Milan has struggled early in the 2015-16 season, losing two of its opening three matches. The Rossoneri will look to pick up some momentum Saturday, when they host Palermo at the San Siro.
Palermo has been one of the most impressive clubs to start the season, currently sitting on two wins and one draw. Victories over Genoa and Udinese put Palermo on six points through two matches, but the Eagles were lucky to come away with a point in the third round against Carpi. The Serie A debutants earned their first ever top-flight point. It would have been three, had Palermo substitute Uros Djurdjevic not scored an equalizer in the 88th minute.
While Palermo struggled to a point against Carpi, Milan fell to Inter 1-0 in the third round of fixtures. Owner Silvio Berlusconi said he believed it was the club's best performance of the season, but a wonderful strike from Inter's Fredy Guarin sank the Rossoneri.
Projected Milan XI
Projected Palermo XI
Projected lineups via Gazzetta Dello Sport
Milan: Luca Antonelli (knee), M'Baye Niang (foot), Jeremy Menez (hip), Andrea Bertolacci (unknown)
Palermo: Michel Morganella (knee)
Balotelli Loves Playing Palermo
Mario Balotelli will probably feature off the bench again Saturday. The 25-year-old striker was Milan's best player after coming on the pitch in the 62nd minute, putting two brilliant chances on frame from outside the box. If he features against Palermo, he will be facing his favorite target. Balotelli, who was born in Palermo, has five goals in three matches against the Eagles, his highest goal total against any club in Serie A. He has scored twice on two occasions against Palermo.
Lack of Attack From Attacking Midfield
One of the most glaring issues in Milan's squad through three matches is the glaring disconnect between the midfield and the forwards. This is due in part to the lack of a successful attacking midfielder. Keisuke Honda was woeful in the position against Inter, with Giacomo Bonaventura dropped back into the midfield.
Bonaventura is expected to start as the attacking midfielder Saturday, which should be a boost for Milan at the position, if only because Honda was so poor. While Honda has completed 78 percent of his passes, Bonaventura has completed 84 percent. His passes average a distance of 19 meters, and he has played six key passes to Honda's two, producing one assist. Jeremy Menez is expected to be healthy soon, which could lead to an alteration at the position, but for now, Bonaventura is the best option.
(Of course, there is another option. Even if it is late in the match, Milan could look to Balotelli as an attacking midfielder.)
El Kaoutari in Form
Palermo has been given a boost by the great start to the season from Abdelhamid El Kaoutari. The 25-year-old center back joined the Eagles this season from Montpellier, and he has been a bright spot for the club. Playing on the left of Palermo's 3-4-2-1, El Kaoutari has faced fewer challenges than Giancarlo Gonzalez, but he has turned away most of those attacks, making six interceptions, 11 clearances and blocking one shot. He has also won duels he has been part of. Obviously, as made evident by his goal against Genoa, he is a threat in the box on set pieces. In recent years, defending set pieces has been an issue for Milan.
Battle of the Midfields
Milan's midfield has struggled to find its footing in three matches, and it might find it difficult to win the battle in the center of the pitch Saturday. Palermo midfielder Franco Vazquez holds a significant edge over the rest of the league in terms of duels won so far this season. The 26-year-old Argentine has won 37 duels, 11 more than Udinese defender Ali Adnan. That is a rate of more than 12 duels won per match. He has been unsuccessful on more tackles and aerial battles than he has won, but for the amount of work he has had to do, winning the 37 times from tackles, headers and take ons is impressive. His midfield partner Jajalo is seventh in the league with 22 successful duels.
Luiz Adriano and Carlos Bacca vs. Palermo's Defense
Palermo is one of five clubs in the league to allow two or fewer goals this season, which does not inspire much hope for Milan's attack. Despite Milan spending nearly 40 million euros to bring in Luiz Adriano and Carlos Bacca, the duo has only produced two goals—one each against Empoli—and squandered far more. Adriano has put 75 percent of his shots on target this season, but he has lacked the finishing flair he was known for at Shakhtar Donetsk. Against Gonzalez and El Kaoutari and the fearless goalkeeper play of veteran Stefano Sorrentino, Adriano and Bacca could have a hard time breaking through.
Milan's Defense vs. Crosses
For years, Milan has struggled against wide play and set pieces. Palermo's four goals this season can be broken down into two categories: wide play and set pieces. El Kaoutari's goal came on a free kick into the area from the wing. The other three goals—scored by Djurdjevic, Oscar Hiljemark and Luca Rigoni—all came on crosses into the area. All four goals were from no more than 10 yards away. Milan's center back pairing of Alessio Romagnoli and Cristian Zapata has clicked the last two matches, but the Rossoneri will need more from the supporting cast. Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate will need to close down potential crosses, and Juraj Kucka, Andrea Poli and Riccardo Montolvio will need to fill in defensively when necessary. Milan should have little trouble quelling Palermo's attack, but are a lot of things Milan should have done in recent years that it failed to do.