Earlier in the month, on Europa League’s matchday 3, Lille inflicted Milan’s first loss since the COVID lock down was lifted in the Spring. The match was to be test against a different type of opposition and its postmortem was to be a test of strength, especially mentally. Milan failed that test but have since tied Verona and after the international break beat Napoli with a solid performance. Optimism remains high but dangers lay ahead.
Pioli and Murelli remain at home and are self isolating while a briefly healthy squad is again carrying injuries. Leao was injured on international duty and missed the Napoli match while Ibra and Saelemaekers picked up injuries in Naples. With three attacking pieces on the sidelines for at least another 10 days or more Bonera, the stand in coach, will have to do improvise with backups.
The greatest concern is that Castillejo remains the only realistic option on the right wing. The Spaniard remains unconvincing but will likely play unless one of Hauge or Diaz can play on the right. A change of formation is unlikely therefore at this point a Hauge, Diaz and Castillejo attacking trio behind Rebic is the possible lineup to face Lille. Of course Calhanoglu may start and forego rest and Colombo may be given a chance up front. Tonali should allow one of Bennacer or Kessie to take a respite.
Romagnoli’s form has raised some concerns and since he is apparently not 100% fit he may be given a day off. On the other hand Kjaer has been in exceptional form but needs a rest. Gabbia could therefore get a start with Duarte and Musacchio probably starting on the bench for the foreseeable future. Dalot and Conti may allow Calabria and Hernandez to get some rest however the latter may also go forego a rest.
As evidence showed three weeks ago the French team should not be taken lightly and as Lille are still flying high in Ligue 1 – standing two points behind PSG and first place – the game presents another test. Lille have a few injury concerns of their own as they will be missing Renato Sanches and Zeki Celik. The former had a starring performance on matchday 3.
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Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60. One of the Serie A and football greats. RIP.
Leao was the only missing player in an otherwise healthy squad but the coaching staff were self isolating and Bonera was the designated coach.
Early on more evidence of Romagnoli’s poor form as he was beaten for pace, the high pressing forced all to retreat quickly and the recovering Kjaer almost got injured when he intercepted the Dries Mertens cross into the box.
Ibra opened scoring from a very strong high header from Theo’s cross.
After the goal Napoli grew into the game slowly while a few questionable fouls were given.
Napoli missed several half chances either shooting high or forcing Donnarumma into good saves.
A counter that started deep in the zone had Rebic running to receive the ball and the Croatian crossed and Ibra finished at the far post using his knee.
Ibra almost a had a hat tick but it was correctly, but very belatedly, signaled for offside.
Mertens made it 1-2 when poor defending allowed the player to control and beat Donnrumma low.
Minutes later Bakayoko got his second avoidable yellow and Napoli went a man down.
Substitute Petagna wasn’t far from leveling the score as he ran past Romagnoli and forced Donnarumma to make a blocking save.
Later on Ibra was subbed holding his left hamstring, Colombo got some minutes as did Hauge and Castillejo.
Very late on Hauge received, controlled and finished confidently to make it 3-1 and end Napoli’s danger.
The international break felt longer than normal. The cross border travel increased the chances of spreading the coronavirus and news of new cases continue to be in the headlines. As far as Milan goes the cases are not travel related as the stricken and Pioli and his assistant Giacomo Murelli. In what feels like a surreal case Bonera will take charge of the team for at least this Napoli game. Bonera, of course, has been part of the coaching team since July 2019 and now gets a chance to be the main man on the sidelines.
On the injury front the team has returned to a healthy state but Leao got injured on international duty. The Portuguese winger will be out for at least 10 days but everybody, including Musacchio, are ready and on the squad. A now healthy Rebic is the leading candidte to reclaim his spot the left attacking side. The rest of the 11 remain predictable for now. Ibra up front for as long as he is ready. Calhanoglu and Saelemaekers beside him. The former remains the subject of exist rumours but is just as likely to sign an improved extension and stay. Bennacer and Kessie’s forms dictate that they start. Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli and Theo will form the defensive line in front of Donnarumma. Romagnoli’s questionable form has been justifiably questioned and recent injury or not the captain needs to get up to speed to make sure the team’s run of form continues intact.
Napoli’s big summer signing was another international break casualty and will miss two or three weeks of action. Nevertheless Milan’s defense will have to deal with dangerous and fast attacking line that includes Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne. The other fascinating part of Gattuso and Napoli’s line up with be Bakayoko. The French player was almost perpetually close to a Milan return but ended up on loan at Napoli. His midfield form will be of interest to all Milan fans.
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Gabbia was a last minute replacement for Romagnoli who withdrew due to a muscle problem.
The defense and set pieces defending in particular was tested immediately as a corner was not cleared, a Verona header hit the cross bar and deflected back in play as everybody scrambled, it was eventually shot in by Antonin Barak.
A free kick resulted in a similar play and Calabria’s attempt to clear the shot was instead deflected behind the dejected full back and into goal.
The team was lively and moving well and a Kessie run resulted in Milan getting a goal back. This was also deflected, this time by Giangiacomo Magnani.
Theo missed a close range shot when he managed to move the ball through to the Verona goal.
Ibra seemed even more vocal, frustrated and annoyed at himself and his team mates and poorly missed at least one freekick.
Rebic came on for Saelemaekers at the half although to inject some offense although the Belgian was lively.
Verona’s Mattia Zaccagni came close to extending his team’s lead but shot above the bar from close range.
Calhangolu thought to have equalized but it was ruled offside, or so we think, VAR remains as questionable as any other and sometimes it is not clear who decides what. Not forgetting that VAR’s main and initial aim is to correct clear and obvious errors. This point was enforced when Ibra was called for a handball when Milan were to equalize again. The definition of hand ball – does it not include upper arm anymore? – is ever more confusing.
Diaz came on for Leao while it seemed that Hauge is coming on too but Pioli held back the Norwegian and left it late to replace Calhanoglu.
Ibra continued to frustrate as he missed a penalty but later redeemed his night and coach’s inaction with a late goal. He later admitted that he should not take penalties as he has missed many recently. Kessie will take the next one or few.
A tie seemed unlikely but it was deserved. However, questions are increasing as to Milan’s continuing form.
The unbeaten streak is history courtesy of a strong Lille performance. The Europa League opponents have given Milan and perhaps Pioli in particular a reminder or lesson that lineup decisions will matter. Despite the need for rotation every team must be taken seriously. Starting Castillejo and Krunic, more often than not, will not be a recipe for success. Despite that, this young Milan team was always going to hit bumps on the road and it is up to all and especially veterans like Ibra to lead the way back to winning ways.
Calabria missed the midweek match with a minor muscle issue but could be back. Dalot was good but not great in relief versus Lille but will go back to the bench if the Italian right back is ready. The other three defenders will remains the same though Romagnoli’s form is questionable if not poor. The alternatives will get some minutes when possible. Gabbia, Duarte and Musacchio don’t inspire too much confidence but will need to step sooner or later although the latter may not see minutes before leaving the team. Kessie and Bennacer will start and the latter’s absence was felt against Lille. He was a second half sub and the midfield and team structure looked better when he came on as Tonali continues to establish himself and integrate slowly. The bigger questions are of course the aforementioned Krunic and Castillejo. Leao, Rebic, Hauge and Saelemaekers should be starters more often and preferred whenever possible. Ibra is of course Ibra and when he does need rest Rebic or Leao will provide relief.
Verona are an improving and aggressive team. Sitting in seventh place Juric’s team have only allowed three goals but scored only eight. They are led by the (not) Milan legend Nikola Kalinic.
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A starting 11 that featured Krunic and Samu was questionable but perhaps inevitable with the jam packed schedule. However it is worth noting that Hauge, Calhanoglu, Leao and Rebic – but not Saelemaekers due to a minor issue – were on the bench so the players were available for selection.
Romagnoli made the slightest of pushes and the ref gave a penalty which was converted, the contact was very slight but Romagnoli should know not to do that inside the box. The captain’s form has been unconvincing in many starts and is a growing concern. Yusuf Yazici converted the penalty and handed Milan’s its first trailing minutes this season.
Half time changes brought on Leao and Calhanoglu and the hoped impact was not made. Yazici scored from a shot outside of the box that, unluckily for Milan, bounced near Donnarumma and into the far corner. Things were made worse after Yazici finished off well for a hattrick and this prompted another two changes that brought on Rebic and Bennacer. Things didn’t turn positive either and only a few half chances were created and all were missed. Later Pioli played his last card in bringing on Hauge for Diaz.
The unbeaten streak came crashing down and delivered food for thought for Pioli, players and all involved. A 0-3 loss vs Lille is a first since the Spring. All good things come to an end…Forza Milan.
The brutal fixture list features a third consecutive midweek game when Milan host Lille in Europa League’s third match day. The northern France team provide a slightly different proposition than Celtic and Sparta Prague or so it is thought. Lille tied Celtic and only after scoring twice in the second half. As they have in many recent seasons Lille currently sit near the top of Ligue 1 only one point behind leaders PSG but the French Flanders’ latest big summer signing has struggled to find form. Jonathan David, the Canadian forward, was signed for around €28 million from Gent but has had a disappointing start to the 2020-2021 season while conversely veteran Burak Yilmaz has been a surprising and solid arrival from Besiktas.
Rotation and squad management remain important to Pioli and every coach in this pandemic defined season and this midweek will need some of it. One forced change is caused by Calabria’s likely absence. The right back has a minor muscle issue and Dalot looks to get a start in his more natural spot but that simultaneously means that Theo won’t get any rest and will start at left back. Romagnoli and Kjaer are the only viable options in the center of defense while Gabbia works to get in shape following a long absence. As with last week Tonali will relieve one of Kessie or Bennacer. Diaz, Castillejo and Krunic may start in relief of Calhanoglu, Saelemaekers and Leao. Starting both Castillejo and Krunic is questionable but may be unavoidable during the busy periods. Rebic is back and may take some part but won’t start. Leao could start up in his unpreferred center forward role but Ibra will play whenever he declares himself ready.
The unbeaten streak rolls on. Piero Giacomelli and Roma almost put a stop to it however. The referee provided a historically poor performance and got himself the equivalent of a referee suspension and is being excluded from match assignments for at least 2 weeks. Milan found and had late chances to win the eventual 3-3 tie vs Roma. The game of course included Tatarusanu as a back up to the COVID-19 striken Donnarumma. The Romanian veteran came under fire for Roma’s first goal and calls for demotion to third goalie status. Tatarusanu had a relatively easy game vs Sparata Prague in the midwek 3-0 win and it looks like he will not need to play again soon because Donnarumma is available again after somehow testing negative within one week of the initial diagnosis. Hauge is also back from isolation less than a week after testing positive. In further news Gabbia is back from the same but won’t play a part this weekend. The chance for Kjaer to get some rest will soon arrive. The Danish defender has played a lot in recent weeks and could get a game off very soon.
With Rebic’s return the team is suddenly almost fully healthy. Kessie, Calhanoglu and Theo got the midweek Europa league game off – although the former was a late sub – but all are expected to start this week 6 match. The rest of the line up is likely to revert to the expected one although almost all of the so called rotation players did well. Tonali, Diaz and Dalot all came out of the Sparta Prague match with credit and some fans are already hoping Maldini can negotiate a buyout for the latter two loanees. Leao is picking up form and may keep Rebic out of the starting line up but the Croatian is trusted and may replace the Portuguese within the match or in an upcoming match. Ibra got 45 minutes off in midweek but will start as long as he declares himself ready. Castillejo is excluded from this matchday squad for what the team calls muscle fatigue.
Udinese have one win out of five to start the season. They feature a rising star in Rodrigo De Paul and players who have played well against Milan in the past, Kevin Lasagna for example.
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Theo and Kessie rested and in their place Dalot and Tonali started. No rest for Kjaer however as backups are not really the most trusted. As it turns out Duarte did come as a very late sub, but for Romagnoli.
Early on Milan accumulated offsides but dominated possession. Bennacer showed that he is one of the best and in form midfielders.
The first goal was a good exchange between Diaz and Ibra after the former had won the ball. The Spaniard finished well.
Ibra took on an excellent Bennacer cross but was brought down by David Lischka. He missed the penalty and hit the crossbar.
Leao came on for Ibra at HT. Tonali and Leao missed a good early chance.
A good change of flanks diagonal pass to Dalot who crossed well and Leao finished in true poacher fashion to make it 2-0.
For the third goal a quickly taken freekick in the defensive half was shot long by Bennacer towards Dalot. The Portuguese ran with the ball to the top of the box and beat Milan Heca in Sparta’s goal.
As mentioned Romagnoli went off for Duarte late and at the same time Kessie replaced man of the match Bennacer and took on the captain’s armband.