AC Milan will be looking to make it five wins out of six to begin the new Serie A season when they take on Spezia on Saturday.
Milan have a double objective at the Stadio Alberto Picco: to put pressure on the teams around them by taking advantage of being an earlier 15:00 CEST kick-off, and to avenge last season’s defeat at the same ground which put a big dent in the Scudetto hopes.
Stefano Pioli urged his side not to let their levels drop during his pre-match press conference, while his opposite number Thiago Motta became the latest to praise the work that the Rossoneri have done recently.
Game date: Saturday, 25 September
Kick-off time: 15:00 (CEST)
Venue: Stadio Alberto Picco
Referee: Gianluca Manganiello
Milan will be looking to build on Wednesday night’s 2-0 win over Venezia at San Siro, which put them temporarily joint-top before Napoli’s win at Sampdoria.
Pioli is still battling an injury crisis of sorts as Simon Kjaer, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Rade Krunic are unavailable, Junior Messias is not at the right condition yet, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is battling Achilles swelling and the latest blow is that Alessandro Florenzi is out too. Olivier Giroud and Davide Calabria are back, however.
At the time of writing there is an abundance of speculation suggesting that there could be potential rotations, but for the time being it seems as though Mike Maignan will be in goal protected by a back four of Pierre Kalulu, Fikayo Tomori, Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez.
Franck Kessie is predicted to come back into the double pivot alongside Ismael Bennacer, while the most debated area is the attacking department, though for now nothing too concrete has emerged to suggest it will change from Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz and Leao behind Rebic.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Kalulu, Tomori, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Bennacer; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Leao; Rebic.
There was a big change for Spezia over the summer as they lost head coach Vincenzo Italiano to Fiorentina, and he was given a big chunk of credit for the fact they managed to survive last season following promotion from Serie B.
Thiago Motta is the man who they brought in to replace him, and it has been a mixed start for the ex-Genoa boss. They secured their first win of the season with Mehdi Bourabia’s 94th-minute beauty against Venezia, and they were leading 2-1 against Juventus before losing 3-2.
Spezia have now lost three of their last five home matches in Serie A but they will certainly be in high spirits hoping they can repeat the performance seen against Juve, but they have injury worries to contend with.
As per the latest reports, Spezia will be without Martin Erlic, Kevin Agudelo, Ebrima Colley, Viktor Kovalenko, Arkadiusz Reca and Leo Sena for Saturday’s game, which does actually reduce any selection headache Motta might be feeling.
Probable Spezia XI (4-2-3-1): Zoet; Amian, Hristov, Nikolaou, Bastoni; Ferrer, Sala; Salcedo, Maggiore, Gyasi; Antiste.
Head to head
Given Spezia’s fairly recent rise to the top of Italian football, there is not a big back catalogue of games between the two sides to draw upon. In fact, there have been only three clashes between the sides before.
Milan won the first two games including a comprehensive 3-0 win at the San Siro last season, but what is still fresh in the memory is that Spezia beat the Diavolo in the reverse fixture in February this year, running out 2-0 winners.
➤ Spezia and Milan have faced off three times previously across Serie A, Serie B and the Coppa Italia; the Rossoneri have won two of these meetings, but lost their last clash in the top-flight (2-0 at the Alberto Picco Stadium last February).
➤ Milan have lost just one of their last eight Serie A matches against Ligurian teams (W5, D2); before this they had only won one of their previous four against such sides.
➤ Spezia have lost three of their last four league games (W1), as many defeats as in their previous nine before this (W1, D5).
➤ Milan have not lost in Serie A since April against Lazio; indeed, since the beginning of May, no team has gained more points than the Rossoneri in the division (26 – P10, W8, D2, L0).
➤ Milan have conceded just one goal in their last five Serie A away games; they have kept four clean sheets in this period, as many as they had in their previous 19 away matches in the Italian top-flight.
➤ Milan have kept a clean sheet in eight of their 10 Serie A games since the beginning of May, more than any other team during this period in the big-five European Leagues.
➤ Milan and Spezia are two of the three teams that, including the substitutes, have played with the lowest average age in this Serie A campaign: 24 years and 265 days for the Ligurians and 25 years and 73 days for the Rossoneri – while between the two are Empoli (25 years and 30 days).
➤ Spezia’s Simone Bastoni’s first Serie A goal came against Milan last February – that remains his only goal scored at home in the division.
➤ No goalkeeper has kept more clean sheets in the big- five European leagues in 2021 than Milan’s Mike Maignan (16, level with Ederson).
➤ Rafael Leão has scored one brace in his Serie A career so far, doing so in October 2020 against Spezia. The Milan forward hasn’t scored away from home in Serie A since April against Parma.
Ones to watch
There will certainly be scrutinous eyes upon Franck Kessie if he does indeed start the game, given that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding his contract situation and his performances so far this season have not yet hit the levels expected.
Aside from the Ivorian, Alessio Romagnoli will be hoping to remain in top form after an impressive start to the season and Saelemaekers will aim to build off his great substitute impact in Wednesday’s win, as will Theo.
There is an interesting sub-plot within the game as Milan will come up against Janis Antiste, a teenage striker who joined from Ligue 2 side Toulouse in the summer. It was recently reported that he could have joined Milan when he was younger after a trial, and that he was also a target during the summer but the Rossoneri decided not to move concretely.
The threat for Spezia is certainly down the left side, with left-back Simone Bastoni – who scored in the 2-0 defeat back in February – and left winger Gyasi having combined for four goals already this season. They are the top two in WhoScored rating too.
Given that there is still a lingering injury bug and there will be an eye on the games against Atletico Madrid and Atalanta before the international break, it just doesn’t feel right to expect a comfortable win at a ground where Milan have struggled. Any way of getting the job done will suffice, and the impact of subs could be key.
Prediction: Spezia 1-2 AC Milan