AC Milan vs AS Roma: Serie A Preview and Prediction
With Lazio keeping their scudetto hopes alive after beating Fiorentina, the attention shifts to the Europa League spot as AC Milan host AS Roma at the San Siro.
With 48 points from 27 games, the Giallorossi currently occupy fifth place in the table – six behind Atalanta. Roma are six points ahead of sixth-placed Napoli while AC Milan are languishing in seventh place with 39 points.
A win for the visitors will also keep their hopes of attaining a Champions League spot alive, though that would also require Atalanta to slip up against Udinese. With Napoli, who are slated to face bottom-placed SPAL tonight, breathing down their necks, Paulo Fonseca’s men know that a win over the Rossoneri is crucial.
AC Milan got back on the field earlier than Roma after football was allowed to restart. Stefano Pioli’s men had faced Juventus in the second leg of the Coppa Italia where they played out a goalless draw. Despite that result, and Cristiano Ronado’s missed penalty, AC Milan crashed out on away goals rule as Juventus had scored in the 1-1 draw in the first leg at the San Siro.
Pioli’s men did pick up the pace in the league, however as they dominated Lecce in a 4-1 win at Stadio Via del Mare. Milan had four different goalscorers in the game with Rebic’s solo run to beat Gabriel in goal being a standout moment.
Roma also emerged victorious in their first Serie A game since resumption but they were nowhere as dominant as Milan. La Lupa struggled in the 2-1 win over 16th placed Sampdoria as Edin Dzeko scored a brace to overturn Manolo Gabbiadini’s 11th minute opener.
Head to Head
There was a time when this fixture would be one of the most important ones in the world. The Serie A’s overall decline, as well as Milan’s fall from grace, has lessened the shine on this rivalry.
Roma have had a slight edge over Milan in recent seasons, winning three of the pair’s last six meetings. Milan have won two and there has been one draw in this duration.
The scorelines have also been extremely close with the last three games seeing a 2-1 Roma win, a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 Milan win.
Fonseca’s side would be looking to the double over Milan as they triumphed over them at the Stadio Olimpico earlier this season. Young sensation Nicola Zaniolo was the hero for the Giallorossi as his 59th minute strike turned out to be the winner.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the biggest absentee for AC Milan. The talismanic Swede hurt his calf in May and a return date is still not confirmed. Despite being 39, Ibrahimovic still holds a lot of sway and Milan could have done with his skill-set in this tough fixture.
Pioli might also have to make changes in defense as Simon Kjaer had to be subbed of in the first half in the win over Lecce.
Zaniolo, the here of the win in Rome, will not play a part in this game. The Italian ruptured his ACL while on national duty in January and is set to miss out for six to nine months.
Fonseca will also not have first-choice keeper Pau Lopez at his disposal. The Spaniard broke his wrist in May and backup keeper Antonio Mirante is expected to man the posts.
Alessio Romagnoli vs Edin Dzeko
Fresh off scoring a winning brace, Dzeko will be supremely confident in front of goal. The Bosnian, despite being 34, has not stepped off the gas this season, scoring 14 goals, good enough for sixth place in the capocannoniere race.
The former Manchester City and Wolfsburg striker has scored four times against Milan in nine games across all competitions. He also scored in the reverse fixture earlier this season, slotting a trademark header past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Romagnoli is the only high-quality defender in this Milan side and the pressure will be on him to prevent Dzeko from contributing. The Bosnian’s offensive awareness is superb and Romagnoli will have to be vigilant in preventing Dzeko from getting into scoring spaces, especially in set-piece situations.
Ismael Bennacer vs Lorenzo Pellegrini
With his industrious performances, Algerian Ismael Bennacer has been a revelation for Milan this season.
The former Arsenal midfielder doesn’t shy away from the dirty work as he puts in tackles and intercepts passes. He can also mix it up by rotating possession as he boasts an 87 percent pass completion rate while averaging 56.8 passes per game this season.
Bennacer will have his work cut out in containing Lorenzo Pellegrini. The Italian midfielder has been the creative force in Fonseca’s system with his nine assists being the third-highest in the league, behind Luis Alberto and Papu Gomez.
Pellegrini is likely to play behind Dzeko so Bennacer will have to be aware of the Italian’s ability to pick out the Bosnian or the quick Cengiz Under on the right wing. Bennacer will have to actively man zones and cut down Pellegrini’s passing lanes.
Ante Rebic vs Chris Smalling
Rebic’s seven goals are the most for Milan this season. This speaks volumes of the poor show that the Rossoneri have put up front this season.
Considering that all seven of these goals have come in 2020, Rebic does look a threat with his pace and directness. He also has a knack of scoring against high profile opposition as he has found the net against Juventus, Internazionale and Fiorentina this year.
Rebic, however, will have it tough against Chris Smalling, who is going through a career renaissance of sorts. The Manchester United castoff has impressed at the heart of defense for Fonseca and Roma and has been one of the club’s standout performers.
Smalling has looked assured at the back and his no-nonsense defensive style will be a good counter to Rebic’s pace and tendency to chase down balls in neutral areas.
Before the coronavirus induced lockdown, Roma had looked more impressive than Milan. After it, Pioli’s men have markedly improved and Roma looked out-of-sorts in their previous game.
That, however, is only one game and conventional wisdom would suggest that Roma should take three points from this game.
Both sides’ European ambitions are at stake and that pressure is likely to result in some cautious football from both sides.
Both clubs have had middling defenses this season - Milan have conceded 35 goals and Roma, 36. The visitors do have more significant firepower up front, scoring 53 goals as opposed to Milan's 34.
Looking back at how close the results between these two sides have been in recent seasons, I see them playing out a 1-1 draw.
Predicted scoreline: AC Milan 1-1 AS Roma