AC Milan: Assessing the Starting XI Against Napoli
Following a painful defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in Tuesday night's UEFA Champions League clash, AC Milan return to Italy with an away match against an always challenging Napoli side on Monday night.
The game has been moved to Monday instead of the normal Saturday and Sunday, as Napoli played host to Liverpool on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League at the San Paolo. The match ended 0-0.
This is an important match for both clubs. AC Milan look to get back on track and move to 17 points while Napoli are on 12 points, two behind AC Milan and Inter Milan. Lazio top the Serie A with 16 and play Sunday against Cagliari, who sit just above the drop zone.
Milan have learned that names alone will not win matches. Despite having the likes of Ronaldinho, Pato, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo, and Robinho, Milan have struggled through matches and were finally caught out by an incredible Real Madrid team.
Manager Massimiliano Allegri has apparently seen the light and is expected to make some major changes for the big game Monday night. Milan have in all honesty been lucky this season to have not dropped more points than they have and to be in second with the four-time reigning winners of Serie A, Inter.
Now, however, Milan face a difficult road against the best Italy has to offer. In their first seven matches, Milan have only played three teams currently in the top half of the table. In these matches, they have only earned five of a possible nine points.
Monday begins a long journey. Following Napoli, Milan will close October with a Saturday contest against Juventus. November only gets tougher. After a match with Bari, the Rossoneri take on Palermo at home, four days before the first Milan Derby of the season, which Inter have home advantage for. Fiorentina follow and are sitting just outside the top 10. November ends with a trip to Genoa to play Sampdoria.
To close 2010, Milan face tough tests with Brescia, Bologna and Roma. Of these, only Brescia is in the top half. Bologna is in the relegation zone.
Of course, in this time, Milan will also play Real Madrid, Ajax and Auxerre in the Champions League.
The objective has to be to take this match by match, but Allegri has to make some big changes and try new ideas if Milan are to be successful.
The changes need to start Monday. In this slide show, as in the past, I will break down what I feel the Rossoneri squad should look like, as well as highlight players that Allegri should have on the bench.
The Milan Call-Ups
Goalkeepers: Christian Abbiati, Marco Amelia, Flavio Roma
Defenders: Luca Antonini, Daniele Bonera, Bruno Montelongo, Alessandro Nesta, Massimo Oddo, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Mario Yepes
Midfielders: Kevin-Prince Boateng, Mathieu Flamini, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Rodney Strasser
Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Filippo Inzaghi, Pato, Robinho
Players Unavailable: Ignazio Abate, Massimo Ambrosini, Marek Jankulovski, Ronaldinho, Thiago Silva, Gianluca Zambrotta
Players Not Called Up: Oguchi Onyewu, Nnamdi Oduamadi
Goalkeeper: Marco Amelia
Say what you want, Marco Amelia played well in the game against Real Madrid.
Anyone who blames him for those two goals is out of their mind. In fact, thank Amelia for it not being five or six for the Galacticos.
Amelia finally made his full debut for Milan while on a season-long loan from Genoa. With Christian Abbiati out with an abductor muscle injury, the 28-year-old played very well in the net.
His preseason performances warranted him receiving time earlier this year, but he never got it. When he finally took the field, he looked every bit as good, if not better than Abbiati has this season. Abbiati has looked very impressive thus far.
As Milan look to make changes, Allegri should look to give Amelia more time, maybe split time with Abbiati in order to always have a rested keeper. Especially with Abbiati's injury concerns, Amelia should get the nod more often.
Center Back: Alessandro Nesta
No shock. Having played in six of seven Serie A matches this season, the only one he missed being the loss to Cesena, and having been a Milan star for the past several years, this is no surprise at all and does not call for much analysis.
Just to comment on Nesta; as he gets older, he has not lost much in his step, even after missing a whole year with a back problem. Nesta still continues to be one of Milan's most pivotal defenders.
Center Back: Sokratis
I know he had a rough first match, but this guy deserves a second chance.
Sokratis is a quality player with youth and speed. With Thiago Silva's injury leaving him off the squad, the Grecian defender better be ready to step in. With Daniele Bonera's recent poor showings, maybe this is the chance for the 25-year-old to get back into the show.
Sokratis is a great defender who should be given the chance with Silva out of action.
Right Back: Bruno Montelongo
Meet Bruno Montelongo, a 22-year-old Uruguayan fullback on loan from River Plate Montevideo.
He has finally gotten his first call-up for the Rossoneri.
Good things have been said about this young player. He has pace and quality in the defending third and could be an asset which Milan benefit from.
With Milan's injury woes and poor performances in the back, Montelongo has gotten the call-up. As a natural right back, it makes sense to give him the start. Obviously, going with aged, slow fullbacks has not worked this season. Maybe it's time to try something new?
Left Back: Luca Antonini
Again, not much that needs to be said. He has established himself on the left flank over the past year. He is a leader on defense. Most importantly, he is a quality left back.
He has not been as consistent as last season, but Antonini is a great left back and has done well for Milan. Unless he is hurt, he needs to be in the lineup.
Midfielder: Gennaro Gattuso
Ever since Ambrosini went down against Auxerre, Allegri has been giving his trust to Gattuso. He has only had one, maybe two fantastic performances, but Allegri sees something in the 34-year-old.
Personally, I would go with Flamini. He is younger, faster, has more fitness, and is excellent on defense. However, as I said, Gattuso is in favor with Allegri.
I like Gattuso. He has always been among my favorite Rossoneri, but he is well past his best days. We can hope that he finds some form or Allegri finds Flamini on the bench.
Midfielder: Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo: Milan's most used and most consistent midfielder this year.
Pirlo has played well thus far this season for both Milan and Italy and is proving he is still an excellent footballer. Very unlikely he sits in Naples.
Midfielder: Kevin-Prince Boateng
Boateng has been a star for Milan this season and the fans love him.
Unfortunately, the manager has completely ignored this the past few matches.
For reasons unknown, Boateng has been a reserve for the majority of the season. He has started only three matches, none since September 25th. Boateng's introduction in the 59th minute on Tuesday gave Milan some life against Madrid, though to no avail. Boateng is one to lift spirits when he is in the match. The players love him and the fans love him. He should be in the lineup.
Robinho seems to be coming into his own at the San Siro and has finally opened his account with a goal against Chievo last Saturday.
The Brazilian will be given a chance with Ronaldinho out and will get to work alongside Ibrahimovic and fellow Brazilian Pato. Robinho and Pato have worked very well together for Mano Menezes' Brazil squad, having been teamed up in wins over the United States, Iran, and Ukraine.
Robinho would have started with or without a healthy Ronaldinho anyways probably, as Allegri is reportedly looking to make major changes to the club after poor performances. Robinho's entrance against Chievo was very positive and the goal was a matter of time.
Despite not being his best the past few years, Robinho seems to be ready to break through once more. We should see on Monday whether he is truly back or not.
Striker: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
After a hot start to his Milan career, Ibrahimovic has not scored since September 25th. Despite this, Zlatan is still Milan's top striker and will be by the Rossoneri all season.
The Swede may not have been scoring of late, but he has been working to set up his teammates.
Real Madrid was his only truly poor performance so far. Maybe that goes back to the criticism of disappearing in big matches, who knows? However, Ibrahimovic will need to be clearly present as Milan go through this set of matches which features Napoli, Juventus, Palermo, Sampdoria and Milan rival and former Ibrahimovic employer, Inter Milan.
Striker: Alexandre Pato
The star is back.
After being knocked out of action for a few weeks following the Auxerre match, Pato exploded back onto the scene last Saturday with two goals in a 3-1 win over Chievo Verona, putting him on four goals in four Serie A matches.
With a striker like Pato, who is rapidly becoming one of the best in the world, those numbers are guaranteed to rise.
Pato likes working alongside Robinho, his teammate on the Brazilian National Team and pairing the two on the field for Milan could spell trouble for opposing defenses.
On the Bench
Goalkeeper: Christian Abbiati
He may be healthy again, but Amelia's performance on Tuesday warrants another start.
Defenders: Daniele Bonera, Mario Yepes
Bonera has struggled of late and Yepes has yet to make an appearance. Either must be ready to be called upon on Monday night.
Midfielders: Mathieu Flamini, Clarence Seedorf, Rodney Strasser
Flamini is a player that should be in the starting lineup over Gattuso. Seedorf is a player who can do well coming off the bench in the latter stage of matches. Strasser showed his quality in the preseason, along with other Primavera players who should get call-ups soon. Any of these three could see the pitch at the San Paolo. If a defensive change is needed, Flamini is the obvious move. Attacking would be Seedorf. Strasser could see time if Milan have a comfortable advantage or even if just a move for a midfielder with no particular tactical plan is needed. Whatever it is, Strasser deserves a chance on the field.
Forward: Filippo Inzaghi
As I always say, Inzaghi is the master of the late goal. Bring him on with like 20 minutes left, put the ball to his foot and watch the 37-year-old do what he has done more than 300 fantastic times.
The Outcome: Milan 2-1 Napoli
It will be a fight on the road against one of Italy's best clubs, but Milan will make the proper adjustments to walk out of the San Paolo with a well earned win.
Napoli star Marek Hamsik could cause trouble for Milan and maybe gets a goal but look for Ibrahimovic to get back on the score sheet and for Pato to continue his good form with Robinho pulling the strings behind them.
Milan will need to be at their best, but Allegri now seems determined to change things in order to get results. Look for changes to be key on Monday night.