Sampdoria. That in itself shows they are a real threat at home and seem to have finally adapted to the league.
In terms of team news, it appears that Marco Baroni will only have to deal with three absences for the game, namely those of Ceesay, Marco Pongracic and Kastriot Dermaku.
The latest team news suggests a 4-3-3 formation with Falcone in goal, a back four of Gendrey, Baschirotto, Umtiti and Gallo, a midfield of Blin, Hjulmand and Gonzalez plus a front three of Strefezza, Colombo (on loan from Milan) and Di Francesco.
Probable Lecce XI (4-3-3): Falcone; Gendrey, Baschirotto, Umtiti, Gallo; Blin, Hjulmand, Gonzalez; Strefezza, Colombo, Di Francesco.
Head to head
Milan have played against Lecce 39 times in competitive games across their history, with 24 wins, 13 draws and only 2 defeats in that stretch, with a goal difference of +46.
The first meeting dates back to August 1978 when the sides faced each other in Group 4 of the Coppa Italia and the Rossoneri emerged 3-2 winners away from home.
The first two encounters in Serie A were during the 1985-86 season when Milan did the double, winning 1-0 at home and 2-0 away.
The most recent meetings were in the 2019-20 season when Stefano Pioli’s side ran out 4-1 winners with goals from Castillejo, Bonaventura, Rebic and Leao, while the game at San Siro was a 2-2 draw.
Of course, there was the Kevin-Prince Boateng inspired comeback in the 2011-12 season when Milan trailed 3-0 against Lecce at the Via del Mare but the Ghanian scored a hat-trick after coming off the bench and Mario Yepes scored a winner to complete a dramatic 4-3 win.
➤ Lecce have won only two of their 32 Serie A meetings against Milan (2-1 in 1997 and 1-0 in 2006): a 6.3% win rate, their second lowest among sides they’ve faced 10+ times in the top flight (6.1% v AS Roma).
➤ Milan are unbeaten in their last eight Serie A meetings with Lecce (W5 D3), scoring 20 goals in the process (2.5 per match).
The 1-0 win via Axel Konan’s strike in April 2006 was Lecce’s only Serie A win at home against Milan: the Rossoneri have won seven such games (D8).
➤ Lecce are unbeaten in their last five Serie A games, and they could go six in a row in the competition for the first time since April 2012 under Serse Cosmi. In fact, Lecce could also keep a clean sheet in two top-flight matches in a row for the first time since 2012.
➤ Lecce have won their last two Serie A matches at the Via del Mare, and they could win three in a row at home for the first time since 2004 (six between the 2003/04 and the 2004/05 campaigns).
➤ Milan drew 0-0 in their last Serie A match against a promoted side (vs. Cremonese in November) and could fail to score in two such matches in a row for the first time since 2016 (vs. Bologna and Carpi).
➤ Lecce are one of two sides yet to score in the opening 15 minutes of play in Serie A this season (alongside Atalanta); on the other hand, AC Milan have scored seven goals in the same period, the joint-most in the competition.
➤ Lorenzo Colombo has been directly involved in more Serie A goals than any other Lecce player this season (four goals, two assists). Indeed, the striker previously played 11 games for Milan and scored one goal in the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League qualifying process against Bodø/Glimt.
➤ Among the goalkeepers with at least eight Serie A appearances this season, Wladimiro Falcone has the second highest save percentage (75%), behind only Wojciech Szczesny (89%).
➤ Sandro Tonali will miss this game due to disqualification: since he joined the club in 2020, Milan have won 67% of their games with him on the field, while the percentage drops to 59%
without him (also the points/game ratio drops from 2.2 to 1.9).
Ones to watch
The two stand-out players for Lecce this season have both been forwards, starting with Brazilian winger Gabriel Strefezza who has scored five of their 16 league goals so far this season.
Then there is Lorenzo Colombo, who is on loan from the Rossoneri and has six goal contributions in the league thus far, including four goals. He scored the winner against Lecce and has a knack for netting big goals already.
The 23-year-old Morten Hjulmand has impressed many with his performances at the base of the midfield, while Samuel Umtiti – formerly of Barcelona – seems to have found a groove too.
For the Rossoneri, there will be a lot of eyes on whomever replaces Tonali in the midfield given how important the double pivot is in how Milan control the game. Of course Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud will shoulder most of the weight of the attack, but contributions from Brahim Diaz and/or the right flank are also needed.
Milan’s defensive record has also rightly come under scrutiny but a first choice back line should be fielded in this game, so the objective simply has to be a clean sheet and some big strides forward from a resilience standpoint.
Our confidence in Milan is low at the moment as the team just do not seem to be able to click at both ends in the same game, and this is probably the wrong time to play a well-coached Lecce side who are good at home and full of confidence.
Lecce 1-1 Milan
I am a Milan fan from birth. But. I dont see any team in Europes top 4 League playing as well as Napoli are doing right now. Top 4 should be the primary target for them but! They are leading with 10 points. They play quality football and scoring loads of goals. Whats happening? Where are we in our development? I know we have a young squad but that should not be a problem? I mean we won the scudetto last year! What are Napoli doing different? If we want to make Italian football attractive in the world again we need to learn from Napoli. Long time fan but a sceptic Milan fan. Forza Italia.
A statement from a Swedish rossoneri.
What’s happening? Napoli i crushing Juventus like they are a serie b team in the Copa Italia.
What can we learn from them? Right now they are the most attractive team in the top 4 Leagues? Why? With that squad they should be battling for top 4. Whats going on? How can they be so far ahead this season? I know why. A strong belief in their way to play football! Its beautiful! I have always been a fan of Milan since i was born, but! I am a bigger admirer of beautifully played football. All i have to say is . Watch and learn. This is impressive.