After what has been a very impressive first half of the season, Milan will take on Cagliari away from home in the penultimate game of the winter Scudetto race. Currently three points ahead of city rivals Inter, with head-to-head in their favour, a win would be enough to secure that title.
Of course, being crowned winter champions matters very little in terms of the actual Scudetto. Having said that, in 88 editions, only one team has failed to finish in the top three when leading the league at the half-way mark. This gives the Rossoneri a 98.6% of qualifying for the Champions League, for which they only need top four.
Having already announced the signing of Soualiho Meite on an initial loan deal, Milan have also secured Fikayo Tomori with the same formula and Mario Mandzukic on a free transfer. Three reinforcements that could help the Rossoneri a lot, especially given the tight schedule and the injuries.
As has been the case for every game in recent months, Milan are struggling with several absences and a total of seven players will miss the game. Matteo Gabbia and Ismael Bennacer are still injured and Rafael Leao is suspended. Meanwhile, Theo Hernandez, Rade Krunic, Hakan Calhanoglu and Ante Rebic are COVID positive.
In other words, we can expect to see some changes to the starting eleven, with at least one change in each department. Replacing Hernandez, Diogo Dalot will play on the left-hand side in an attempt to convince the Rossoneri management of his qualities. Of course, it isn’t exactly easy to replace the Frenchman.
Sandro Tonali impressed with his performance against Torino mid-week and will once again start in the midfield tandem. Hopefully, he can build on his recent form to continue his growth path in the right direction. Franck Kessie, who didn’t start last time out, will be back in the starting eleven on Monday evening.
With Calhanoglu and Leao out, Stefano Pioli will field Samu Castillejo, Brahim Diaz and Jens Petter Hauge in the attacking trio. The latter hasn’t impressed lately and will be hoping to have an impact on the game, and we all know just how good he can be in one v one situations.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was subbed off after 45 minutes mid-week but should be able to play a bit more tomorrow. He still needs a bit of time before he can play a full game, it seems, which also means that Lorenzo Colombo could get some minutes. The youngster will be eager to get off the mark in the league, if given the chance.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Dalot; Kessie, Tonali; Castillejo, Diaz, Hauge; Ibrahimovic.
Probable Cagliari (4-2-3-1): Cragno; Zappa, Godin, Walukiewicz, Lykogiannis; Marin, Nainggolan; Ounas, Joao Pedro, Sottil; Simeone.
- AC Milan have won the most games against Cagliari in Serie A: 42 out of 76 (W8, D26) and 24 of these since 2004/05.
- Cagliari have conceded the most Expected Goals (36.5) in Serie A this season, while only Roma (37.3) have a higher xG figure than Milan (36.5).
- AC Milan have kept a clean sheet in each of their last three league matches against Cagliari: against no team currently in the competition are the Rossoneri on a longer such run without conceding a goal.
- João Pedro has found the net in three of his last five Serie A appearances against AC Milan; however, the Cagliari striker has failed to score in his last two matches against the Rossoneri.
- AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored in each of his last six league games against Cagliari; only one player has found the net in more matches in a row against a single opponent in Serie A in the era of three points per win: Christian Vieri against Perugia (eight between 1999 and 2003).
It won’t be an easy game for the Rossoneri, especially with all the absences, but Cagliari have lost their last four games and are in terrible form. Pioli’s men remain the favourites and anything other than three points would be a surprise, truth be told, even when you take the absences into consideration.
With Simon Kjaer back in good form, a clean sheet could be on the cards for Milan and it will be exciting to see if the youngsters around him can step up. They have done it before and will have to do it again tomorrow, even if the home side have struggled a lot lately.
Cagliari 0-2 AC Milan