Amid all the turmoil of Milan's botched January transfer window, Saturday's match away to Empoli seems to have fallen under the radar. As chaotic as Milan's dealings in the market have been (Luiz Adriano will be in the matchday squad) things have improved on the pitch somewhat as of late. It says a lot for how unpredictable this season has been so far for the Rossoneri that a win against Fiorentina should be as big a deal as it was, but it's impossible to refute that it was one of Milan's most convincing performances since Sinisa Mihajlovic took over as manager. The presence of a clear tactical plan and a number of strong individual performances was encouraging, but whether that can carry over into matches like this one, in which Milan face a lower level of opposition, will determine whether Milan have truly turned a corner.
Lesser sides such as Empoli have been Milan's Achilles heel time and again under Mihajlovic, as was the case under Inzaghi as well. Whereas Fiorentina play an open game based around ball retention and high pressing, Empoli are a more versatile side, who, despite their preference for possession, will not look to force the issue. Milan's biggest problem has been to overcome disciplined and resolute teams like this, as we saw when the two faced off at the San Siro back in August. Milan came away with a 2-0 win on that occasion, despite an unimpressive showing, and Milanisti will be hoping for a more convincing display at the Stadio Carlo Castellani this time around.
Whilst Milan are the better side on paper, both teams come into this fixture in a rather similar position, with the Azzurri just one point behind Milan in 7th in the Serie A table - and in all honesty, Empoli have looked the more convincing team. Much of this is owed to the presence of former Milan midfielder Riccardo Saponara, who's showing the flair and creativity that he sadly never got a chance to whilst at Milan. He scored Empoli's only goal in the reverse fixture and one would bet on him being the danger man this time round as well. His ability to partner frontman Massimo Maccarone will be the main threat for Milan to contain in order to return from Tuscany with a win.
Mihajlovic will likely stick with the same system and lineup that worked against Fiorentina, with almost the full squad at his disposal now. Only Jeremy Menez and Diego Lopez remain absent from the first team due to injury problems. Luca Antonelli's return at left back has single handedly raised the level of the entire defence and his discipline has provided Romagnoli with more cover than De Sciglio. A lot will depend on the performance of Riccardo Montolivo who's performances have continued to fluctuate all season long. Only with a steady showing from Montolivo defensively can Andrea Bertolacci be given license to roam forward and actually affect the game in a positive way.
Empoli: 4-3-1-2 - Lukas Skorupski; Vincent Laurini, Federico Barba, Lorenzo Tonelli, Mario Rui; Piotr Zielinski, Marcel Buchel, Daniele Croce; Riccardo Saponara; Manuel Pucciarelli, Massimo Maccarone.
Milan: 4-4-2 - Gianluigi Donnarumma; Ignazio Abate, Alex, Alessio Romagnoli, Luca Antonelli, Keisuke Honda, Andrea Bertolacci, Riccardo Montolivo, Giacomo Bonaventura; M'Baye Niang, Carlos Bacca.
This match is likely to be closer than it probably should be, but Milan should make it two in two against the Azzurri with Carlos Bacca adding to his tally with the winner here.
Empoli 1-2 Milan