AC Milan will be looking to make sure they stay top of the Serie A standings for another week when they make the trip to face Udinese at the Dacia Arena.
Milan snatched first place back thanks to their win over Salernitana last Saturday and Napoli’s defeat at home against Atalanta, but must recover from the midweek disappointment of being knocked out of the Champions League after a home defeat against Liverpool.
There was no usual pre-match press conference due to head coach Stefano Pioli feeling some flu-like symptoms, but Junior Messias did speak and insisted that the only target now is to win the Scudetto after their European adventure ended.
Game date: Saturday, 11 December
Kick-off time: 20:45 (CET)
Venue: Dacia Arena
Referee: Fourneau (VAR: Banti)
Milan will head to Udine with very limited forward depth again, as Rafael Leao and Pietro Pellegri are still out with muscle problems. Pioli will also be without Olivier Giroud, Ante Rebic and Davide Calabria who are stuck in the treatment room, but Samu Castillejo is expected to make the squad.
According to this morning’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Mike Maignan should be protected by a back four of Alessandro Florenzi, Fikayo Tomori, Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez for the game at the Dacia Arena.
The double pivot should consist of Ismael Bennacer and Sandro Tonali which means Franck Kessie will drop to the bench. Alexis Saelemaekers is expected to be the right winger, Brahim Diaz the playmaker and Rade Krunic on the left behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic who should be the striker again.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Florenzi, Tomori, Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez; Tonali, Bennacer; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Krunic; Ibrahimovic.
Everything had started well for Udinese under Luca Gotti as they won two of their first three games to sit fifth in the table, but from rounds 4 to 16 they won just once more in the league, with the most recent result being a 3-1 defeat away against Empoli that saw them change coach.
It has been decided by Gino Pozzo that Gabriele Cioffi should step in as the interim manager, and he will be hoping to get a quick reaction from what is a group that certainly has some interesting talent.
Regarding selection issues, there are doubts about whether centre-back Rodrigo Becao – who has scored his only two goals for Udinese against Milan – will come back from an adductor issue, but Walace and Nahuel Molina are back from suspensions.
Roberto Pereyra will miss out through a shoulder injury, but the impressive loanee Beto will be the centre-forward, having netted six goals this season including a brace away at Lazio in a recent 4-4 draw.
This morning’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport has Cioffi playing a 4-4-2 formation, with Becao in there as well as former Milan man Gerard Deulofeu, who revealed on Thursday that he wants the Rossoneri to go on and win the Scudetto.
Probable Udinese XI (4-4-2): Silvestri; Perez, Becao, Nuytinck, Udogie; Soppy, Arslan, Walance, Deulofeu; Beto, Success.
Head to head
This is certainly a fixture that Milan have had the better of overall recently having won 16 out of last 34 matches played between the two teams. However, Udinese have managed 11 victories in this stretch with only 7 draws.
The last game between the sides came in March this year and ended in a 1-1 draw as Becao’s header gave the away side a lead after 68 minutes while Franck Kessie levelled with a 98th minute penalty. The reverse fixture saw Milan win 2-1 late on as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s acrobatic close-range finish inside the final stages secured a crucial victory.
However, it is worth mentioning that Milan have won in just three of their last nine visits to face Udinese, with two of those having come in the last three games.
➤ Milan are the side against which Udinese have drawn the most Serie A meetings: 34 draws in 92 matches (W17 L41).
➤ In the last seven Serie A meetings between these two sides played in Friuli, Udinese and Milan have never repeated the same result in two successive games: three home wins, one draw and three away wins, including the most recent one, in November 2020.
➤ Udinese have drawn six of their 10 Serie A games since October, more than any other side in the competition: in the process, only Brighton and Hove Albion (seven) have drawn more than the Bianconeri in the ‘top five’ European Leagues.
➤ Udinese have drawn three of their last four Serie A home games, as many as they had in the previous 14 such matches in the competition (W4 L7).
➤ Milan have picked up 38 points after 16 Serie A matches, their best tally at this stage of the competition since 2003/04, which remains the only campaign in the three points for a win era in which they have collected more than 40 points in the first 17 top flight games of a season (42).
➤ Milan have won 16 Serie A away matches in 2021 (D1 L3); only Napoli in 2017 (18) have collected more wins in a single calendar year in the competition.
➤ Milan have had 14 different scores in Serie A this season: only Chelsea (16) have had more so far in the Big-5 European Leagues – the Rossoneri have had 16 in the whole 2020/21 campaign.
➤ Udinese’s Gerard Deulofeu played his first 17 Serie A games for Milan: the Spaniard is only one goal away from his best tally of goals scored in a single Serie A campaign (currently four goals, as many as he had in 2016/17 for AC Milan).
➤ Rodrigo Becão has scored only two Serie A goals, both against Milan: in August 2019 he led Udinese to victory whilst in March 2021 he scored the first goal of the match, which was eventually drawn thanks to a 97th Kessié’s goal from the penalty spot.
➤ Brahim Díaz has delivered an assist in his last two league matches: he has never had a hand in a goal in three Serie A matches in a row.
Ones to watch
If Udinese do line up with two flat banks of four in defence and midfield, the suggestion is that Brahim Diaz could find space between the lines to really cause some damage and hopefully get his first goal in a few games after his impressive scoring run in the early part of the season.
There will also be important indications of Bennacer’s condition given he has not exactly been in his best form for a few weeks now, albeit with encouraging signs among that, while Florenzi should have another chance to impress and he will have to keep Deulofeu quiet on Udinese’s left.
Speaking of Deulofeu, the Spaniard has been the Bianconeri’s most consistent attacking outlet this season with four goals and two assists to his name, and given the amount of times he has publicly declared a desire to come back to Milan he would love to prove something.
Then there is Beto who was mentioned above given the fact he has as many goals (6) as Milan’s leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and a WhoScored rating of 6.84 for the season overall. Also, please let this be the game where Becao is kept quiet from set pieces.
Given the Rossoneri’s lack of attacking depth and the fact certain players such as Ibra, Krunic, Brahim Diaz, Theo Hernandez and Tonali are being asked to work overtime to keep the team ticking over, this feels very much like a ‘just get the three points’ kind of game. Another clean sheet in the league would be huge for confidence, too.
Prediction: Udinese 0-1 AC Milan