AC Milan vs. SS Lazio: Milan Face Toughest Test Yet and Robinho Should Start
AC Milan are prepared to take on Lazio in their toughest test of the young Serie A season on Wednesday night at the Stadio Olimpico.
The Rossoneri are looking to get back on track. After a masterful 4-0 triumph over Lecce in the first match, Massimilano Allegri's side has suffered two horrible results: a 2-0 loss to promoted side Cesena and a 1-1 home draw with Catania.
The Catania match especially is a match Milan should have won. I still question Allegri's decision to start 37-year-old Pippo Inzaghi over Robinho, who has still not started for Milan. Inzaghi is not a 90 minute player anymore. He is a last 20 minutes sub, the guy who can get the quick strike off the bench. With Alexandre Pato out for three weeks, Robinho is much more reliable as a starter. More on this later.
Inzaghi missed a crucial chance early in the match. The ball was played perfectly to his foot three yards from the net. The ball hits his shin, without any poor bounces or misfortune, just lack of concentration. He scored on the stroke of halftime, but that still did not provide a win.
Milan were put to the sword in the 27th minute by a strike from Ciro Capuano outside the box that Christian Abbiati failed to handle.
Milan will need to play much better than they have of late when they take on Lazio. The Roman side are sitting on six points after successive victories over Bologna and Fiorentina. They have firepower from all angles. Christian Ledesman, Stefano Mauri, Hernanes, Tomasso Rocchi, and Libor Kozak all have scored a goal a piece in the two victories. Milan will have to play top notch and finally get their superstar filled attack firing on all cylinders.
With Massimo Ambrosini and Pato once again absent from Milan's squad, as they will be for three weeks, Allegri will have to look to different players in an effort to get three points on Wednesday.
The midfielder is where the most change should be seen, and in my opinion, should be a change that should be working with throughout the season.
The following is a breakdown of the 21 players called up for the trip to the capital, a look at what the lineup should be, and a look at who we could see off the bench in this very important clash.
The 21 Player Call-Up
Left in Milan:
A Look at The Lineup
Allegri made a questionable move putting Inzaghi in the starting 11 on Saturday. On top of that, he put Odu on the bench and sent Robinho to the stands.
Here is my take on what the lineup should look like for the match:
Marco Amelia (GK)
Sokratis (RB)-Thiago Silva (CB)-Alessandro Nesta (CB)-Luca Antonini (LB)
Mathieu Flamini (MF)-Andrea Pirlo (MF)-Kevin-Prince Boateng (MF)
Robinho (RW)-Ronaldinho (LW)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (ST)
Goalkeeper: Marco Amelia
Christian Abbiati has played all of Milan's four matches thus far. though he has done fairly well, he will need breaks from time to time.
Not only that, Amelia really deserves a chance on the field. He was very good in the preseason, coming up with big saves for Milan in his very impressive matches.
Milan's defense is known for easily getting caught out at times. Against Lazio, that is not a good situation. Amelia is a goalkeeper that can cope well with that situation when needed.
Milan will need to rely on both Abbiati and Amelia this season if they want to be successful. Amelia is a strong keeper who could save the match for Milan if they get caught out.
Left Back: Luca Antonini
Despite a couple of less than perfect performances, Antonini is still the top choice at left back for the club.
Antonini proved last season how productive he could be. Expect to see much of the same this season.
Milan will be successful if he closes down the wing for the dangerous Lazio attack and forces play back towards the middle. Along with that, he will be an important wingman for the attack, as we always see him linking up with Ronaldinho down the flank and causing deadly situations for the attack.
Expect his form to improve over the next couple matches as he regains the top form we saw last season.
Right Back: Sokratis Papasathopoulos
Yes, his first start was dreadful, but its one game.
I have to trust the fitness of Sokratis over that of Gianluca Zambrotta. Zambrotta has been getting caught out too much and seems to be running out of gas too quickly for a fullback.
Sokratis is a good defender and needs the chance to prove himself. In a game where he will be going against a strong attack, the Grecian will be able to prove to himself and his club that he can contribute. His pace and defensive ability will be used to close down the wing and make life difficult for the Lazio attack.
If Sokratis performs well along with the rest of the defense, Milan could have a good chance at a clean sheet.
Center Backs: Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta
This is a pretty obvious and universally agreed upon statement, so we will just say that Silva and Nesta need to get back to the great duo they were last season and Milan will be better defensively.
The bulk of the pressure though will be on the fullbacks to force play back towards the two star center backs.
Midfielder: Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo will once again be captain with the absence of Ambrosini.
Pirlo had a poor showing against Catania, but the 31-year-old Italian is still one of the best midfielders in the league.
Milan will be looking to the leadership of their vice-captain as they look to get back on track. A real field general in the midfield, he needs to establish a chemistry with the new front line to help make the attack a deadly one.
Midfielder: Kevin-Prince Boateng
"When I heard the fans singing my name the feeling was incredible. I have never had such a crowd calling my name before, I felt happy like a child."
These were the words of Kevin-Prince Boateng, one of Milan's few standouts in the draw to Catania.
Fans and critics were skeptical of Boateng's buy and loan to Milan from Portsmouth via Genoa, but he has quickly become a favorite at the San Siro.
With Milan in dire need of young legs in the midfield, the 23-year-old Ghanian is playing himself into a position where it will be difficult for Allegri to not make him a regular starter. The combo of Pirlo-Seedorf-Ambrosni is not working. Pirlo is a good starter, but Seedorf and Ambrosini are too unreliable at times.
Boateng has been fantastic thus far this season. He has found himself in the middle of a lot of the action, playing in crucial passes or flick-ons for the attack to put away, most notable of these being the flick to Ibrahimovic against Auxerre.
Boateng is going to play a crucial role in Milan's lineup from now on. He could become an even better player than he already is, as he has not even hit the prime of his career yet.
More great things are to come from this player as we can hopefully look forward to a revolution at Milan. One where talent and ability to help the club are more important than years served at the club.
Midfielder: Mathieu Flamini
Mathieu Flamini has hovered on the fringe of the starting 11 and the bench since his arrival from Arsenal on an initial loan for the 2008/2009 season.
However, Milan should look to start Flamini more often as he returns from injury.
Wednesday will be the Frenchman's first match with the club since May 9th. Towards the end of last season, Flamini was a regular starter for the club.
The 26 year old could provide yet another pair of fresh, lively legs. A defensive specialist, he could also help Milan's defensive trouble. Most of the open space that teams get against the club starts in the midfield with the tired legs. Flamini adds a lively, physical, and defensively-minded asset to the midfield that could save Milan a lot of trouble and unnecessary chasing.
Flamini's return will be a welcome one. Allegri should consider him an important part of the squad.
With Flamini now back, this could be a good opportunity to test the system of Boateng-Pirlo-Flamini, a midfield unit that could be much better than the one currently in place. It could make play through the middle more lively and make for better support on both sides of the ball.
Left Wing: Ronaldinho
Ronaldinho has been a bright light in a world of darkness for Milan in recent matches. The Brazilian seems to have taken a liking to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the two have formed a dangerous tandem.
The Gaucho has rediscovered the form we have not seen from him since his Barcelona days. He is playing well and is in fantastic shape.
There is not all that much to say here. Ronaldinho has established himself as the obvious left winger for Milan since his return from injury last season.
If he continues to play excellent football, Milan will always have a chance. Remember, much of the offense flows through Ronaldinho, whether he is a target or is the target finder, something he has done with precision very well since arriving at Milan.
Right Wing: Robinho
The Lazio match has to be a chance for Robinho to make his first start for AC Milan.
I am still unable to figure out Allegri's logic in putting Inzaghi and Odu in the squad while leaving Robinho to watch from the stands.
Has the Brazilian had better form? Yes. Form is not recovered over night however.
And it certainly is not recovered sitting on the bench. With Pato out, Robinho needs to be in the lineup. This injury gives him the perfect opportunity to prove that he is still a world class player. Milan have ironically been lacking goals with Ibrahimovic and Robinho arriving at the club, scoring less goals in their last three games (of which Ibrahimovic started and played the full 90 of all three and Robinho came off the bench twice) than in their first match (pre-Ibrabinho) combined (three goals in three after four against Lecce).
Robinho has nearly found the net a couple times for Milan and is destined to find it once he collects his wits. Obviously, Inzaghi was not the smartest pick as Pato's replacement at the weekend. Robinho will be a different player, one who, with the right motivation (which hopefully he has now that he is with a potential title contender), can play up and down the ground and wreak havoc in the attacking third.
He is a top notch finisher and one that Lazio must be weary of.
Striker: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic is quickly becoming a fan favorite at Milan.
Despite missing a penalty late in a 2-0 loss to Cesena last week, the Swede has been a top performer for Milan, with his best performance coming with goals four minutes apart in the 2-0 win over Auxerre in the Champions League.
Ibrahimovic has done a great job working the ball through the attack with some excellent passing and has unleashed some deadly shots on goal. He, with Ronaldinho and Boateng, has been one of Milan's top players in recent matches.
As Allegri said, the offense will need to flow through Zlatan. If Ronaldinho is the quarterback of the attack, which I would consider him to be, maybe the Tom Brady, then Ibrahimovic is the Wes Welker, the main target. If you place that ball within reaching distance of Ibrahimovic, good luck keeper!
Look for Ibrahimovic's numbers to only increase as he gets more and more chances at goal.
He will be facing a tough opponent on Wednesday, not only in Lazio's strong defense, but their talented young goalie Fernando Muslera, who was a central figure in Uruguay's run to the World Cup Semifinals. However, if Ibrahimovic gets the opportunity to strike, I would hate to be Muslera.
Gianluca Zambrotta: Zambro could see time late in this one in place of Sokratis if Milan need to keep defensive pressure tight.
Clarence Seedorf: I do not think Seedorf should be starting, but he continues to prove that he can be reliable for shorter periods of time.
Filippo Inzaghi: The only other forward called up, Inzaghi could be called upon for his famous late match heroics against the tired legs of Lazio.
This is a must win for Milan, both for the team itself and for the fans, who are sick of mediocrity at the club.
I think they escape the capital with a narrow 2-1 victory.
Lazio are one of those teams that are not always playing in Europe, but they definitely can fight for a spot. They are a tough team that got even better this summer, but the same can be said for Milan.
The problem for Milan is that they have not found the right mix yet. A new coach and new players take time to find a rhythm.
Robinho and Amelia will rise to the occasion and play very well in their first starts. Look for players such as Sokratis, Antonini, and Pirlo to prove that their recent form is gone.
This is a great opportunity to test a new, younger midfield with Boateng and Flamini working with Pirlo. The addition of Boateng and Flamini and the removal of Seedorf and Ambrosini takes about 20 years off the total age of the midfield. Their ability to move about the ground quicker and to play support for both the attack and defense makes them very useful to Allegri's squad.
If Milan cannot find a way to take all three points from this match, it will only make things more challenging and could make a Scudetto pursuit seem like a distant dream.