It's hard to believe that this is the same AC Milan side that started the season. Only a few months ago, they looked lifeless and clueless—and Massimiliano Allegri's job looked on the line.
Now, they're unbeaten in the league this year and boast one of the youngest, most exciting front lines in world football. Their marque signing of the winter window, Mario Balotelli, has settled in immediately, scoring three goals in two games.
Things are very different for Parma.
Having started with a string of draws and going on to earn impressive wins against the likes of Sampdoria, Roma and Inter at the Ennio Tardini, the goals and the inspiration seem to have dried up.
The Crociati are now without a win in five and heading the wrong way on the table. They've lost just once at home this season, but away their performances have been poor, losing seven so far and only picking up nine points on the road. The San Siro is not where you'd want to go in form like that.
The statistics show that Parma tend to start slow and finish weakly, conceding most just after kick off and just before the final whistle.
With Milan fielding a youthful, energetic side full of guile and pace this is going to be a problem. Dealing with the likes of Mbaye Niang and Balotelli is difficult at the best of times, but for a team with obvious stamina issues it will be a nightmare.
Incredibly, thus far in the campaign, 42 percent of Milan's goals have come in the final 15 minutes. Even without the injured Stephan El Shaarawy, they'll pose a credible threat in front of goal until the very end. Parma must be mindful not to overexert themselves early on.
Possession will also be key. The Rossoneri have averaged more retention than even Juventus this season, and passed the ball more, too.
Parma spread the play less often—and less successfully. To address this, Roberto Donadoni might choose to flood the midfield, especially as Milan welcome back Riccardo Montolivo after his match ban.
The Italian international dictates play well and his range of passing will cause Parma problems, so Donadoni might attempt to stifle play in the middle of the park and hope that someone like Aleandro Rosi can cause problems on the counter.
With one eye on the upcoming Champions League tie with Barcelona, Allegri will be hoping that his side can also improve on their defensive frailties. They've been weak defensively all season, conceding more goals than any other team in the European places and letting in just one fewer than Parma.
Milan can't allow Parma to score if they want to feel good about their upcoming clash with the Catalans.
No Parma player has broken double figures in the scoring charts this term and only Ishak Belfodil has managed more than five. Allegri must demand a clean sheet from his men—something that's been a rarity both at home and away.
Without disrespecting Parma, this tie should be Milan's to lose. With strength across the pitch and a front line of on-form talent, the Rossoneri should have enough about them to seal the deal early and give themselves a crucial confidence boost before the upcoming Champions League match.
If, however, Parma can subdue the Milan front three and limit the amount of time that Allegri's midfielders get on the ball, they'll have their chances. And with the mid-table battling really heating up, they'll need to take them.
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