TOMORROW night, 20:45 CET Milan will take on Napoli at the San Siro, in what could be a title deciding game. With the teams currently in first and second, this crunch tie will have a big effect on the title race, and so we anticipate would could be a very good night for Milan – or, for Milan’s rivals.
To look forward to this game, we must first look back. When the sides met earlier in the season, it was Milan who came out on top at the Stadio San Paolo, getting a 2-1 despite a lot of pressure, thanks to goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho.
In terms of form, both teams are in fairly good form. Napoli are in the best form in the last 3 games (as they have 3 straight wins) whereas Milan only have 2 wins and a draw from the previous 3. However, looking at the previous 5 games, it’s even closer – Milan with 3 wins and 2 draws, whilst Napoli shade it with 4 wins and a loss – so league position and form are both very close ahead of this tie.
These are the squads:
Goalkeepers: Abbiati, Amelia;
Defenders: Abate, Vilà, Jankulovski, Nesta, Oddo, Papastathopoulos, Thiago Silva, Yepes;
Midfielders: Boateng, Emanuelson, Flamini, Gattuso, Merkel, Seedorf, Van Bommel;
Forwards: Cassano, Ibrahimovic, Pato, Robinho.
Goalkeepers: De Sanctis, Iezzo;
Defenders: Aronica, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Cribari, Dossena, Santacroce, Ruiz, Zuniga;
Midfielders: Gargano, Hamsik, Maggio, Pazienza, Sosa, Yebda;
Forwards: Cavani, Lucarelli, Mascara.
And these are the predicted lineups:
Milan (4-3-1-2): Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Jankulovski; Gattuso, Van Bommel, Boateng; Robinho; Ibrahimovic, Pato.
Napoli (3-4-2-1): De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Pazienza, Gargano, Dossena; Mascara, Hamsik; Cavani
Key Players & Matchups
Cavani vs. Nesta and Silva – This will be the most important matchup. The way Milan have played this season, and the way that Robinho and Ibrahimovic have managed to conjure something from nothing even when playing poorly, the most important job will be for Milan to stop Napoli scoring. Cavani has been excellent this season, and it will be difficult to keep him quiet, but if any center back pairing in Serie A are capable, it’s Nesta and Silva.
Wide areas – It’s probably a good thing for Milan that Napoli are expected to play 3-4-2-1 as it means the wide players won’t be able to expose Milan’s full backs like Tottenham did in the Champions League – with help from Gattuso and Boateng, Milan should be fine in this area.
The middle of the pitch – Whichever team manages to take control of the midfield area will have a huge boost and will be in a much better position to expose other areas. With Van Bommel sitting and dictating, Gattuso breaking up play and Boateng using hi energy, Milan should have too much for Pazienza and Gargano in the middle of the pitch, and stopping them linking up with Mascara and Hamsik will be crucial, as it will also stop the supply to Cavani as long as the defence can handle any pressure from wide.
Ibrahimovic vs. Napoli defence – We’ve seen Ibrahimovic pull out crucial goals to get points in games Milan would almost certainly have lost or drawn last season – and if he can do something similar tomorrow, it will be a very big step towards the Scudetto for the Rossoneri.
Vice-President Adriano Galliani recently said that this game would have a big impact on the title race, but ultimately this 1 game wouldn’t be enough to decide it…
If Milan were to win, the impact would be big. It would send a clear message to all title rivals, Napoli would be 6 points behind and Milan’s nearest challengers would then become Inter. More emphasis would be placed on the Milan derby which is yet to come, but the Rossoneri would still have a 5 point lead at the top of the table with another big game out of the way – even if Inter beat Sampdoria tonight. The knock on effect could give Milan a confidence boost too, which might even help turn around the 1-0 deficit to Spurs in the Champions League!
Should Napoli win, the effects would be just as big, if not bigger. It would put Napoli level with Milan on points, though they would remain second unless they get a freak result (such as Udinese’s 7-0 win against Palermo earlier today) This would put Napoli in an excellent position to take the Scudetto too, as their run in is arguably easier than Milan’s. Taking the 3 points from the Rossoneri would also help Inter too, and it may even cause a dip in confidence to further dent Milan’s title hopes in the difficult upcoming games.
Ultimately – Galliani’s thoughts were exactly right, this game will not decide the title once and for all, but it could give a big boost to Milan – or their rivals – so let’s hope the Rossoneri come out on top!
By Hefin Davies, Rossoneri Blog