At the beginning of the last season, nobody thought Empoli would have been able to avoid relegation and return for another year in the Serie A, but they did it - with some of the best football in the entire league. Unfortunately, Empoli's management was forced to make a lot of changes over the summer, due to the departure of their manager, Maurizio Sarri, their best defender, Daniele Rugani, and a key midfielder in Mirko Valdifiori. This begs the question of whether they'll be able to turn in the performances they did last season. What's different this year?
Empoli's amazing season was characterized by a solid old-school 4-3-1-2 formation that easily morphed into a more offensive 4-3-3 thanks to the versatility of many players, based on ball possession and a great variety of play on set pieces. However, Empoli is still an unknown entity this year, and it isn't clear whether they'll keep the same system or not. While it may be early days, it seems that they'll chose a more offensive 4-2-3-1 formation - so they'll lose some balance in order to score more than they did last season.
Roster and Roles
Here's Empoli current roster:
Goalkeepers: Lukasz Skorupski, Alberto Pelagotti, Maurizio Pugliesi
Defenders: Federico Barba, Luca Bittante, Michele Camporese, Andrea Costa, Kastriot Dermaku, Vincent Laurini, Mario Rui, Luca Martinelli, Lorenzo Tonelli, Marco Zambelli
Midfielders: Joshua Brillante, Daniele Croce, Assane Diousse, Leandro Paredes (on loan from Roma), Marcel Büchel, Rade Krunic, Raffaele Maiello, Ronaldo P., Riccardo Saponara, Piotor Zelinski, Franco Signorelli
Forwards:Massimo Maccarone, Levan Mchedlidze, Alessandro Piu, Manuel Pucciarelli
The key word here is depth - or rather, the lack thereof. They have no reliable options among goalkeepers and forwards, despite a decent crop of midfielders, especially after they acquired Leandro Paredes from Roma on loan, and an average defense. Given that the Serie A is a long championship, they will be forced to count on their strong midfield and their ability to maintain possession and play wide to notch results.
They still need to find their identity and work on a clear game plan - which presents a challenge not only for them, but their opponents as well, because this makes them unpredictable. Last week's match against Chievo Verona was a good example of this team's "dual personality": Empoli played well until at the half, at which point they were leading 1-0, but then suddenly collapsed. Chievo ultimately won the game 3-1.
Milan should attack from the center.
Saponara will be free to go wherever he wants behind Maccarone.
Despite their early-season struggles, Marco Giampaolo's team is likely to play in a wide formation on Saturday night to attempt to take advantage of Milan's issues with 4-2-3-1 configuration. For that reason, the Rossoneri will have to be aggressive and take control of the match from the outset if they want to exploit Empoli's weaknesses and uncertainty.