AC Milan will be hoping to get their season back on track as they travel to face Chievo in Serie A on Sunday morning.
The Rossoneri’s 12-match unbeaten run came to an end last weekend, when they lost 2-0 away to Sassuolo. It was a poor performance, one that severely dented the club’s chances of achieving a top three finish and UEFA Champions League football next season.
Now, Milan’s primary concern is securing a top-six spot, something that would at least guarantee them a place in European competition in 2016-17. And, given they are now just three points clear of Sassuolo, Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men cannot afford many more slip-ups.
The Serbian coach has had other concerns in the past seven days, with rumours circling about his future. Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia) reported he had “decided to leave … regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season, with interference from the president (Silvio Berlusconi) the primary motivation.”
Mihajlovic forthrightly countered claims he is on his way, however, telling Milan Channel (h/t Football Italia):
I have a contract with Milan, and I’m concentrated on building the foundations for future success with Milan.
These are baseless rumours, I’m focused on the next game.
Do I want to continue with Milan? Of course, why wouldn’t I? ... I’m here with a clear conscience and I continue with my head held high.
Irrespective of the truthfulness of such speculation, it cannot have helped Mihajlovic prepare for what promises to be another tricky away day in Verona this Sunday.
Rolando Maran took over Chievo in late 2014 and promptly steered them away from relegation. This season, his first full campaign with the club, he has guided them to a comfortable mid-table position; before the game, the Gialloblu sit 10th in Serie A.
Despite losing 3-1 to title challenging Napoli in their most recent league outing, Maran’s side have already scored more goals than last season and are one win away from matching their 2014-15 total.
Chievo will present Milan with another tricky away test, though Mihajlovic will not be on the bench for the match “as he received a one-match touchline ban” having been sent off during the defeat to Sassuolo, per Forza Italian Football.
While he won’t be present in the dugout, he will no doubt be desperate for his players to get all three points, not just to safeguard sixth place, but to quell the doubts regarding his job.
Date: Sunday, 13 March
Time: 11:30 am GMT (6:30 am ET)
Venue: Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, Verona, Italy
TV Info: BT Sport Europe (UK), beINSPORTS (USA)
Live Stream: bet365.com
Napoli 3-1 Chievo
Chievo 1-0 Genoa
Verona 3-1 Chievo
Chievo 1-1 Sassuolo
Torino 1-2 Chievo
Sassuolo 2-0 Milan
Milan 5-0 Alessandria (Coppa Italia)
Milan 1-0 Torino
Napoli 1-1 Milan
Milan 2-1 Genoa
There is good news for Mihajlovic ahead of this weekend, with Ignazio Abate coming back from a suspension received following an accumulation of yellow cards.
The 29-year-old right-back has been at his best in recent weeks, with his speed and surging runs offering a quality outlet down the right flank.
With Riccardo Montolivo set to be evaluated and unlikely to start, Abate could wear the captain’s armband against Chievo.
The foremost tactical concern for Milan going forward is the unavailability of 21-year-old striker M’Baye Niang, who is set to miss most, if not all, of the remainder of the season after sustaining injuries in a car crash.
According to the club’s official website (h/t Eurosport), the Frenchman “will undergo surgery … for a capsular ligament injury in his left ankle.”
Without Niang, Mihajlovic has some tough choices to make regarding the setup of his attack. Both Mario Balotelli and Luiz Adriano are lacking form, leaving Carlos Bacca without an effective strike partner as it stands.
As a consequence, Milan could ditch the 4-4-2 system they have utilised with a good amount of success in recent months and go with a system using just one striker.
According to Football Italia, on Thursday, Mihajlovic “practiced his side in a 4-3-3 shape with Bacca flanked by Keisuke Honda and Giacomo Bonaventura.”
This change would also mean the addition of another midfield presence and, given Montolivo is not certain to be fit, Andrea Poli could come into the lineup alongside Andrea Bertolacci and Juraj Kucka.
This may very well be the setup for this Sunday’s meeting with Chievo, a team who have fostered far more tactical consistency.
Maran has used a 4-3-1-2 shape throughout this season, and this is how his team will line up again on Sunday.
In terms of personnel, Nicola Rigoni will likely retain his starting spot ahead of Perparim Hetemaj after an impressive showing against Napoli, where he scored and earned a 7.3 performance rating from WhoScored.com.
Up front, Maran will have to choose two out of Riccardo Meggiorini, Sergio Pellissier and Paul-Jose M’Poku. The latter duo’s combination of knowhow and pace could see them get the nod.
Chievo (4-3-1-2): Albano Bizzarri; Fabrizio Cacciatore, Dario Dainelli, Bostjan Cesar, Massimo Gobbi; Lucas Castro, Nicola Rigoni, Ivan Radovanovic; Valter Birsa; Paul-Jose M'Poku, Sergio Pellissier
Unavailable: Alessandro Gamberini (injured), Roberto Inglese (to be evaluated).
Milan (4-3-3): Gianluigi Donnarumma; Ignazio Abate, Alex, Alessio Romagnoli, Luca Antonelli; Juraj Kucka, Andrea Poli, Andrea Bertolacci; Keisuke Honda, Carlos Bacca, Giacomo Bonaventura
Unavailable: M’Baye Niang (injured), Rodrigo Ely, Riccardo Montolivo (to be evaluated).
Players to Watch
Argentinian midfielder Lucas Castro has been one of Chievo’s best players since joining the club from Serie B side Catania for a £2.63 million fee last summer, per Transfermarkt.co.uk.
Combative, energetic and attack-minded, he plays on the right side of Maran’s diamond midfield, working hard and driving forward when the opportunity presents itself. He also provides a real aerial threat from set pieces and crosses.
Assuming Milan do indeed go with a 4-3-3 system, they will require Bonaventura to be at his creative best. The nimble, quick-footed attacking midfielder will need to cut in from the left to support lone striker Bacca with combinations and through-balls.
With 13 goals to his name this season, the Colombian hitman is the Rossoneri’s top scorer by quite a distance, but he needs good supply. On top form, Bonaventura can provide just that.
After a strong February, Cristian Zapata appeared back to his poor form from earlier this season in Milan’s defeat to Sassuolo. The 29-year-old centre-back looked slow and unable to deal with the movement and speed of the opposition’s attackers before being substituted.
Alessio Romagnoli came on for him that day and is set to resume his usual starting berth, alongside Alex, going forward, against Chievo.
The 21-year-old has enjoyed a fine debut season with the Rossoneri and deserves to reclaim his place in the side, though he is set to encounter a true youth versus experience scenario should the Flying Donkeys start with Pellissier up front.
Incredibly, Romagnoli was just one year old when the Chievo forward made his professional debut for Torino.
Now, at 36 years of age, it’s safe to say Pellissier’s best days are behind him, but he still possesses high levels of intelligence, movement and a knack for finishing chances.
All odds via Odds Shark.