Champions League football wasn’t a dream for Milan a month ago, it was a reality. After surprisingly beating Napoli 2-0 at the San Siro, Milan seemed like they could gather momentum to defy the odds and qualify for the UEFA Champions League play-off.
Fast forward to now, and Milan now lie 5 points behind Serie A’s surprise package of the season, Lazio, who are in third. In between Milan and Lazio, there are teams such as Napoli, Sampdoria and Fiorentina, who are capable of challenging for 3rd place.
Even Milan’s punchline for the season, Inter Milan, are now only one point behind the Rossoneri in ninth.
Oh yeah, Giacomo Bonaventura returns to his boyhood club.
AC Milan – LWDLD
The Rossoneri haven’t managed a league win since the game against Napoli. That game was meant to be a catalyst that would kickstart their season, but it appears to be a curse that’s ruined it. A justifiable and noble draw against Roma before the winter break gave Milan hope they could dance with the big boys, but a loss against Sassuolo exposed their greatest weakness. Milan fail to get it done against smaller sides, nobody knows why, nobody really knows how. Things managed to get moderately worse after the Sassuolo loss (2-1), as Milan managed to outdo all their prior abysmal performances with a shambolic showing against Torino.
Atalanta – WLDDD
I think we’re all a bit guilty of forgetting about Atalanta sometimes. The club has been in Serie A since 2011 after gaining promotion from Serie B, and have been home to some memorable players throughout their years in Serie A, such as Filippo Inzaghi, Riccardo Montolivo and Christian Vieri. Much like Milan, a key win seems to have brought bad luck to Atalanta, after a 3-2 win against fellow relegation candidates Cesena, a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Lazio was handed out. The footballing has at least been entertaining, with a 3-3 draw and a 2-2 draw against Palermo and Genoa respectively in recent weeks, but their form also includes a disappointing draw against relegation fighting Chievo.
AC Milan (4-3-3): D. Lopez, Abate, Rami, Mexes, Armero – Poli, De Jong, Montolivo – Cerci, Menez, Bonaventura
Atalanta (4-4-2): Sportiello, Benalouane, Biava, Stendardo, Drame – Zappacosta, Carmona, Cigarini, Moralez – Denis, Pinilla
Notable absences: Mattia De Sciglio is reportedly out. Keisuke Honda is at the Asian Cup with Japan.
Key players to watch out for
AC Milan – Alessio Cerci.
For those of you who saw the Sassuolo game in the Coppa Italia, you’ll know what I’m on about. The Italian winger seems to be regaining his fitness after not getting regular playing time at Atletico Madrid. I think this is his break out game. Thirteen goals and ten assists were Cerci’s final stats in Serie A last season, and I imagine he’ll get at least half of those stats in the last four months of the season. Milan’s attack is desperately crying out for some creativity and Cerci is easily the most talented player in this Milan lineup.
Atalanta – Luca Cigarini
The 28 year old midfielder hasn’t had the best supporting cast in recent years at Atalanta, but he’s been an integral part of the team ever since he arrived on loan in 2011. Milan’s midfield play has been poor this season, with NDJ contract issues, Montolivo’s absence and Andrea Poli being…well, Andrea Poli. Milan’s midfield looks a different midfield when Van Ginkel and/or Bonaventura are brought into it, but neither are expected to start, so, keep an eye out for Cigarini.
Verona (A) – Livorno (A). (Yellow indicates an assist)
Milan’s attack has been lacklustre this season in terms of creativity, only Keisuke Honda’s early season form and Jeremy Menez’s individual brilliance have allowed Milan to cover up the cracks. However, the loan signing of Alessio Cerci will provide some excellent creativity for Milan, which the likes of Menez and Bonaventura will relish. Cerci and Immobile played in a relatively poor Torino side, and still propelled them to a 7th place finish and Europa League football.
Napoli (A) – Circles indicates clearances. Diamonds indicates interceptions.
Philippe Mexes’ rebirth as a defender has gone largely unnoticed by most Milan fans, but in recent weeks, the highest earner of Milan has been putting in some excellent shifts. Milan’s defence has been largely suspect all year, with manager Pippo Inzaghi constantly changing centre back pairings, meaning no Milan defenders could form a proper partnership. I hope Mexes finds his way into the Milan XI regularly, as he’s earned it in recent weeks.
Now here’s a player that spark a riot on Twitter. Riccardo Montolivo. The former Atalanta man and now Milan captain always sparks debates, but his influence on Milan’s midfield is underrated. His ability to link defence and attack together was missed by Milan earlier in the season, and his creativity is welcomed (two chances created against Napoli). His range of passing opens up a different kind style of play for Milan and allows the counter attack to flow much more than it could under any other Milan midfielder.
Writer’s prediction – Milan 2 Atalanta 0