A near first 11 started the game, that in itself a positive in this crazy season.
An excellent team goal arrived early with Calhanoglu passing to Bennacer who in turn found Ibra who controlled the ball well and delivered it to Rebic who shot well to beat Luigi Sepe in Parma goal in midst of a crowd of defenders.
The game settled into a stand off of sorts although Milan looked more fluid and fresh without being able to find the final pass.
Kessie converted another team goal near the end of the half to give a more comfortable 2-0 lead heading into the half. Theo provided the assist to the Ivorian.
The second followed a similar pattern with any final pass missing. The something strange happened. Ibra got a straight red for what was not clear to most watching. If he said something to the ref it would be very ill-advised and pointless with Milan leading by two.
Parma got on the score sheet soon after. Donnarumma complained of being fouled by the goal scorer who had perhaps deserved a second yellow minutes earlier.
Meite and Dalot came on for Bennacer and Saelemaekers. As Milan looked to be losing grip of the game further subs were made as Gabbia and Krunic came on for Kalulu and Calhanoglu. Leao relived Rebic as well late in the game.
The lead had turned into a holding on for a lucky escape type game.
In the final minutes of added time a counter had Dalot taking on the ball, running up and finding an all alone Leao, the latter coolly scored. Parma had pushed forward. And so the full time score was 3-1.
The busy run of games has settled into an almost once a week match, of course after exiting Coppa Italia and European competition. This is allowing for some healing on the injury front and more time to duel on the upcoming summer transfer window. Contract negotiations and extensions remain the main point of interest outside of the pitch but with nine matches left and a tight race for the Champions League places each match remain the most important.
Pioli surprised some by fielding Saelemaekers as a right back versus Sampdoria. The Belgian had played that role back in his native land but this was nevertheless an odd decision considering Kalulu and Dalot’s availability. The match ended a poor 1-1 with the rarely seen Hauge scoring late. It was perhaps a lesson for the manager.
The starters for this match at Parma will likely remain more or less the same as week 29, although the aforementioned right back gamble is likely dead. More players are available, to make it to the bench at least. Leao, Diaz and Mandzukic return to the squad and provide depth at least. Kalulu or Dalot will start with Kjaer, Tomori and Hernandez. The latter was responsible for the goal conceded last weekend and needs to return to his 2020 form. Kessie and Bennacer should start in midfield. The latter seemed rusty but will hopefully regain his form as well. Saelemaekers looks to return to his more familiar right wing role with Calhanoglu and Rebic behind Ibra.
Parma are 19th in the Serie A standings. They have a won a league worst 3 games so far. The team features Conti who seems likely to return to Milan from his loan spell unless Parma stave off relegation somehow.
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The 2022 World Cup qualifying got underway in the international break. Fourteen Milan players were involved including some for their respective U21 teams. The list included Ibra who returned to the Swedish national team and played 67 and 84 games in two Sweden wins at Kosovo and versus Georgia providing 2 assists.
The team returns to Serie A action still missing several player and a tired Ibra. Calabria, Romagnoli, Mandzukic, Diaz and Leao out. Leao is to be closest to a return and Diaz picked up a knock while away for the Spain U21 team.
The final 10 games will of course define the standings and Milan is still has to win many of the 10 to certify a top 4 spot. Sampdoria kicks off this sprint.
Donnarumma and his controversial contract issue will start in goal. Hernandez, Kjaer and Tomori look to play with Dalot at the back. Late in the week the usual news outlets reported that Saelemaekers will play as a right back. The Belgian will apparently bypass not only Dalot but also Kalulu for the spot. Kessie and Bennacer renew their pairing in the middle behind Castillejo, Calhanoglu and Rebic. Rebic won the appeal of his two game suspension for the red he received versus Napoli and has of course already served the one game at Fiorentina. Calhanoglu was one of the starts of the international break (for Turkey) and if he carries that form can be a catalyst for this final sprint. The aforementioned tired Ibra will start up front.
Sampdoria are led by Fabio Quagliarella with Antonio Candreva also a veteran on the team. Ranieri’s men have 1 win in the last 6 and 3 in the last 10 sitting right at midtable.
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The much talked about injury issue had the team starting with missing players.
Benevento had just beaten Juventus 1-0 and made three points here even more valuable.
Fiorentina controlled more of the ball in the early minutes but Milan opened the scoring. Kjaer’s almost looping pass found Ibra who just evaded the offside trap and beat Bartlomiej Dragowski in the Fiorentina goal with a bouncing shot.
Clumsy balls had Fiorentina having an edge in possession after the goal too. On Milan’s right side Dalot committed a foul and the resulting free kick was well converted and just beat Donnarumma on the near side. Erick Pulgar had made it 1-1. It wouldn’t be the last time Dalot struggled as a right back and gifted a good chance to the hosts.
In the 34th Ibra hit the crossbar on one of few Milan chances.
The game slowed down and was further delayed as Dragowski was replaced by Pietro Terracciano in Fiorentina goal after the Polish starter seemed to twist his ankle taking a goal kick.
The half time 1-1 score was no more than the game deserved.
The second half started poorly, again. Franck Ribery gave the hosts the lead soring easily from top center of the box. A crowd of Milan players were ball watching and Kessie for example facing goal not even realizing Ribery behind him.
Milan equalized soon after. A second corner in a row was tapped in by Diaz.
Castillejo and Bennacer came on for Saelemaekers and Tonali right after the goal.
The midfield improved with the arrival of the Algerian and Milan manged to take the lead again. A good anticipation by Tomori found Kessie who moved forward and the ball found Calhanoglu who scored with low shot that went in at the very far corner.
Krunic replaced Diaz for the final 11 minutes as Milan improved on the possession stats.
Fiorentina tried to push Milan back and Pioli decided to bring on Meite for Calhanoglu as the game was going into added time.
Ibra played the whole 90 and three very valuable points were added to the season tally.
A pair of 0-1 losses at home (to Napoli and Manchester United) added to the air of crisis and the very poor (home) form, not to mention an offense that has been non existent. In the case of the missing goals the injury problems point to the source directly. The team hasn’t been able to field a team with a proper forward due to the long injury list. As that list seemed to be diminishing it has grown again. Ibra is back, hopefully to stay healthy while accepting an invitation back to the Swedish national team squad, but the list now looks like:
Davide Calabria – knee surgery, out at least a month
Alessio Romagnoli – leg muscles
Daniel Maldini – leg muscles
Rafael Leao – leg muscles
Mario Mandzukic – leg muscles
Add to that Rebic’s two game suspension for his dissent red card at the end of the Napoli match and the team remains handicapped.
Most of the remaining problems are not in best form and this doubles the problems facing Pioli.
Donnarumma will of course start in goal. In front of him there is a question of either Kalulu or Dalot as right back. The former hasn’t really shone when given recent minutes. It is likely then that the latter will start with Kjaer, Tomori and Hernandez. The two pivots in from the back four is like to be Tonali and Kessie. Both Bennacer and Meite are available but the former needs to be brought back to action with care and the latter was at least partly responsible for Manchester’s scrambled goal during the midweek Europa League match.
The front four remains the most fluid. Diaz, Calhanoglu and Saelemaekers should be the likely starters but calls for Hauge to get a start circulate while Pioli might prefer to use Krunic. Ibra is the only true center forward available and this why the match day squad includes primavera’s Riccardo Tonin.
Fiorentina are relatively healthy but their 3 wins in last 10 matches have been over Spezia, Crotone and Benevento. This explains their 14th position in the Serie A table.
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Milan exited the often disliked Europa League by losing to Manchester United at home.
The 0-1 loss was not fully deserved nor was it fully mourned. Milan deserved better of the first leg 1-1 in Manchester but didn’t play better at home. The now familiar injury riddled mode was bound to hurt the team and having had to resort to Castillejo as a nominal forward was unlikely to end well. The whole 11 didn’t do much and were facing a team that while stronger physically was hurting as well.
The first half was somewhat even with almost half chances exchanged and the second half didn’t see much change but a change made at half time immediately paid dividends for the visitors. Paul Pogba came on and showed the greater concentration and physicality to score the opener and only goal. While Milan’s defenders and midfielder were scrambling and falling in the box Pogba gained possession and had time to pick his spot to beat Donnarumma from close range.
Ibra was introduced to try to change the attacking look but other than offside 0 some of which were wrong – things didn’t change much.
The game ended and the aftermath was more focused on the possible length of Calabria’s absence than the defeat itself. The right back is to go under knee surgery and will be out at the very least a month but likely more.
Milan’s form has been disappointing and inconsistent. The first leg at Old Trafford was somewhat of a surprise in that Milan played a solid game and deserved the last minute tying goal. Both teams missed a whole set of players but in the end Milan came out of Manchester with an away goal and bigger hopes. Not that it mattered much in the weekend game versus Napoli. Milan once again depleted didn’t play well and lost a crucial three points versus Gattuso’s men.
Injuries have looked to be easing and indeed Bennacer, Ibra and Hernandez are back but a whole set of players are forced to sit this match out. Rebic was thought to be available and after his pointless dissent red card – and subsequent two game suspension for dissent – versus Napoli some hoped that he would be motivated to contribute in this match but the now somehow common ‘muscular issue’ will keep him out. He is joined by Leao in that list. Romagnoli missed the Napoli game and remains out as do Calabria and Mandzukic.
Ibra may not be able to start from the beginning or at least he should not be risked from the start. What this means however is not palatable to most Milan fans and observers. It means that Castillejo could become a false 9 of sorts and start with Saelemaekers, Calhanoglu and Krunic. Tonali is available and Bennacer is back in the squad but Meite and Kessie remain the likely pivot starters. At the back there is not much choice for Pioli other than Dalot, Tomori, Kjaer and Hernandez in front of Donnarumma.
Manchester United welcome a few players they missed last week as David de Gea, Paul Pogba, Donny van de Beek and Marcus Rashford are back in the visitors squad. Not all likely starters but the latter looks to be and could cause trouble for Milan’s sometimes poor and fragile back line and right side. Edinson Cavani will miss the match after initially being declared fit.
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A team with only four, yes four, regulars faced Napoli at the San Siro. Not that Napoli were all healthy either but Milan missed all of Kjaer, Romagnoli, Calabria, Bennacer, Rebic, Saelemaekers and Ibra.
Teams had a few half chances. Calhaoglu found the ball but failed in an attempt to curl the ball in. Piotr Zielinski found a gap between Tomori and Gabbia but did not shoot well enough to beat Donnarumma. Leao won the ball well from Nikola Maksimovic from a long ball but in the same sense as Calhanoglu didn’t find the target.
Zielinski came close again when poor play on the right allowed Napoli to get into Milan’s box. Following a long passing play Leao tested David Ospina with a hard shot but it was right that goalkeeper.
The 0-0 half time score was reflective of missed half chances and poor play by both sides. Milan’s wing play was next to nonexistent.
Napoli took the lead early in the second. Castillejo made a poor pass high on the right that was taken by Napoli, after a quick pass the ball found Matteo Politano on Milan’s left side and he was too open and had too much room to run at Milan’s goal. He managed to beat Donnarumma.
Naoli controlled the ball better and had another chance, courtesy of Fabian Ruiz, which Donnarumma saved and the rebound was shot wide.
A triple sub followed with Calahanoglu, Krunic and Castillejo coming off for Diaz, Rebic and Saelemaekers.
In the 65th minute Leao had a good chance to tap in a cross but failed to do so.
Kessie was withdrawn as well, for Meite.
A bad Giovanni Di Lorenzo foul on Hernandez led to a freekick that Tonali shot well, it was headed on by Rebic and punched out in a good Ospina reflex save.
The indifferent to poor play continued and Pioli made his final change bringing on Hauge for Leao.
Milan had a penalty claim which VAR checked and didn’t give, the replay showed minimal contact on Theo’s calf. Between the claim and VAR’s check Theo got a yellow for a disputed foul on Victor Omishen up the pitch.
In added time Rebic was shown a straight red, in what most assume was something he said to the referee.
There was some amount of controversy, especially in the final minutes but the loss was mainly on poor play and would easily be a costly one.
Following the poor showing in the derby and the two games versus Red Star the team responded well to beat Roma, it proved a false dawn of sorts as the team disappointed versus Udinese. Expectations fell but Milan did well to beat Verona and kept it up to tie Manchester United in another VARce (new fully deserved term to describe video assistant refereeing) of a game.
The injury crisis eased earlier in the year but plunged into the deep end into February and March. Calhanoglu, Hernandez and Rebic should be back for this match and perhaps Bennacer, Ibra and Mandzukic could return within the next week or two as well. Romagnoli missed the Europa League game at Manchester and seems to be nursing a bruised leg, he could be back shortly too. A healthy team, if it indeed ever occurs, can finish the season strong and secure the much needed top 4 spot.
For now though important players are missing and Napoli have their own missing players too in Andrea Petagna, Hirving Lozano, Kostas Manolas and Faouzi Ghoulam.
Due to aforementioned absentees Pioli has had to resort to Leao playing as the lone center forward. The oft rightly criticized won the corner that led to Kjaer’s last minute headed goal in Manchester but barring few minutes of good movement has done little in recent weeks. Behind the Portuguese Krunic and Calhanoglu will likely line up with Castillejo. Saelemaekers showed signs of getting back to form however and could start in place of the latter. Meite is another player looking to be improving but may return to the bench to accommodate Tonali. Partnering Tonali will be the player who has fully earned the ‘President’ nickname. Kessie has been an ever present world class midfielder for most the past year and a half. Tomori and Kjaer will start as central defenders with Hernandez on the left and possibly Dalot on the right. Calabria is another not able to take part and although Kalulu seems the more logical choice Dalot is the likelier to be on the team sheet. Donnarumma will add to his number of appearances with another start.
Latest prematch news from Sky is that Kjaer also needs to sit this one out, he will be replaced by Gabbia if needed.
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Romagnoli, with a bruised foot, joined Ibrahimovic, Mandzukic, Calhanoglu, Hernandez, Bennacer on the injury list.
Manchester United missing many key players as well with David De Gea, Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani among those not taking part.
A somewhat balanced start had Leao having a goal ruled out for offside, correctly but one which the assistant referee waited until the goal was in the net to raise his flag eventhough Leao had touched the ball seconds before.
Anthony Martial forced a save from Donnarumma.
Kessie thought to have scored from a half volley after a good by Milan but his goal was seemingly ruled out for hand ball after a VAR review.
The game was somewhat open and not lacking pace.
In the 39th minute Donnarumma’s outstretched hand didn’t reach the headed on ball and Harry Maguire missed what was one of the easiest tap ins at the far side of the goal. His tap in hit the post.
Half time came with questions and a 0-0 tie.
Early in the second United scored. Donnarumma did not judge a long pass well and Tomori was perhaps just as nonchalant. Amad Diallo headed in Bruno Fernandes’ shot over Donnarumma and in.
Half chances were created with Krunic coming close. United’s Daniel James had lots of space but shot wide. Castilljo and Tonali came on to change the look a bit and later Kalulu replaced Calabria who seemed to be injured.
The game looked destined for the 1-0 loss but a well won corner, probably Leao’s best action of the game, was headed in for a goal by Kjaer. The last minute goal had the Danish defender moving well in the box and beating Dean Henderson with a hard header.
The 1-1 result was well deserved.