San Siro may be the site of a huge celebration on Tuesday afternoon -- if AC Milan can simply take care of business.
The Rossoneri are ninety minutes away from booking their first trip to the Coppa Italia final in thirteen years, as they host upstart Alessandria from the Lega Pro Group A, the third tier in Italian football. Holding a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, Milan need to simply win or draw today to take victory in the tie and clinch their spot in Rome on May 21st.
The two sides could not be coming into this match in more different circumstances. Alessandria have won just once in their last seven matches and are struggling in league play. Meanwhile, Milan are in terrific form, winning four times and drawing the other two since that first leg victory in late January. Their 1-0 victory over Torino over the weekend saw their unbeaten streak extend to eleven straight matches, a run of form that not only has them in contention for a Champions League spot, but has some thinking that the club could make a late push for the scudetto. While the latter is highly unlikely, a Coppa final and a European spot would have many fans thrilled after the way the season started.
However, manager Sinisa Mihajlovic cautioned fans on Monday at his press conference, reminding them that while looking ahead is easy to do, it is a dangerous proposition at the moment. "We cannot underestimate Alessandria," he said. "Tuesday we have an important game in the Coppa Italia, then we think about the next three league games and see how things go."
Milan will have to face that stretch--and quite possibly the rest of the campaign--without forward M'Baye Niang, who was in a wreck this weekend after his car hydroplaned. He is believed to have damaged ligaments in his ankle and will be out likely for two months. He will be replaced in the semifinal by Mario Balotelli, who is expected to partner with Jeremy Menez at the top of the 4-4-2 formation Both will be auditioning to take Niang's spot partnering Carlos Bacca, starting with the match against Sassuolo this weekend, and their roles were confirmed on Monday as Mihajlovic stated the pair would play "key roles" in the match. This could very well be the biggest match of the season for Balotelli. Silvio Berlusconi stated a few days ago that he might be willing to part with the 7m euros it would cost to convert his loan into a permanent move, so this is a massive opportunity for the young striker to show he is worth the cost.
Team selection for the Rossoneri should continue the way it has for much of the Coppa, with the primary starters getting a rest. Mihajlovic stated that Menez would not be the only fringe player to get a run-out on Tuesday. "We need to step things up a gear and I am expecting a lot from those who have played less such as Balotelli and Menez. They are quality players and they have to make the most of the chances that come their way. They will both play." GK Christian Abbiati, who has started for the side throughout the Coppa, will replace Gianluigi Donnarumma between the sticks. Many expect Jose Mauri to also get a start on Tuesday. The 19-year-old has only appeared three times this season but will likely start the second leg, as he did in the trip to Alessandria.. Milan will need him to help create and play as well as he did in the first leg, where he was given his first start at Milan.
The one player who was expected to possibly return, midfielder Ricardo Montolivo, who missed the Torino match due to suspension, did not make the final team sheet. The Milan Channel reported on Monday that a minor issue with his Achilles tendon was the culprit. However, they stated it was simply a "precautionary measure" and was nothing serious. Striker Luiz Adriano is still out with a leg injury, but likely would not play even if healthy. Also, Alessio Romagnoli is expected to be in the starting XI, despite dealing with a fever the past few days.
Alessandria will likely stay in their 4-3-3 formation with two active wingers who work hard in both directions. They will need their goalkeeper Gianmarco Vannucchi to be just as outstanding as he was in the first leg. He made crucial saves throughout the match, but was unable to keep out the penalty from Balotelli. While the side was able to create many chances at home, their failure to convert on any of them could prove their downfall as they head into the intimidating atmosphere that is the San Siro.
The winner of the match will face off with either Inter or Juventus, who face each other on Wednesday for the second time in four days. The Old Lady holds a 3-0 advantage heading to the San Siro and have one foot in the final already.
Here is the player pool available for selection in the Coppa Italia semifinal for AC Milan:
Abbiati, Donnarumma, Livieri; Abate, Alex, Antonelli, Calabria, De Sciglio, Romagnoli, Simic, Zapata; Bertolacci, Bonaventura, Crociata, Mauri, Kucka, Locatelli, Poli; Bacca, Balotelli, Boateng, Honda, Menez
Predicted Starting XI:
AC Milan (4-4-2): Christian Abbiati, Ignazio Abate, Cristian Zapata, Alessio Romagnoli, Luca Antonelli; Keisuke Honda, Andrea Poli, Jose Mauri, Kevin Prince-Boateng; Mario Balotelli, Jeremy Menez
Alessandria (4-3-3): Gianmarco Vannucchi; Roberto Sabato, Leonardo Terigi, Santiago Morero, Nicolo Sperotto; Ferdinano Vitofrancesco, Adriano Mezavilla, Gianluca Nicco; Manuel Fischnaller, Riccardo Bocalon, Manuel Marras.
While everyone enjoys a Cinderella story, the clock is about to strike midnight and it's time to go home. AC Milan rolls to a 2-0 victory (3-0 on aggregate) in the friendly confines of home, and books their place in the final for the first time in over a decade.
When & Where To Watch
The Coppa Italia semi-final kicks off at 3 pm EST (9 pm local) from the San Siro.
In terms of watching, you have a few options. If you have GOL TV then you have to look no further than your cable or satellite guide. For others, Live Soccer TV will have some streams available, and the match will also be available through FuboTV.