AC Milan will be aiming to keep pace with arch-rivals and league leaders Inter Milan when they take on minnows Spezia in Serie A on Monday.

AC Milan will be aiming to stay within touching distance of Serie A leaders Inter Milan by picking up a victory when they lock horns with Spezia at San Siro on Monday evening. 

The Rossoneri are second in the table, just two points shy of Inter, although that gap could widen to five points by the time Monday’s fixture kicks off. Despite the injury-enforced absences and players being away at the Africa Cup of Nations, Stefano Pioli’s side have soldiered on admirably, racking up four wins in four in all competitions, most recently beating Genoa 3-1 in Coppa Italia after defeating Venezia in the league.

Meanwhile, Spezia find themselves mired in the relegation battle. Thiago Motta’s side are in 16th place in the table, just three points clear of the drop zone. However, they have lost just one of their last four competitions and have picked up two huge victories in this period as well, beating Napoli and Genoa by a 1-0 scoreline. On the back of those performances, the Aquilotti will back themselves to get a positive result from San Siro.

The reverse fixture played in September last year saw AC Milan emerge 2-1 winners over Spezia with goals coming from Daniel Maldini and Brahim Diaz. Ahead of their latest meeting on Monday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

AC Milan

AC Milan have a host of absentees to deal with as Franck Kessie, Ismael Bennacer and Fode Ballo-Toure are away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. In addition, Simon Kjaer has been ruled out for the rest of the season while fellow defenders Fikayo Tomori and Alessio Romagnoli are also ruled out. Pietro Pellegri is also a major doubt for the contest, while Sandro Tonali misses out due to suspension.

As usual, Stefano Pioli will set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Mike Maignan set to man the goal as expected. Alessandro Florenzi and Theo Hernadez should occupy the full-back positions, flanking the centre-back pairing of Pierre Kalulu and Matteo Gabbia, who will have their task cut out.

With no Kessie, Bennacer and Tonali, Rade Krunic is expected to get the nod in the double pivot on Monday evening. He should be partnered by on-loan Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko, who will provide the legs in the engine room. The creative onus will firmly lie on the shoulders of Brahm Diaz, who has struggled for form of late and will need to bounce back.

Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao will be the preferred starters on the flanks. The latter has been in fine touch of late, and his link-up play with the main striker, who ought to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, could be crucial for the hosts. Olivier Giroud, Junior Messias and Ante Rebic will be options from the bench for Milan.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Florenzi, Kalulu, Gabbia, Hernandez; Krunic, Bakayoko; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Leao; Ibrahimovic

Spezia

Unlike their opponents, Spezia have a clean bill of health ahead of their trip to Milan. The only absentee for Thiago Motta to deal with is Ebrima Colley, who is away at the AFCON. The visitors will set up in their trademark 4-4-1-1- formation at San Siro and look to sit back, soak up pressure and hit Milan on the break.

Ivan Provedel will guard the Spezia goal, where he will be shielded by the backline comprising Kelvin Amian, Martin Erlic, Dimitrios Nikolaou and Arkadiusz Reca. Amian and Reca will have their hands full dealing with the threat of the Milan wide attackers coupled with the overlapping runs of the full-backs.

Jacopo Sala and Simone Bastoni will occupy the central midfield position and look to cut off the influence of Diaz and Bakayoko. Viktor Kovalenko and Emmanuel Gyasi will carry the threat from the wide areas and hope to make the most of the space left open by the attack-minded Milan full-backs.

Daniele Verde will be given a free-roaming role in the final third as he will look to drag players out of position with his movement to create space for the main striker, M’Bala Nzola.

Probable Lineup (4-4-1-1): Provedel; Amian, Erlic, Nikolaou, Reca; Kovalenko, Sala, Bastoni, Gyasi; Verde; Nzola

Key Stats

  • AC Milan have won each of their last three matches in Serie A, scoring at least three goals in each of those games.
  • Spezia have lost each of their three Serie A games played at San Siro (vs Inter or AC Milan).
  • AC Milan have won two of their three Serie A meetings against Spezia, with the other contest ending in a defeat.
  • Spezia have won their last two Serie A matches away from home without conceding a goal.
  • AC Milan left-back Theo Hernandez is only the third defender in the previous 15 Serie A campaigns to have been directly involved in at least nine goals (4G, 5A) through the first 21 matchdays after Robin Gosens and Achraf Hakimi.

Player to Watch

Rafael Leao

Having completely recovered from his injury, Rafael Leao has been in good nick in recent weeks. The Portuguese international played a key role in AC Milan’s win over Venezia and followed it up with another strong display in the cup tie against Genoa. His pace and directness make the forward a major threat, while he has also struck up a solid partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

With Milan pushing to keep the pressure on their neighbours in the title race, a victory against Spezia will be crucial. Leao will have an important part to play in ensuring that the Rossoneri get over the line on Monday.

Prediction

AC Milan 3-0 Spezia

AC Milan have picked up four wins in a row and have scored three or more goals in each of those fixtures. Meanwhile, Spezia will draw confidence from their recent victories over Napoli and Genoa. However, considering the form that Stefano Pioli’s side are in, they should be able to register a straightforward win on Monday, with Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao likely to play key roles in the triumph.

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