AC Milan will look to build on Cristian Brocchi's first win in charge when they welcome Carpi to the San Siro for an important Serie A matchup.
Date: Thursday, April 21
Time: 8:45 local time, 7:45 BST, 2:45 EDT
Venue: San Siro, Milan
TV Info: BT Sport Europe (UK), beIN Sports (US)
Live Stream: BT Sport Connect (UK), beIN Sports Connect (US)
AC Milan went into Sunday's game against Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris under intense scrutiny. Coach Sinisa Mihajlovic had been fired after less than a season, replaced by primavera youth-team coach Cristian Brocchi. The team hadn't won a league game since February—a five-game slide that saw Sassuolo come within a point of them for sixth place.
Protecting that sixth spot is imperative for the Rossoneri. They've made the Coppa Italia final, which will be played on May 21 against Juventus, but since it's mathematically impossible for the presumptive champions to finish outside of the top five, Milan wouldn't get the Coppa winner's place in the UEFA Europa League should the Bianconeri beat them, unlike years past.
A rule change this year assigned the Coppa's Europa place to the sixth-placed finisher if the winner has already qualified. That means Milan need to stay sixth at all costs—or else miss out on European competition for a third consecutive year.
Brocchi sent the team out in a 4-3-1-2 rather than the 4-4-2 that had evolved under Mihajlovic, but the team overall didn't look like much had changed.
Of course, after less than a week, one could expect nothing else, but there were some very bright spots at the Marassi.
Giacomo Bonaventura's move back into the trequartista role saw him play a better game than had been seen over the last month, making darting runs and roaming the breadth of the field as he tried to set up the strikers.
Likewise, Mario Balotelli was impressive. After turning in a performance against Juventus that reminded fans of his season's promising start, Balotelli again looked engaged. He was slightly off on several direct free-kicks but delivered a few dangerous balls from set pieces and never dropped his head. He drifted wide a bit too often, but his overall performance gave Milan encouragment.
Of course, the brightest thing of all was the score: a 1-0 win that, coupled with Sassuolo's loss to Fiorentina, restored the four-point cushion Milan held over the Neroverdi.
Carpi is likewise fighting for places in the table, in their case at the bottom. A surprise 4-1 win against Genoa on Saturday saw them claw their way outside the relegation zone and into 17th, but they're only safe by a point. With a tricky run-in that includes home games against Empoli and Lazio and a daunting trip to Juventus, consolidating their position as fast as possible will be essential.
Their win against Genoa was the latest piece of what has been Carpi's strongest stretch of the year. The Biancorossi have only lost two of their last eight games, winning three and drawing three.
Scoring has been their biggest issue. Saturday's game was the first time all year they had scored more than twice in a game, and they've scored the league's sixth-fewest goals this season. If they can develop a strong counter-attack and poke a hole in a Milan defense that is sometimes still suspect, they may be able to run out with a point.
These two clubs have met twice this season—once in the league and once in the Coppa Italia. The first game, played at Carpi's Stadio Alberto Braglia, played out as a scoreless draw. When they met just over a month later in the Coppa quarterfinal, the Rossoneri took a 2-0 lead within a half-hour, but gave one back five minutes into the second half and suffered to gain their semifinal berth.
|Last 5 results, most recent first|
|W 1-0 @ Sampdoria||W 4-1 vs. Genoa|
|L 2-1 vs. Juventus||L 1-0 @ Chievo|
|L 2-1 @ Atalanta||L 3-1 vs. Sassuolo|
|D 1-1 vs. Lazio||W 2-1 @ Verona|
|D 0-0 @ Chievo||W 2-1 vs. Frosinone|
|AC Milan (4-3-1-2)||Carpi (4-4-1-1)|
|Abate Alex A. Romagnoli Antonelli||F. Poli Suagher S. Romagnoli Letizia|
|A. Poli Montolivo Bertolacci||Pasciuti Cofie Bianco Gaudio|
AC Milan: FW M'Baye Niang (ankle), MF Juraj Kucka (suspended)
Carpi: CB Igor Bubnjic, GK Zeljko Brkic (all injured), CB Riccardo Gagliolo (suspended)
If Juraj Kucka hadn't been suspended, Andrea Bertolacci's place in the starting XI would be seriously in doubt for this game.
You have to feel bad for the 25-year-old. He came into the season with big expectations after coming over from Roma with a €20 million price tag, but he was never going to justify that kind of overpay. He's had to play much of the season in a formation that doesn't play to his strengths. He also suffered an injury right when he looked to be hitting his stride.
Bertolacci simply has never gotten a foothold this year. He played terribly on Sunday, misplacing simple passes, losing possession and playing poor defense.
There will only be four games left in the season after Thursday, and if Bertolacci doesn't perform, he could be out of opportunities. If he repeats the performance he had in Genoa at the San Siro this week, Brocchi could look elsewhere to man his midfield for the rest of the run-in.
On Carpi's side, one of the most important players probably isn't going to be starting.
Kevin Lasagna has turned into something of a cult hero in Serie A this year, both for his name and for becoming something of a super-sub. The 23-year-old has played in 31 league games this season but has only started seven. However, he's come off the bench to be a real nuisance to some big teams.
Inter has been a particular target for the youngster. He came off the bench to supply an assist for an equalizing goal in the season's second week, only to see it go to waste after Inter scored a late penalty. At the end of January he took matters into his own hands, tying the score 1-1 of the return game at the San Siro deep into stoppage time.
It was his first goal of the season and the start of a stretch that would see him score three times over six games, with other big clubs like Fiorentina and Roma among his victims.
Even when he hasn't scored, Lasagna has been dangerous. One of his few starts of the season was the first league game against Milan, when he played 71 minutes and put one of two shots on target and won three free-kicks, according to WhoScored.com.
His pace can be dangerous on the counter-attack, and if Fabrizio Castori elects to send him to the touchline in the second half, Milan's defenders will have to keep track of him.
Milan has one of the greatest attacking assets in Serie A in Carlos Bacca. The Colombian hit man is one of the game's most accurate strikers, hitting the target with 67 percent of his shots this season, according to Squawka.com.
Unfortunately for the Rossoneri, they have been unable to take full advantage of that asset for most of the year. Why? Simple: For all his accuracy, Bacca doesn't see nearly enough scoring opportunities to turn that accuracy into something that could be truly decisive over the course of the whole season. WhoScored.com clocks him at only 1.9 shots per game.
Milan's biggest weakness this year has been their lack of creativity in their buildup play. Bonaventura often has to shoulder the entire creative burden himself as Bacca tries to attack space to latch on to balls that hardly ever come.
With Bonaventura back in the middle of the park, it's going to be up to one of Carpi's mids to counter him. That will likely be Isaac Cofie. The 25-year-old from Ghana is Carpi's best defensive midfielder, averaging 2.3 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game.
He'll likely be charged with being the disruptive influence on Bonaventura and the rest of the Milan attack. If he can keep Bacca from getting the ball in position, Milan will be hard-pressed to find goals—and Carpi will have a better shot at a point.
Betting Odds (via Odds Shark)
Milan win: 25-52
Carpi win: 6-1