AC Milan will be looking to make it five wins from five to kick off their Serie A season when they welcome Roma to San Siro on Monday night.
Are you happy with the summer transfer business that Roma did, and who was the best addition in your opinion?
“Overall, I think it was a decent summer for Roma in terms of transfer business, all things considered. We were technically working without a sporting director, but still managed to get some important deals done in terms of both signings and players leaving.
“Other than making the loan deals for Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan permanent, both of which I’m really pleased with, I have to say the signing that I’m most excited about is Pedro. To be honest, it still hasn’t really sunk in that we could attract a player with the CV that he has. The mentality he is bringing after winning all those trophies at Barcelona and then Chelsea can transform us.
“He may be closer to the end of his career than the start, but he’s already making a big impact. As Milan fans will be able to relate to with the impact Ibrahimovic has had since his return, age is just a number and some players never lose it.”
What do you make of the decision to stick with Paulo Fonseca, and have you seen him grow as a manager?
“His first season wasn’t perfect by any means, but I think he definitely deserves the opportunity for a second attempt. Stability is important, so even though no manager should go unquestioned, I think it’s right that we keep faith in him. There were some poor spells last season, but he also got us playing good football when it clicked.
“Importantly, we saw him react to one of our poorer runs of form by switching the formation to a back three, something it didn’t seem like he was going to do. Since changing the system, we’ve been a lot better, so I think he is becoming more adaptable and therefore growing in some regards, definitely.”
Thoughts on your start to the season?
“It’s been mixed but promising overall, I would say. If we ignore the Verona game which was awarded as a defeat despite the match ending as a draw, we haven’t been beaten on the pitch this season.
“We’ve also shown we can go toe to toe with the top teams by drawing with Juventus – and we could quite easily have won that game. I think that’s especially important, as we struggled against the sides above us for the most part last season, so if we can replicate that in big games more often, we should be able to close the gap.”
What selection issues will you have for the game against us and what will be the starting XI in your opinion?
“I think the main dilemma is what formation to go with. We used a back four in our most recent league game, but went back to the back three last time out in the Europa League.
“We were a bit concerned about who would be available in defence, because Gianluca Mancini tested positive for coronavirus. However, he’s since had two negative tests, so he will be available. With that in mind, I think we’ll be able to use the back three again.
“The other dilemma will be who to play at right-back. We have three options there but none of them are the clear first choice yet. Paulo Fonseca says he knows who’s going to play there for this game, though, so let’s see.
“My best guess for the lineup would be: Mirante; Mancini, Ibanez, Kumbulla; Santon, Veretout, Pellegrini, Spinazzola; Mkhitaryan, Pedro; Dzeko.”
What kind of a game are you expecting and what will be the key battles?
“I think it will be a tough game for both sides. We both have similar ambitions this season in returning to the top four, and are both in decent form.
“I’m expecting it to be a close game, and can’t see either side winning by more than one goal.
“It’s probably an obvious choice, but I think a key battle will be Ibrahimovic against our defenders, who are all quite young still. Obviously, Zlatan has loads of experience, so he will provide a big challenge for us – but our defenders are all promising, so they should give him a game.
“Also, it’s fair to say both sides have very good left-backs in Theo Hernandez and Leonardo Spinazzola. Both are dangerous in attack, so I think the game could be won in the channels if they’re both playing well.
“You could say for both teams that the right-hand side of defence isn’t quite as balanced, so there could be a lot of action in those areas if Hernandez and Spinazzola are on form – which they usually are.”
From an outsider’s perspective, what do you think of how Milan have been since the start of the year?
“Milan are looking strong again this year. The mentality seems to have improved to the kind of level you would expect. Stefano Pioli is definitely doing something right.
“At the current rate, it’s probably the first time in a long time that you look like genuine favourites for at least a place in the top four. I’m not sure about a title challenge, but if you can carry on the momentum, then who knows, it could even be second or third. I’m sure just like us you’d be delighted with any place in the top four!
“A bit like Roma, the performances in the big matches are going to be crucial this year – it’s a competitive season. But the win over Inter definitely bodes well for you.”
Finally, a score prediction…
“I always like to be optimistic, and it could go either way… but I don’t want to sit on the fence, and since Roma seem to have struggled at San Siro in recent years, I’ll reluctantly say a 2-1 win to Milan – if only because I never get predictions right, so hopefully the opposite will happen!”