The first time these sides met at the Olimpico back on Halloween—a 2-1 Milan victory—the Rossoneri were flying high. AC Milan was top of the table, having dropped just two points en route to an unbeaten record. The league looked like it might turn into a two horse race between Stefano Pioli’s side and Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli.
However, much has changed since then. Inter now leads the league with the Rossoneri chasing their city rivals. That’s in large part because in eight league matches since the win in Rome, Milan has collected just 11 of 24 possible points (3W-2D-3L), while also crashing out of the Champions League.
Milan has been ravaged by injuries and COVID and now Pioli has to deal with absences due to AFCON. So, with so much happening in the black and red half of Milan since the last match with Roma, we decided it’d be best to get the lowdown on Pioli’s side from a Milan expert.
The last time Roma and Milan met at the Olimpico in October, the Rossoneri were unbeaten and looked like Scudetto favorites. Recently things haven’t been as easy for Milan. What’s the main reason for the dip in form? What is the biggest difference between the Milan we saw in the first matchup and the Milan that we’ll see on Thursday?
The biggest difference for Milan between now and then has been injuries and covid. Between the amount of games Milan players have missed (too many to list) and rotation due to Champions League it’s been a very difficult stretch for Pioli to navigate. To his credit he’s managed to steer the ship through a choppy stretch to a solid #2 spot in the table. Now caught between players getting healthy and players missing due to AFCON the challenges keep on coming. As it stands only a handful of starters from the last matchup with Roma appear to be ready to go. Of course we will know much more when the squad selection is announced.
Milan and Napoli (Inter’s two closest pursuers) will be the teams hardest hit by AFCON. Will Milan have to change tactically without Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer? Do the Rossoneri have enough midfield depth to make up for their losses?
That’s really the question. This is why Bakayoko was bought and he has been horrendous. The spot next to Tonali in the double pivot is a big question mark. We could see some Krunic in there or possibly something resembling more of a 433. It’s certainly the biggest question of the next month. I’m excited/terrified to see how Pioli handles it.
How much does the loss of Simon Kjaer hurt Milan in the second half of the season? Can Pioli rely on Alessio Romagnoli as his replacement?
Kjaer was a pillar and can’t be replaced easily. This is the reason why Milan has been linked to about a dozen CBs over the last few weeks. A guy like Bremer from Torino would be a dream. Romagnoli and Gabbia are fine in spells but a whole month is a different story.
What do you see as the biggest area of concern for the Rossoneri in the second half of the season that you would like to see addressed in the transfer market?
As great as Kjaer has been, the tread left on his tires is getting thin. Like a Tomori last year, this maybe the perfect time to bring in a long term option. It all depends on what Maldini and Co. can unearth. They don’t have much to spend and unless a player fits a certain profile they will not be moved to act. A midfield band aid is also very possible.
What would be considered a successful season for the Rossoneri at this point? Do you still see the side as a legit threat to Inter for the Scudetto?
Top 4 is the main goal every year and that appears to be a legit target this time around. Inter have simply reloaded and have had almost no injury issues. At this point I see them running away and winning the league by 10+ points.
Let’s move ahead to Thursday’s match. Considering the number of absences the Rossoneri are expected to have through injury and AFCON, what’s the key to victory for Milan? How do you expect the managers to approach this match?
Hate to be a cop out here but without knowing who is available it’s hard to say. That being said I expect a very cagey match. Milan has been poor at home of late and tend to dig in and play conservative at San Siro. I really think Roma needs to go after it. The difference between them and getting into the top 4 is taking points off the top teams. Last I had checked they were dead last if you made a mini league of the top 7. If Mourinho can’t get his troops to do that then they will remain in that second tier behind the lead pack.
Are there any individual matchups that you’re looking forward to?
I love watching Mkhitaryan play for you guys. He has that crafty ‘old man’ game that I love to see. Him along with Zaniolo, Shomorudov and El Shaarawy off the bench is enough to trouble any back line in the event of a possible absence of Abraham. Maignan loves to come flying off his line to diffuse things. He’s also excellent at long ball distribution. Watch him. You didn’t get to see him in the first Milan-Roma game.
Finally, give us a match prediction.
I see a very cagey and slow first half that blossoms into an up and down 1-1 draw by the end of the game. These 2 teams have the horses to score and the back lines will have their hands full.
Thanks again to Michael for giving us the lowdown on Milan. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter and check out his site to keep up with the Rossoneri.