Pescara vs. AC Milan: Complete Serie A Preview
Milan travel to the Adriatic coast on Wednesday for their midweek Serie A fixture after a vital win at home to Torino last weekend.
Mario Balotelli's goal relieves an awful amount of pressure on the Rossoneri as they prepare to face the worst team in Serie A, Pescara.
With Roma's smash-and-grab win at Fiorentina on Saturday, the gap between third and fourth is now four points, a substantial advantage for the Diavoli with just three matches remaining, even if the Viola possess the tie breaker in the head-to-head department.
Pescara have known for some time now that they would be relegated, but with pride to play for and preparations already beginning for the Delfini to mount a charge next season for an immediate return, don't expect Milan to win this too comfortably—especially with the injuries piling up for Massimiliano Allegri's side.
Milan triumphed 4-1 in their match earlier in the season, which flattered the home side as Pescara put up a good fight. Two late goals for Milan made that result somewhat deceiving, even if they did clearly deserve all three points.
It has been 16 consecutive games without a victory for Cristiano Bergodi's side and they will be desperate to break that run before the season is out, whilst Allegri's side have dropped just 13 points from a possible 51 since the turn of the year.
Here is a look at the sides both managers will field and a key battle to look out for.
Pescara Team News and Key to Victory
Pescara have been troubled by a series of injuries that has further dented their hopes of salvaging some pride and ending this horrendous run of form.
Vladimir Weiss, Juan Quintero, Gaetano D'Agostino, Francesco Modesto, Gianluca Caprari and Ivan Pelizzoli have all been ruled out with injury, leaving Bergodi with a tricky job of selecting a team to combat one of the league's form sides.
Per Kroldrup has overcome an ankle problem and Mattia Perin will be grateful for another opportunity between the sticks after relinquishing the gloves to Pelizzoli earlier in the season, despite being tipped to reach the very top of Italian football in the coming years.
Ferdinando Sforzini will be the lone front man for the Delfini and a trident consisting of Emmanuel Cascione, Giuseppe Sculli and the 18-year-old Federico Di Francesco—who is benefiting from Pescara's injuries and the fact that the side is already relegated.
That trident will start deep and look to support Sforzini on the counter, with Giuseppe Rizzo and Eugenio Togni looking to screen the back four and make life difficult for Milan to break them down in a similar way to Torino, who held out for more than 80 minutes at the weekend.
Key to victory
Rizzo and Togni's discipline in front of the back four will be key, maybe not in achieving a victory, which is highly unlikely, but perhaps a point.
With Milan's midfield lacking any sort of creativity and guile, Pescara have a real shot of shutting Milan out for a while at least, as Allegri seems content to continue fielding Antonio Nocerino, Sulley Muntari and Mathieu Flamini through the middle—all of whom possess similar combative qualities.
By closing the gaps between the lines, Rizzo and Togni might be able to force Milan to use the width. With Stephan El Shaarawy always keen to come inside and M'Baye Niang never completely comfortable going on the outside of the full-back, the Rossoneri might begin to become frustrated in their attempts to play through the middle.
Probable Pescara XI (4-2-3-1): Perin; Zauri, Kroldrup, Capuano M., Balzano; Togni, Rizzo; Di Francesco, Cascione, Sculli; Sforzini.
Milan Team News and Key to Victory
Milan escaped with all three points at the weekend and probably deserved it, just about.
Wednesday's clash will probably bring up similar challenges for a rather dull midfield, lacking any sort of imagination in the absence of the injured Riccardo Montolivo.
The former Viola maestro joins Nigel De Jong, Bojan Krkic, Daniele Bonera and Luca Antonini on the sidelines, as well as the suspended Kevin-Prince Boateng. Milan are somewhat restricted with their options as the season closes out.
Mattia De Sciglio is also a doubt with an ankle problem that forced him to miss the clash with Torino, meaning that Allegri will not have the usual dilemma of who to field at left-back, so Kevin Constant will surely retain his place there.
M'Baye Niang is an obvious choice to replace Boateng on the right of the front three in the only other selection dilemma for the Rossoneri, although Robinho has an outside chance to start too.
Key to victory
Pescara will look to replicate the effective tactics that Torino demonstrated last weekend, and this will put a burden on El Shaarawy and Boateng's replacements to show versatility and attempt to get in behind the full-backs on the outside, as well as their customary method of attack through coming inside.
So testing Luciano Zauri and Antonio Balzano's agility to turn and react to the ball knocked in behind them will be the easiest way of breaking down the hosts.
The overlapping runs of Ignazio Abate and Constant will help in this manner, too, although Milan could do with feeding Il Faraone in particular to raise his morale that has dipped so drastically in recent weeks.
El Shaarawy was withdrawn after just 55 minutes at the weekend and naturally appeared dejected as he trudged off the field. With more critics pointing out a correlation between Mario Balotelli's arrival and the player's dip in form, Allegri will be keen to put to bed this theory.
Probable Milan XI (4-3-3): Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Zapata, Constant; Flamini, Muntari, Nocerino; Niang, Balotelli, El Shaarawy.
Battle to Keep an Eye On: Mario Balotelli vs. Marco Capuano
We had to mention him somewhere. With nine goals in 10 appearances for the Rossoneri, it is undoubtedly true that Balotelli has been the key to their resurgence and probable comeback to finish inside the top three and crucially secure Champions League football.
Marco Capuano is the heart of this Pescara defence that is constantly changing in personnel and with Balotelli's movement inside the area so lively, Pescara will need him to be at his best to prevent Super Mario adding to his excellent goalscoring record since returning to Italy.
His record is somewhat padded by a handful of penalties—incidentally struck with such confidence that you almost feel certain Milan will score whenever they earn a spot kick—but Balotelli is showing a versatile attacking game that he never quite displayed for Manchester City.
A willingness to drop into the pocket of space between the opposition's defence and attack is driving Serie A defences crazy, as it leaves their centre-backs without an opponent to mark.
Balotelli's composure on the ball and ability to keep Milan's moves moving at a fast tempo is making their youthful-looking attack even more deadly when afforded space to move into, rather than lazily waiting for service on the shoulder of the last man.
Capuano's anticipation might not be enough, as it is inevitable that he will need to twist and turn as Milan attempt to work the ball towards the wings. This allows Balotelli to make his move from deep, anticipating a ball zipped across the face of the six-yard box.
Considering it has been a matter of months since his return to Italian football, the potential for Balotelli to raise this side next season is huge when you add in a full preseason under his belt and the manager's tactics better tailored to his strengths.