Date: Sunday. February 15, 2015
Time: 6:30am ET/ 12:30 CET
Venue: San Siro, Milan
A win (against Parma), a draw and three losses in the last five games as the consequence of a struggling team that plays really bad, but a win in the next match could lead to a streak of positive results that will help to cheer up even if it will be difficult tomorrow against Empoli in the "draw-friendly" Sunday morning match for many reasons.
Empoli is the real surprise in this year Serie A. At the beginning of the season we all thought they would have been convicted to get back to Serie B, but we were wrong. Even if they're in 15th place with "only" 23 points in 22 games they're fighting to stay in Serie A and showing a lot of talent and organization. Their coach, Maurizio Sarri - who's famous in Italy for his humility and for considering himself as an "amateur" coach - is doing a great job since Empoli is playing very good keeping the ball and engaging fearlessly even high rated teams. Their strength is defense: center-backs Rugani and Tonelli are very solid in the defensive phase and fullbacks Mario Rui and Hysaj provide a lot of energy in both phases.
As I said before, it won't be an easy match. Their defensive solidity - they're 6th best defense in Serie A - will be a big obstacle for our struggling offense especially if they will be able to keep the ball more than us and that's what happened last game: they kept the ball and they completely outplayed AC Milan in the first half.
Pippo knows we don't have to make the same mistakes we made in September when we saw a rare Fernando Torres' appearances in a 4-3-3 formation, so he will try to change something with the 4-2-3-1 that was successful against Parma - please, don't be too excited for that - with the returning Mattia Destro and Nigel De Jong in the starting XI. With Poli filling the other spot, we will have on the field the usual low-quality midfield but they probably will be helped by Honda and Bonaventura (or Cerci and Bonaventura) in the defensive phase, switching to a 4-4-1-1.
Keeping the ball and attacking their midfielders will be fundamental tomorrow, but there's another tactical key: playing on the wings. Empoli plays with a 4-3-1-2 formation that struggles covering the wings unless they find 1v1 situations for their fullbacks, so Milan will have to create superiority on both sides attacking with Zaccardo (or Rami) and Antonelli. If they're able to do that Menez and Destro will find a lot of space in the middle to attack.
A defensive tactical key too: corner kicks. Empoli rank second for goals from corner kicks situation - 7 goal scored on corner kicks situations - and Milan have one of the worst defense in these circumstances. Rossoneri also conceded 7 goals on headers and that's enough to say that they need to pay attention to Rugani and Tonelli, that are very good players on high balls.
Oh, I'm always assuming that our defense won't make huge mistakes even if it's not so probable.
Just for the love for statistics, in 19 past matches against AC Milan won 12 times, lost twice and tied 5 times.
Projected AC Milan starting XI:
Diego Lopez, Zaccardo, Rami, Paletta, Antonelli, De Jong, Poli, Menez, Bonaventura, Honda, Destro
Projected Empoli starting XI:
Sepe, Hysaj, Tonelli, Rugani, Mario Rui, Vecino, Valdifiori, Croce, Verdi, Maccarone, Pucciarelli