For all the promise their new Chinese investors carry (sound familiar?), AC Milan is still very much the side we’ve grown to love over the past half-decade or so; an average-to-decent team that can’t seem to crack the top four, forever chasing their former glory while simply trying to remain above the middle of the table. It’s a fall from grace not many expected to see, after all they were the last non-Juve team to win it all back in 2011. However, for a variety of reasons, Milan has struggled to live up to their enormous legacy since then.
So, if the Rossoneri really start rolling in the renminbi next season, this may be Roma’s last chance to take advantage of their dry spell. But, as is our custom, before we look ahead to tomorrow, let’s look back to December.
December 12, 2016: Roma 1, Milan 0
Wojciech Szczesny was the story of this match. Often criticized for being too stoic, at least by me, Woj was anything but in this match, frequently charging out to deny Milan’s forrays. Woj topped it all off by denying Niang from the penalty spot, preserving the tenuous 0-0 scoreline through the first half. Of course, Woj conceded the penalty, so it was only right he saved it, but this was some of the most aggressive play we’ve ever seen from Szczesny. The second half featured a lot of back and forth play from each side, as Edin Dzeko and Suso each had chances on goal, but it would take a wonder strike from Rajda Nainggolan to give Roma the 1-0 victory. Nainggolan’s sweeping left footed strike from 20-some-odd yards out was easily one of his best in a Roma shirt.
Milan v. Roma: May 7, 20:45 CET/2:45 EDT. San Siro, Milano, Italia.
And something tells me Nainggolan will be instrumental tomorrow as well, so let’s take a closer look.
A Milanese Mess
After a decent run of form through the late winter, a stretch in which they won five out of seven matches in February and March, Montella’s flight has suddenly been grounded, as the Rossoneri have won only one of their past four matches, a four-nil thrashing of Palermo.
However, despite that recent downward turn, Vincenzo Montella’s post at Milan seems assured. Speaking of assured, here’s what L’Aeroplanino had to say about the prospect of this match:
Roma and Atalanta are actually easier games to prepare for players, because they bring more motivation. We need to get more points than we did in the reverse fixtures. Roma represent one of the most important steps towards European qualification, although the head-to-head with Atalanta next week might be even tougher.
First off, kudos to Football Italia for their long standing tradition of misleading headlines. At first blush, you’d think “oh shit, Vincenzo’s talking trash”, but once you realize they buried the lede, Montella’s quote, taken in its proper context, makes perfect sense. In this twisted Juventus-world, Milan are actually the underdogs against Roma, so, yes, it would make sense that Montella wouldn’t need to pull a Knute Rockne to get his squad amped up for this match.
Montella was (of course) asked the obvious and standard would you return to Roma question, to which he was typically coy, simply saying maybe in the new stadium, who knows... It’s low hanging fruit, but given the perpetual tumult around Roma, it’s a fair question to ask and there is a sizeable section of the fanbase that would love Montella to return to Roma’s bench.
We’ll delve into the actual tactical concerns of this match in a moment, but first, a quick look at Roma’s red card tinged emergency lineup.
Roma: Saw Red
Brad Nowell was always a hero of mine, so you’ll have to excuse the non-sequitur, and here’s his duet with a pre-reality TV judge Gwen Stefani. Well, she’s Italian, so it’s somewhat relevant to Serie A, right?
Anyway, due to Kevin Strootman’s Greg Louganis impression and Antonio Rüdiger’s unbridled enthusiasm late in the derby last week, Roma are missing two Spalletti stalwarts, which will force Poobah’s hand somewhat when selecting tomorrow’s lineup.
In their stead, expect to see a 4-2-3-1 with Daniele De Rossi and Lovely Leo Paredes manning the double pivot, while Rüdiger’s absence should prompt a return to the Bruno Peres-Emerson Palmieri fullback pairing we’ve seen intermittently this season. Upfront, Spalletti seems to have settled into the trio of Stephan El Shaarawy, Radja Nainggolan and Mohamed Salah supporting Dzeko, with Diego Perotti serving as choice number one off the bench.
Will it work? Who knows, but let’s take a look at what to....
Keep An Eye On
Suso and Deulofeu
Despite their ups and downs in 2017, Milan’s wing play has been spot on thanks to the young Spaniard and the dashing Deulofeu, the latter of whom has become indispensable to Montella since arriving over the winter. In 14 league matches, Suso’s young compatriot has tallied two goals and notched three assists while averaging an impressive 2.1 shots, 2.4 key passes and 3.1 dribbles per match, marks not matched by anyone on Roma’s wing-oriented squad. Suso, meanwhile, looks every bit the budding star, slamming home seven goals and dishing out nine assists in league play, while nearly equaling Deulofeu’s aforementioned averages.
Suffice it to say, these two amigos will present quite a challenge for Roma’s wing defense, especially if Palmieri and/or Peres venture too far from home, leaving Federico Fazio and Kostas Manolas on an island. If that is indeed the case, the backtracking and defensive pressure of De Rossi, and even El Shaarawy, takes on added significance. One can’t help but think of how helpful Franck Kessie would be in this match, which, given Milan’s interest in him, is incredibly ironic, but he’s going to Chelsea, so it’s probably academic at this point anyway.
Peres and Palmieri
Since we just mentioned them, we might as well delve a bit deeper into their respective roles. On the balance of the season, Palmieri has been an absolute revelation. From a transfer that barely registered any headlines, Palmieri has suddenly become the object of envy for clubs around the world, drawing attention from the likes of Juve and even PSG. Granted, he’s been dealing with some injuries in the spring, but Palmieri has been all over the map over the past couple of months, with sterling efforts against Sassuolo and Pescara blighted by poor turns against the likes of Lyon and Lazio. Palmieri is at his best when he’s given room to roam, a tactic which has been exploited by opponents, so it’s up to Spalletti to mitigate the counter attacking opportunities because hemming in Emerson will only limit his effectiveness.
As for Peres...oof, where to begin? Back in March we took a deep dive into Peres’ problems, suggesting that it was an amalgam of reticence, tactics, and slow adjustments, but let’s be frank: he’s a shell of his former self. It’s gotten to the point where he no longer has the confidence of his coach, having gone the full 90 only three times in the past two months. Peres may ultimately not be long for Rome, but in order to secure second place once and for all, Spalletti has to get something out of Peres over these next four weeks, otherwise we’re in deep doodoo.
We’re at 1,200 words now, so we’ll leave it at that, but just know this: with Juventus on the docket next week, this is an absolute must win, particularly as Napoli are hosting Cagliari, a gimme if there ever were one.