AC Milan looks to capitalize on the momentum produced by their 3-0 win over Inter Milan as they travel to Sicily to take on Palermo.
Date: Wednesday, February 3
Time: 8:45 local time, 7:45 GMT, 2:45 EST
Venue: Stadio Renzo Barbera, Palermo
TV Info: No live feeds
Live Stream: beIN Sports Connect (US)
Palermo has been synonymous with instability for as long as Maurizio Zamparini has been their owner.
Since buying the club in 2002, when it was still in Serie B, the eccentric president has changed managers a whopping 29 times. One man, Serse Cosmi, was fired after only four games in charge in 2011 when his team was crushed 4-0 by Catania in the Derby della Sicilia.
The game of "musical managers" reached its nadir in 2012-13, when there were five individual coaching tenures involving three different men. Not surprisingly, they were relegated that season for the first time since they had reached the top flight in 2004.
Their success in the two years since—they won Serie B to get right back into Serie A and a comfortable 11th-place finish in their first season back—was due largely to a rare bit of stability in the manager's office. Giuseppe Iachini, who replaced Gennaro Gattuso after only two months of that Serie B season, was a steadying influence. He utilized his team well and had their complete respect.
But after Palermo won only four of this season's first 12 games, Zamparini's trigger finger began to itch, and Iachini was out, replaced by Davide Ballardini. The move was immediately rejected by the players. Star forward Franco Vazquez called it an "injustice" on Twitter (h/t Football Italia), and Enzo Maresca was similarly criticial in a Facebook post (h/t Football Italia).
Eventually the relationship between Ballardini and the team grew so toxic that goalkeeper and captain Stefano Sorrentino told reporters after their January 10 win over Hellas Verona (h/t Football Italia) that the manager didn't interact with the team at all during the game.
Giovanni Tedesco has since taken Ballardini's place.
As if all these distractions aren't enough, Palermo has become the target of Operation Offside, a large-scale tax-evasion scandal involving a number of Serie A and Serie B clubs and personnel.
Perilously close to the relegation battle, Palermo will be relying on Vazquez to trigger their attack and on 22-year-old center-back Edoardo Goldaniga to keep their line tight.
On the other hand, Milan will be riding a huge wave. After squeaking by Alessandria in the first leg of the semifinal of the Coppa Italia last Tuesday, they came home to the San Siro for the Derby della Madonnina against archrivals Inter.
After an exciting first half, Alex got a head to a powerful cross from Keisuke Honda to give the Rossoneri a late 1-0 lead going into the break. The game was still in the balance until the final 20 minutes, when Inter's Mauro Icardi clanked a penalty off the post and Carlos Bacca and M'Baye Niang scored in quick succession to put the 3-0 win to bed.
The Rossoneri weren't nearly as dominant as that scoreline suggests, but for once they took their chances to kill off the game with cool efficiency, and they capitalized on Inter's lack of creativity at the other end.
Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic has been under pressure himself this season, but he has managed to keep his seat so far, and this season has been a general improvement over last year under Filippo Inzaghi.
Now only two points behind AS Roma for a place in the top five, if Milan can take the momentum from their biggest win of the year and turn it into a genuine run, they could even close the six-point gap between themselves and the final Champions League place.
The first meeting between these two this year on September 19 was an exciting affair. Milan went ahead twice through goals by Bacca and Giacomo Bonaventura, but the Rosaneri wouldn't be finished off. Twice Oscar Hiljemark equalized before Bacca's second goal of the game provided the difference 15 minutes from time.
|Last 5 matches, all competitions, most recent first.|
|D 1-1 @ Carpi||W 3-0 vs. Inter|
|W 4-1 vs. Udinese||W 1-0 @ Alessandria*|
|L 4-0 @ Genoa||D 2-2 @ Empoli|
|W 1-0 @ Verona||W 2-0 vs. Fiorentina|
|L 3-1 vs. Fiorentina||W 2-1 vs. Carpi*|
|Palermo (4-3-3)||AC Milan (4-4-2)|
|Struna Goldaniga Gonzalez Lazaar||Abate Romagnoli Zapata Antonelli|
|Cristante Jajalo Hiljemark||Honda Kucka Montolivo Bonaventura|
|Vazquez Gilardino Quaison||Bacca Niang|
Milan: Out: GK Diego Lopez (knee), CB Rodrigo Ely (foot). Questionable: FW Luiz Adriano, who could be set for a move to China, per Football Italia.
Palermo's attack starts and ends with Vazquez.
The Argentina-born Italy international hasn't been the goalscoring threat that he was a year ago, when he potted 10 strikes to go along with his 10 assists. That decrease, though, is not so much a reflection on his abilities as on the fact he no longer has Paulo Dybala to play off of.
With his old running mate now at Juventus, defenses have been able to collapse on him in the absence of a second option of similar quality. He's on pace to at least equal his assist numbers, but one of his teammates has to step up to help him get the attack going.
If someone turns into a big enough threat that he starts requiring attention, it will be a boon for Palermo's most dangerous man.
The creator on the other side is Giacomo Bonaventura.
The only man who has really shown the ability to create for Milan this season, Bonaventura has been exceptional, scoring five goals and notching seven assists. His play has been instrumental in the club's attempt to climb back into Italy's elite.
Even more impressive is that that success has come from several different places. The 26-year-old has played on the left wing in a 4-3-3, left midfield in a 4-4-2 and as trequartista in a 4-3-1-2.
For some players all that shuffling would be confusing, but Bonaventura hasn't once allowed his form to falter.
Good in front of goal, one-on-one on the dribble and deadly as a set-piece threat, knowing where Bonaventura is at all times is vital in stopping Milan from creating chances.
Goldaniga didn't play in the first game between these two clubs, but he's been a regular starter since the end of November and is quietly becoming one of Serie A's better young defenders.
Particularly adept at intercepting balls (WhoScored.com clocks him at 2.8 per match), Goldaniga is going to have a task on his hands when he goes up against Milan's Carlos Bacca.
Bacca has been nothing short of fantastic this season. In his debut season in one of the most difficult leagues in the world to score in, he's already struck 11 times, and he would have a lot more if his team had managed to get him more service.
In order to have as good a year as Bacca has had with that kind of service you have to hit the target consistently, and that's exactly what the Colombian has done. He's found the target on 21 of those 30 shots—a whopping 70 percent.
Compare that to scoring leader Gonzalo Higuain, who Squawka clocks as hitting the target 53 percent of the time, and you wonder how many times Bacca would score if he had more opportunities.
Bacca's game is based on off-ball movement. He finds space and then exploits it. Goldaniga is going to have to limit that space as much as possible and use his feel for angles to keep passes from getting through to him.
If he can do that, Milan will have to rely on their lesser attackers to find their goals—and it will be easier for Palermo to snag a point.
Odds (via Odds Shark)
Palermo win: 16-5
Milan win: 20-23