AC Milan vs. Lazio: Where the Game Will Be Won

Jack Alexandros Rathborn@@jackrathbornContributor IIIFebruary 27, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 20:  Riccardo Montolivo of AC Milan in action during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between AC Milan and Barcelona at San Siro Stadium on February 20, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Milan aims to bounce back from a disappointing Derby della Madonnina in which fierce rival Inter stole a point late in the game through an Ezequiel Schelotto header.

The Rossoneri could not put the game out of sight and for all their domination, there was just a Stephan El Shaarawy strike to show for it.

Andrea Stramaccioni rallied the Nerazzurri with a series of late changes and with Samir Handanovic's spectacular saves keeping Inter in the match, it had a sense of inevitability when Yuto Nagatomo sent in an curling cross from the left that Schelotto expertly guided into the right corner.

A defensive lapse from a defence that had demonstrated a near perfect performance against Barcelona just days earlier will provide the Rossoneri with a warning that they cannot relax at this point in the season.

Having gone 13 league matches unbeaten, Milan has done brilliantly to rekindle their season after winning just seven points from the opening eight matches, but the hard work must start here.

Lazio tends to cram the midfield which means that Milan have an opportunity to stretch the Biancocelesti with their wide players; El Shaarawy and probably M'Baye Niang.

The pair of youngsters can cause havoc for an ageing Lazio back line with their movement and pace, which will be Milan's key advantage in this match up.

Riccardo Montolivo will be tasked with pulling the strings from deep and the former Fiorentina playmaker will be the main key to victory for the Rossoneri.

With a lovely range of passing, Montolivo is burdened with the creative load for the side and without him, Milan's front line can become isolated, so we can look to the base of Milan's midfield as the most important battle of the game this weekend.

Hernanes and Alvaro Gonzalez will sit ahead of Lazio's own holding midfielder, Cristian Ledesma, and the pair will be aiming to disrupt the flow of the Rossoneri's passing game and aim to ruthlessly counter in transition.

Hernanes is a wonderfully gifted footballer with great variety in his game to be able to dictate the flow of the game—or, as is more likely against a Milan side that will attempt to control proceedings, carry the ball on the counter attack.

Senad Lulic and Antonio Candreva enjoy charging down the wings once Hernanes gets on the ball and this is where Milan's full-backs must resist the temptation to position themselves too high up field.

I am expecting the game to be surprisingly open, as both sides will play contrasting systems—Vladimir Petkovic's 4-5-1 and Massimiliano Allegri's 4-3-3.

These key tactical battles will provide intrigue in a pivotal game that will have a huge bearing on who claims that final Champions League spot.

Milan are two points behind Lazio, which sets the game up nicely knowing that the home side must take the game to the visitors.

With Sergio Floccari maybe more apt at fulfilling the role of a lone striker than the injured Miroslav Klose, Lazio will have a vast amount of space to utilise when they dispossess the Rossoneri.

So I return to the key matchup that will decide this game, if Montolivo's passing is neat and crisp, he will limit Lazio's opportunities to overwhelm Milan on the counter and ultimately grind Lazio down to leap frog them into third place.