Friday, March 1, 2024

Prediction: AC Milan vs Napoli

Verdict: Home win

Best odds: 1/1

Bookmaker: Betfair

On Sunday evening, two most recent Serie A champions, AC Milan and struggling Scudetto-holders Napoli, will face off at San Siro.

Milan strengthened their hold on third place in the standings with a comeback victory against Frosinone. Meanwhile, Napoli managed to secure a narrow win against Hellas Verona, thanks to a late moment of brilliance.

AC Milan

Milan continued to keep pace with city rivals Inter, who currently lead Serie A by seven points following last week’s Derby d’Italia and their win over AS Roma on Saturday. Second-place Juventus play their match against Udinese on Monday.

In their recent game against mid-table Frosinone, Milan staged a comeback in the final 20 minutes.

Trailing 2-1 as time ticked away, Matteo Gabbia unexpectedly found the net to level the score. Prior to that, Olivier Giroud had already increased his goal involvement tally to 19 in 20 league appearances, marking his most productive Serie A season to date.

Luka Jovic, Giroud’s replacement, emerged from the bench to secure a late winner, solidifying Milan’s status as the team with the most goals scored by substitutes (10) in Serie A. Since December, Jovic boasts the best scoring ratio across Europe’s top five leagues, averaging a goal every 41 minutes.

Milan’s attacking prowess has been evident in their recent performances, with victories against Udinese and Frosinone, as well as drawn encounter with Bologna. Despite conceding at least twice in each of their last three matches, Milan have maintained a solid points-per-game average of 2.5 in Serie A over the last eight rounds, second only to Inter during this period. This consistency keeps them within contention for the Scudetto, though the gap is admittedly wide.

With a comfortable 10-point lead over fourth place, Milan look poised to secure a return to the Champions League next season. Additionally, they are set to kick off their Europa League campaign against Rennes the following Thursday.

Before their European fixture, Milan will face a familiar opponent in their next Serie A encounter, having previously drawn 2-2 with them in October. Notably, Giroud shined in that match, scoring twice against one of his favored adversaries.

Team News

Despite Malick Thiaw’s return to full training after a two-month absence due to a hamstring injury, Milan’s defensive lineup remains depleted with Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori still sidelined.

Given Thiaw’s lack of match fitness, Matteo Gabbia and Simon Kjaer are expected to continue leading Milan’s defense on Sunday. However, Stefano Pioli will have to make one enforced change to the starting lineup as Tijjani Reijnders is suspended. Consequently, Ismael Bennacer will step into the midfield.

While Luka Jovic is in fine form, Olivier Giroud will once again lead Milan’s attacking line. Giroud has an impressive record against Napoli, having previously scored five goals against them in all competitions. He needs just one more goal or assist to reach 20 goal involvements for the season, a milestone he hasn’t achieved since 2015/16.

Napoli

Along with their defeat in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals, Napoli suffered a significant setback with a 4-0 loss to Milan in an otherwise successful 2022/23 campaign, where they clinched the Italian championship title, replacing Milan at the top.

However, Napoli’s title defence has been far from successful, leading to the return of former manager Walter Mazzarri to the helm following the departure of the unpopular Rudi Garcia. Despite this change, Napoli’s fortunes have yet to improve significantly.

Their recent performances reflect the team’s struggles, as evidenced by a lacklustre goalless draw against Lazio, where Napoli failed to register a single shot on target. Ahead of their recent home fixture against Verona, Napoli found themselves in danger of slipping down to 10th place in the league standings.

Despite dominating possession in that game, Mazzarri’s side narrowly secured a 2-1 victory, courtesy of a spectacular Khvicha Kvaratskhelia strike. However, the unconvincing win left them trailing four points behind the top four positions.

Moreover, Napoli’s difficulties extend beyond their home turf, as they have failed to score in their last four away matches since November, matching the club’s worst away goalless run since 1979.

Despite their recent struggles, Napoli hold a three-match winning streak against Milan at San Siro, providing some hope for their upcoming encounter before they take on Barcelona in the Champions League.

Team News

The tactical approach for Napoli in the upcoming match remains uncertain, as Mazzarri has recently alternated between their renowned 4-3-3 formation and a three-man defencee with wing-backs.

On the injury front, Napoli could see the return of Alex Meret and Mathias Olivera to the bench after their respective layoffs. Additionally, Piotr Zielinski, who is set to depart on a free transfer this summer, is back from a muscle strain. However, Mario Rui will be unavailable due to suspension, opening up an opportunity for January signing Pasquale Mazzocchi to feature on the left flank.

With Victor Osimhen representing Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Giovanni Simeone is expected to lead the line for Napoli, supported by Kvaratskhelia and Matteo Politano. Politano has a strong record against Milan, particularly at San Siro, where he has scored four out of his five Serie A goals against them.

Conclusion

These two teams are evenly matched through their last 10 league encounters, with three wins each and four draws, but Milan have held the advantage over Napoli in the past year and are poised to continue their dominance. Furthermore, Napoli continue to struggle with cohesion, while Milan have recently found their rhythm and form.

Verdict: Home win

Best odds: 1/1

Bookmaker: Betfair

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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