AC Milan will look to start off the 2021/22 season in style as they will take on Sampdoria at Stadio Luigi Ferraris this evening. Just like any other opener, it will be an important game.
The Rossoneri have their fair share of obstacles to start the season and with a potentially pivotal season on the cards, they will look to get a much-needed three points and a valuable confidence boost.
In his pre-match press conference for the clash with the Genoa side, Stefano Pioli discussed the players at his disposal and made it clear that this is the strongest Milan side he has coached. Hopefully, that will result in good performances, starting tomorrow.
Game date: Monday, 24 August
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CEST)
Venue: Stadio Luigi Ferraris
Referee: Marco Guida (VAR: Aleandro Di Paolo)
The season kicks off with two high profile absences in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Franck Kessie, probably last season’s best players. In their place, the experienced Olivier Giroud – fresh off a move from Chelsea – and youngster Sandro Tonali are the favourites to slot in as their replacements.
Mike Maignan, starting between the sticks, will make his league debut with Milan following a €13m transfer from last year’s French champions Lille. In front of him, the defence should remain the same as the one we saw close out last season with the ever-dependable Davide Calabria on the right, Theo Hernandez on the left and a centre-back partnership of Simon Kjaer and newly-redeemed Fikayo Tomori.
In midfield, it seems Ismael Bennacer won’t make it from start as he still hasn’t hit match fitness due to COVID-19. This means that Rade Krunic, who really isn’t a deep-lying midfielder, will start alongside Tonali in the midfield tandem. This partnership will be one of the main things to keep an eye on.
The attack will be fronted by the young trio of Rafael Leao, Brahim Diaz and Alexis Saelemaekers, hoping to provide the service necessary for Giroud up front. The latter is similar to Ibrahimovic, so perhaps that will help the youngster find him more easily immediately.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Hernandez; Krunic, Tonali; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Leao; Giroud.
Sampdoria are coming into this season off the back of a rather respectable 9th placed finish in the 2020-21 campaign. Over the summer they attempted to strengthen the goalscoring department, shelling out €12m for Brescia’s Ernesto Torregrossa and Empoli’s Antonino La Gumina.
They also changed managers, letting go of the experienced and decorated Claudio Ranieri for a younger fresh alternative in former Parma man Roberto D’Aversa. At the relatively young age of 44, D’Aversa has overseen Parma’s impressive rise through Italian football’s divisions having started from Serie C following strenuous financial troubles, and led them all the way to promotion to Serie A.
After a very successful 19/20 season which saw him avoid relegation very comfortably with a stunning 11th placed finish, the 20/21 season was much more cruel as it saw his side nailed to the bottom of the table before his inevitable sacking.
Sampdoria’s side features several dangerous players from the ever-present veteran Fabio Quagliarella to rising young star Mikkel Damsgaard, who put the world on notice with a phenomenal showing at this summer’s Euros with Denmark.
Probable Sampdoria XI (4-2-3-1): Audero; Bereszynski, Yoshida, Colley, Augello; Thorsby, Silva; Candreva, Gabbiadini, Damsgaard; Quagliarella.
Head to head
The head to head record between these two teams has been very up-and-down for the Rossoneri. The last five games have featured a Sampdoria win, two draws, and two Milan wins.
Last season’s fixtures saw a 2-1 away win, in which Frank Kessie converted from the penalty spot and Samu Castillejo doubled Milan’s advantage before Albin Ekdal cut the deficit in the 80th minute making for a nervy end.
The return fixture featured a dramatic 1-1 draw in which Milan fought and fought to find the breakthrough, only to concede a Fabio Quagliarella goal off of a disastrous mistake by Theo Hernandez gifting Sampdoria the 57th-minute lead. A point was ultimately rescued by a late goal by super-sub Jens Petter Hauge, who has since left the club to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga.
Sampdoria have had much better success against Milan at their stadium the Luigi Ferraris, where they have won three of the last five games. Although Milan did win last season’s game there and have just come off a historic season, setting the record for the most away wins in a single season.
Match facts (via LegaSerieA):
➤ AC Milan have won their last two Serie A away meetings against Sampdoria and could win three such matches in a row for the second time in the competition (after a four-game streak in 1968).
➤ After winning their first two Serie A season opening games against Sampdoria, AC Milan have lost two of the following three against them (D1), including the most recent one (0-1 in August 2012).
➤ Sampdoria have lost their last three season openers in Serie A, failing to score in each of them; they have never lost four such matches in a row in the Italian top-flight.
➤ AC Milan have drawn only one of their last 15 opening matches to a Serie A campaign: 2-2 in September 2011 against Lazio (W8 L6).
➤ AC Milan have lost four of their last five Serie A season openers away from home (W1), after having remained unbeaten in 14 successive such matches (W10 D4).
➤ Sampdoria have won their last two Serie A matches keeping two clean sheets: they last won three league games in a row without conceding in March 2015.
➤ AC Milan have kept a clean sheet in each of their last five Serie A matches: they last had a longer run without conceding in the competition in February 1994 (nine in a row under Fabio Capello).
➤ Fabio Quagliarella has scored eight Serie A goals in August, level with David Trezeguet and Antonio Di Natale — he could become the joint-top scorer in this month of the year in the competition: level with Marek Hamsik (nine).
➤ This could be Ante Rebic’s 150th appearance in the Top-5 European Leagues: Sampdoria is one of two sides (alongside Napoli) against which the AC Milan player has delivered more than one Serie A assist (two).
➤ Olivier Giroud could become the 15th Frenchman to score for AC Milan in Serie A: AC Milan are already the team with the most French scorers in the competition.
Ones to watch
The aforementioned Fabio Quagliarella will undoubtedly be Sampdoria’s main goalscoring threat as the forward has been the club’s top scorer for five consecutive seasons, but creatively look for Mikkel Damsgaard to capitalize on his Euro tournament hype as he is now undoubtedly on the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs and was even linked with a move to Milan at points of the summer transfer window.
As for Milan, They will look to help their French talisman Olivier Giroud hit the ground running especially with a style of play that is designed to utilize aerial dominance from a striker, just as it did with Zlatan Ibrahimovic last year.
Youngsters Rafael Leao and Brahim Diaz will also look to put their imprint on the game as they try to solidify their spot in the starting XI in the coming weeks. Leao especially will be eager with Ante Rebic providing worthy competition for the starting left winger spot. Leao will look to replicate his blistering start to last season which highlighted his sky-high potential and ability with a view for more consistency later in the season.
I expect an emphatic Milan win despite the notable absentees. The Rossoneri will look to control possession and build on their incredible end to last season defensively, conceding zero goals in the final five games.
Prediction: Sampdoria 0-2 AC Milan