AC Milan will be looking to make it 20 Serie A games without defeat on Sunday as they face Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo, a stadium they rarely win at.
The Rossoneri have recharged their batteries over the international break – or at least those who weren’t called up for their national teams have – and they are ready to resume their league campaign sat two points clear at the top of the table.
However, there are a couple of setbacks to deal with including the fact that head coach Stefano Pioli and his assistant Giacomo Murelli will both miss the trip due to Coronavirus.
Game date: Sunday 22 November
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: Stadio San Paolo
Referee: Paolo Valeria
As mentioned above, Milan will be without Rafael Leao for the game in Naples as he has sustained a problem in his thigh that is likely to keep him out for two weeks.
However, probably the biggest news is that Daniele Bonera will be the stand-in head coach with Pioli leading the team remotely from home and having to communicate his choices via technology to the crew on the bench.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Milan are likely to line up with Gigio Donnarumma in goal protected by a back four of Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer, Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez.
Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer will be ahead of them, with Alexis Saelemaekers on the right-wing, Ante Rebic on the left-wing and Hakan Calhanoglu behind the centre-forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored in Milan’s last win at the San Paolo 10 years ago.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Bennacer; Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu, Rebic; Ibrahimovic.
The Partenopei will have to do without their big star, Victor Osimhen, as he dislocated his shoulder while on international duty for Nigeria. Elseid Hysaj has tested positive for COVID-19 and will also miss the important clash.
Tiemoue Bakayoko has recovered from the flu and could even play from the first minute, per Gazzetta. The midfielder, of course, played with Milan during the 2018/19 season and also came close to a return this summer, prior to his Napoli move.
Despite the absence of Osimhen, Napoli’s attack is very strong and the Rossoneri defenders will have to be very careful, especially on the counters. Napoli are just three points behind and will be looking to close the gap tomorrow.
Probable Napoli XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Fabian Ruiz, Bakayoko, Elmas; Politano, Mertens, Insigne.
Head to head
Milan’s recent record against Napoli is far from encouraging. Out of the last 27 meetings between the two sides, the Rossoneri have prevailed in just six, however a draw is the most common result (11) with the Partenopei having won 10 games.
In fact, Milan’s last win against Napoli at the San Paolo came all the way back in October 2010 when – as aforementioned – Ibrahimovic was one of the goalscorers in a 2-1 victory. Aside from that, there has only been one other win in Naples this millennium.
Last season saw two draws between the two teams as a 1-1 at San Siro in which Giacomo Bonaventura’s equaliser cancelled out Hirving Lozano’s opener was followed up by a 2-2 in the reverse fixture.
Theo Hernandez gave Milan an early lead, but Di Lorenzo and Dries Mertens netted to turn the game on its head, but Franck Kessie’s penalty ensured the spoils were shared.
Match facts (via Opta):
- Napoli are unbeaten in their last 11 encounters against AC Milan in Serie A (W6 D5): the last side to stay unbeaten vs the Rossoneri in the top flight for 12+ games was also Napoli between 1974 and 1979.
- AC Milan have won just one of their 14 Serie A games away from home against Napoli in the 21st century (D6 L7), in October 2010 with goals scored by Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the Rossoneri and Ezequiel Lavezzi for Napoli.
- Napoli have lost their last two home games in all competitions, against AZ and Sassuolo, and could lose three in a row at home for the first time since December 2012 under Walter Mazzarri.
- AC Milan are unbeaten in their last 14 games away from home in all competitions (W9 D5): the last time the Rossoneri enjoyed a longest run was in February 2004 under Carlo Ancelotti (15 matches).
- AC Milan have scored more goals than any other side in Serie A this season from inside the box (16), but Napoli have conceded the fewest from inside in the competition (four goals).
- Napoli (19) and AC Milan (17.1) are the two sides with the most shots attempted on average per game in Serie A this season – Napoli have posted the highest average in the top five European leagues in 2020/21, whilst the Rossoneri are fourth behind Lyon (18) and Leipzig (17.7).
- Only Spezia (seven goals) have conceded more than AC Milan from set-pieces (six goals) in Serie A this season; overall, AC Milan have conceded 17 goals from dead ball situations in 38 Serie A games under Stefano Pioli, as many as they had in 62 matches under Gattuso.
- Gattuso made four appearances as a player in Serie A against sides coached by Stefano Pioli and always won, including the first game lost by the current AC Milan boss in the competition back in September 2006 (2-0 for AC Milan with goals scored by Clarence Seedorf and Kaká).
- If he scores against AC Milan, Lorenzo Insigne will overtake Diego Maradona (currently both six goals) equaling Vinicio and Antonio Vojak (both seven goals) and becoming one of the top three Napoli players with the most goals against the Rossoneri in Serie A.
- Ibrahimovic has scored in each of his first five Serie A games this season: in the three points per win era, only three players have managed to find the net in their first six appearances in a single campaign (Gabriel Batistuta in 1994/95, Christian Vieri in 2002/03 and Krzysztof Piatek in 2018/19).
Ones to watch
For Milan, all eyes will be upon captain Alessio Romagnoli and how he copes with a Napoli attack that will be without Osimhen. The 25-year-old has shown signs of inconsistency since his return, but full rest over the international break should help him.
From the back to the front, Ibrahimovic will obviously be key – just as he is every week – if Milan are to get a positive result, but watch out for the chemistry between Rebic and Theo down the left side to hopefully be resumed.
After a difficult first season, Hirving Lozano appears to be the form man now for Napoli. The Mexico international has the most goals for the Azzurri in the league (4) and has the highest average rating on WhoScored.
Of course, the centre-back pairing of Koulibaly and Manolas must also be mentioned, as it feels like if there is a pair that are going to stop Ibrahimovic, those two are going to have a pretty good go.
It feels like this should be a fascinating and entertaining spectacle between two sides with top-four ambitions and possibly more, and those are the games that can sometimes produce disappointing games.
A point might be a very good one for Milan moving forward, and any way of extending the unbeaten run in a fixture like this seems like a positive one.
Prediction: Napoli 1-1 AC Milan