AC Milan will welcome Napoli to San Siro on Sunday night for what is a huge early-season clash featuring two teams that are joint-top of the Serie A table.
Milan were always tipped to be up at the top end of the table again after their Scudetto win last season, but the predictions on Napoli varied wildly after a summer that saw a lot of player turnover with arguably three of their best players leaving.
Stefano Pioli analysed some of the things that have made Luciano Spalletti’s side so dangerous during his pre-match press conference, and Sunday’s game will be a big indicator of who will be in better shape going into the international break.
Game date: Sunday, 18 September
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CEST)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Mariani (VAR: Irrati)
Milan come into the game having won all four of their home games so far this season across Serie A and the Champions League, the most recent being against Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday night as Pioli’s men triumphed 3-1.
There are some notable absences for the game against the Partenopei though, with Rafael Leao suspended after being sent off in the last league game, while Divock Origi, Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all injured which reduces the depth in the attacking department. Alessandro Florenzi is also out.
According to the latest team news from various sources, Pioli should field a defence consisting of Mike Maignan in goal with Davide Calabria, Pierre Kalulu, Fikayo Tomori and Theo Hernandez the back four from right to left.
Ismael Bennacer and Sandro Tonali will once again be entrusted as the double pivot, with Charles De Ketelaere tipped to come back in as the central attacking midfielder ahead of them.
Junior Messias should be on the right flank with Alexis Saelemaekers switching over to the left wing with Leao suspended, hoping to build on his Champions League goal in midweek, as will Olivier Giroud up front.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Theo Hernandez; Bennacer, Tonali; Messias, De Ketelaere, Saelemaekers; Giroud.
As mentioned before, Napoli were somewhat of an unknown quantity heading into the new season after what was a chaotic summer, and though their starting line-up has many new faces it doesn’t seem to have harmed them.
The Azzurri are absolutely flying after a summer with a lot of overhaul as they lost Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, Fabian Ruiz and Kalidou Koulibaly, with Tanguy Ndombele, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Giacomo Raspadori among the new signings to have stepped up.
They have 14 points from their opening six league games and are top of their Champions League group after a 4-1 win over Liverpool at home and a 3-0 victory against Rangers at Ibrox in midweek.
Spalletti seems to have made the 4-3-3 his trademark, and the big absence for him is Victor Osimhen who will not be fit enough to lead the line, so that responsibility will fall to Raspadori.
German midfielder Diego Demme is expected to miss the game while are doubts over the availability of winger Hirving Lozano, though the signs suggest he will be fit enough to at least make the bench.
Probable Napoli XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Kim; Oliveira; Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski; Politano, Raspadori, Kvaratskhelia.
Head to head
In the last 31 meetings between the two teams they come out fairly evenly matched but the Neapolitans have the edge, with Milan having won eight of those games, with 12 won by Napoli and 11 draws.
The two sides met earlier this calendar year with the Diavolo running out 1-0 winners at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona thanks to Olivier Giroud’s second-half winner. In the same fixture last year, Elmas scored the only goal and Franck Kessie’s last-minute equaliser was controversially ruled out as Spalletti’s side emerged victorious 1-0 at San Siro.
➤ Milan won their last league match against Napoli after a run of two consecutive defeats; the Rossoneri could win two Serie A games in a row against Napoli for the first time since 2010/11, under Massimiliano Allegri.
➤ Milan have lost their last two home league games against Napoli, both with a score of 0-1.
➤ Only in 1979 did the Rossoneri suffer three home consecutive defeats against Napoli in Serie A and they’ve never gone three games against them in a row without scoring.
➤ Milan are unbeaten in their last 22 Serie A games (W15 D7). This is their longest unbeaten streak since a run of 27 games without defeat in January 2021.
➤ Milan have won their last six Serie A games at home, keeping four clean sheets. The last time they had a longer winning run at home was back in 2013 (8). That run, however, was ended by a
draw against Napoli.
➤ Napoli have kept six clean sheets in their last nine Serie A games (0.4 goals conceded per game); that’s as many clean sheets as in their previous 25 matches (average of 1.1 goals conceded).
➤ Napoli have picked up seven points in their first three away Serie A matches this season. They could remain unbeaten in the first four away games in a Serie A campaign for the third season in a row, a result never achieved before.
➤ Napoli have the most high turnovers in Serie A this season (60), they are also the club with the most shots following high turnovers (13).
➤ Only Milan (7) have gained more points than Napoli from losing positions (6) in Serie A this season.
➤ Since the start of last season, Rafael Leão has missed just four Serie A games; only Saelemaekers and Tonali (41) have played more matches for the Rossoneri in the period (40 for
the Portuguese). Without Leão, AC Milan have a win rate of 50% and average 1.8 points but those figures rise to 70% and 2.3 points with him on the pitch.
➤ Milan are Piotr Zielinski’s favorite opponent in Serie A. He scored four times in his first 10 matches against them but he hasn’t found the net in the following seven. Against the Rossoneri
he also scored his first brace in the competition in August 2018.
Ones to watch
For Milan, a lot of the outcome of the game will depend on how they are able to cope without Leao, and therefore eyes will be on Saelemaekers and how he performs as an inverted winger on the left. He has two goals in two Champions League games so should approach the game with confidence, and his work rate could free Theo Hernandez up to get forward more.
Giroud meanwhile has earned a reputation for being the big-game man after his goals against Lazio, Inter and of course against Napoli earlier this year. His experience and knack for being in the right place at the right time will be huge.
For Napoli, there is no doubting that the man of the moment is Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The 21-year-old Georgian winger could have ended up at Milan but instead it was Naples where he ended up, and he already has four goals and two assists in his eight games in 2022-23. Davide Calabria will have to be at the top of his game to stop him.
Piotr Zielinski has long been regarded as one of the best creative midfielders in Serie A, and he has seven goal contributions in eight games (3G, 4A) establishing himself as one of the leaders of a much-changed attack, so Tonali and Bennacer will have to watch him closely.
Much like the derby earlier in the season, this feels like it could be a blockbuster game full of end-to-end action with plenty of goals, but Milan will want to try and dictate the tempo and – given their absentees – might not consider a point to be the worst result in the world.
AC Milan 1-1 Napoli