In this weekend’s Serie A fixture, Milan host Tuscan side, Empoli, at the San Siro.
After last week’s season opening defeat to Fiorentina, the Rossoneri will be looking to bounce back with a win to steer the ship back in the right direction, but it won’t be easy though. Empoli also lost their season opening match to Chievo Verona and will also be looking to gather all three points against Milan. Last season, both fixtures featuring Milan and Empoli ended with each team sharing the spoils. For Milan, the same results cannot happen again if we wish to stay in the race for the European spots. Milan need to be beating these types of sides and this weekend’s match is no different.
Milan coach, Siniša Mihajlović, has most of his squad available for this season home opener against Empoli. According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Mihajlović is likely to use the same lineup he used last weekend against La Viola. Only this time, Cristian Zapata is to expected to replace Rodrigo Ely, who was sent off last weekend. Mihajlović confirmed in the pre-match press conference that new signings Mario Balotelli and the newly acquired midfielder Juraj Kucka have been called up to the squad and are available to play if needed.
It will be interesting to see how Mario is used if he’s able to get some playing time in his potential first match back for Milan. The former Sampdoria boss has said that he could use the Italian international either behind the strikers or he could simply play as one of the strikers if he’s called upon. Kucka can play anywhere in midfield, so he’ll be useful to have as the season goes on. Milan are still missing Philppe Mexes, M’Baye Niang, and Jérémy Menez due to injuries.
Expected Formations, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport:
Milan: (4-3-1-2) Diego Lopez; De Sciglio, Zapata, Romagnoli, Antonelli; Bonaventura, De Jong, Bertolacci; Honda; Bacca, Luiz Adriano
Empoli: (4-3-1-2) Skorupski; Zambelli, Tonelli, Barba, Mario Rui; Zielinski, Diousse, Croce; Saponara; Pucciarelli, Maccarone
This Matchday 2 battle will be a fascinating one as both teams seem to favor the 4-3-1-2 formation, so there will be a few similarities between them. Both like to play a passing game with tight defense and have the urge to win the ball back quickly. Milan tries to attack down the center as it suits new signing, Carlos Bacca, when he’s able to receive service from the ground rather than a cross from the wings. He’s the type of striker that plays with the ball at his feet, so he’s also able to set up the play too if needed. The Colombian international’s strike partner, Luiz Adriano, is not the same type of player, but he’s a hard worker and creates havoc for the opposing defense with his runs into the box opening up space for the rest of his teammates. The former Shakhtar Donetsk man can also hold the ball up well and he’s very effective in the box if given the correct service from the midfield. Both strikers will need to be on the top of their game if Milan want to take all three points from a side they were unable to beat in the two meetings they had last season.
In my opinion, the key man for Empoli will be their young Italian trequartista, Riccardo Saponara, who will have the always important task of playing behind the strikers.
The former Milan midfielder is the danger man to watch out for. Since returning to his beloved Empoli last January, Saponara has been in fantastic form scoring 7 goals and earning three assists, via WhoScored.com, in the second half of last season. The promising young playmaker continued his great form last weekend in Empoli’s season opening defeat where he scored their only goal against Chievo Verona. It will be interesting to see how Milan can cope with a player that wasn’t really apart of their plans for the future. We need to be cautious of Saponara because he will definitely have something to prove against his former club in front of the San Siro crowd.
Big Summer signing, Carlos Bacca, will need to perform well if we want any chance of taking all three points against an organized Empoli side. The former Sevilla man is the squad’s biggest threat up front and he will be looking to continue the great goal scoring form he had last season for the Europa League champions. It is not fair to judge Bacca based on last weekend because once Milan went down to ten men, the service for him and Luiz Adriano was just non-existent. Neither of them were able to get involved in the game and could only contribute to helping the team not suffer conceding anymore goals than we did.
There are certainly some key match-ups to watch for as well. The battle on the flank between Mario Rui and Mattia De Sciglio will be an interesting battle to witness. Rui was one of the better fullbacks in Serie A last season where he earned 4 assists for the Azzurri, via WhoScored.com. De Sciglio will need to be on top of his game if he’s to be capable of dealing with the pace and skill of the key Empoli man. The young Italian international will need to stop him from providing support to Manuel Pucciarelli and Massimo Maccarone, whom can both cause significant damage to Milan if they are given the correct service from out wide.
Another key match-up will be how new Milan defender, Alessio Romagnoli, deals with Saponara. If Milan want to prevent Empoli from scoring, their main creative source will need to be shut down. The former Roma youth will need to have a stellar showing in the back if Milan want to come out of this with all three points and send the fans home happy. Saponara can create goals and score them too as noted before. If he isn’t dealt with correctly, then he will be a nightmare for Milan’s defense, which is already known to leak in unnecessary goals more often than not.
In closing, the red and black side need the win this weekend to bounce back after a difficult season opener defeat to Paulo Sousa’s Fiorentina. There is still optimism that Milan could have a successful season, but to make it a reality, they need to start getting back to winning ways against a team they struggled against last season. We need to beat teams like Empoli if we wish to return to being one of the most feared clubs in Europe.