AC Milan will be keen to kick off their Serie A title defence with a win when they take on Udinese in the season opener at San Siro on Saturday.

AC Milan will begin their Scudetto title defence at home in the Serie A season opener against Udinese. The Rossoneri were the best side in Italy last season and will be keen to build upon their success in the new campaign.

Udinese will provide them with a healthy challenge on the opening day, given that the last three games between them have ended in a draw. Andrea Sottil’s side are coming off the back of a disappointing 2021/22 season that saw them finish a disappointing 12th in Serie A.

Milan, meanwhile, ended over a decade of pain by pipping arch-rivals Inter Milan to the title. Meeting the standards they set last season will prove to be a challenge for Stefano Pioli’s men, and the manager will be keen to get off to a winning start.

The Rossoneri squad has seen some chopping and changing in the summer transfer window. They, however, breezed through pre-season winning four out of the five games. How well they can get into the groove this season could dictate what they can achieve come to the end of the campaign.

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The same cannot be said of Udinese, who are comparatively weaker than last season. Nahuel Molina departed for Atletico Madrid, while Gerard Deulofeu is unsettled amidst links to SC Napoli. Destiny Udogie is also signing for Tottenham Hotspur but will stay on at the Italian club on loan this season.

I Friuliani have already played their first competitive game of the 2022/23 campaign with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Serie C side Feralpisalo in the Coppa Italia. Sottil will, however, face a much tougher challenge in his first Serie A game in charge of Udinese.

Milan start the game as massive favourites and with home comfort to boot, should have enough in their boots to come away with all three points. The Hard Tackle looks at how both sides could line up for the game and what tactics they might employ.

Team News & Tactics

AC Milan

The Rossoneri are coming off a summer that saw them lose ace midfielder Franck Kessie to Barcelona on a free transfer. Milan have, however, brought in the Belgian duo of Divock Origi and Charles De Ketelaere. The duo’s arrival will add extra bite to the Italian giants’ attack.

Stefano Pioli also has a couple of fitness concerns with Zlatan Ibrahimovic currently recovering from surgery and Sandro Tonali injuring himself against Vicenza. Olivier Giroud is also a doubt for the game and is unlikely to be risked.

Apart from Kessie and Tonali, Milan will have the young core of their Serie A-winning outfit available for selection. Pioli is unlikely to throw in his summer signings from the start. The defending champions are likely to turn out in the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought them much success last season.

Mike Maignan will start in goal behind a flat back four of Theo Hernandez, Fikayo Tomori, Pierre Kalulu and Davide Calabria. Hernandez and Calabria will be handed the freedom to get forward when possible and will add an extra threat on the wings. Tomori and Kalulu have formed a formidable partnership of late and should provide their wing-backs with the necessary solidity to push forward.

With Kessie gone and Tonali out injured, the onus will be on Rade Krunic and Ismael Bennacer to form the double pivot in the middle of the park. Their ability to win the midfield battle will give Brahim Diaz the impetus to focus on offensive moves. The young Spaniard was an inconsistent performer last season and now has De Ketelaere breathing down his neck.

Diaz will be keen to get off to a strong start and will need to link up well with Ante Rebic, who is likely to start upfront. Last season’s star performer Rafael Leao is a sure starter on the left while Brazilian star Junior Messias should get the nod over Alexis Saelemaekers on the other flank.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Hernandez, Tomori, Kalulu, Calabria; Krunic, Bennacer; Leao, Diaz, Messias; Rebic

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Udinese

The Italian side struggled for any measure of consistency last season and finished in a disappointing 12th spot in Serie A. Luca Gotti, and then Gabriele Cioffi struggled to make a difference in the managerial hotseat, paving the way for Andrea Sottil to take the reins.

The 48-year-old struggled to bring about an observable transformation in the Coppa Italia clash against Feralpisalo, leading his side to a hard-fought 2-1 win. Milan represent a much tougher challenge, and the Italian tactician could find himself out of his depth.

More so, he will also have to deal with the absence of the injured trio of Rodrigo Becao, Leonardo Buta and Tolgay Arslan. Meanwhile, Nehuen Perez, Adam Masina and Jaka Bijol will be making their Serie A bows following their summer arrivals.

Sottil preferred a four-man defence during his time with Ascoli but made use of a 3-5-2 formation against Feralpisalo last week. He is likely to play it safe against Milan and go with a 3-5-2 that could transform into a 5-3-2 while defending.

Marco Silvestri could start at the back with Perez, Bijol and Masina forming the central rear guard. Destiny Udogie and Brandon Soppy will start as wing-backs and could have their work cut out against Milan’s wingers.

Leao is a difficult player to handle on his own, but his linkup with Hernandez on the Rossoneri’s left flank makes the duo a formidable attacking threat. Calabria is also capable of getting forward and should back up Messias on the overlap. Udinese’s wing-back duo will likely have to play deep all game, and that should set the tone for the game’s result.

The midfield will be anchored by the trio of Walace, Roberto Pereyra and Jean-Victor Makengo. Walace and Makengo will be tasked with nullifying Bennacer and Krunic, giving Pereyra the freedom to push forward. Gerard Deulofeu will start up front alongside Isaac Success. The duo is likely to be isolated should Milan turn up on the evening.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Silvestri; Perez, Bijol, Masina; Soppy, Walace, Pereyra, Makengo, Udogie; Success, Deulofeu,

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Key Stats

  • Udinese have drawn more games against AC Milan than any other side. Both the teams have finished a game level 36 times in 94 meetings. AC Milan have won the matchup 41 times, with Udinese coming out on top on 17 occasions.
  • AC Milan and Udinese have drawn their last three league meetings. The only time both sides have put together a longer streak of draws was between 1992-1994.
  • AC Milan are unbeaten in 14 out of their last 15 home games against Udinese. The Rossoneri have also lost just one of their last ten league games against the Friulians. The lone loss occurred on the opening matchday of the 2019/20 season.
  • AC Milan and Udinese have faced off against each other five times on the opening weekend of Serie A. Both sides have won one game apiece with the rest ending in a stalemate.
  • A win on Saturday will see AC Milan win three matchday-one games in a row for the first time since 1986-1996.

Player to Watch

Rafael Leao

The Portuguese international was the standout player for Milan last season and played a starring role in their success in the league. Leao’s stature has dramatically increased, with him getting nominated for the Ballon d’Or 2022. And he will now go into the 2022/23 campaign with increased expectations. The onus is now on the 23-year-old to show that his performance last season wasn’t a one-off.

Leao is a dynamic presence on the left flank and is also a clinical goalscorer to boot. Add to it his ability to link up with Theo Hernandez and overwhelm the Udinese right flank, he can make life difficult for Nehuen Perez on his Serie A debut and limit Brandon Soppy’s forward forays. Andrea Sottil’s new look backline is not yet used to each other, and this could hand the initiative to the Milan star on the evening.

Prediction

AC Milan 2-0 Udinese

Milan and Udinese have made it a habit of drawing games of late. However, the visitors do not look up to shape and have barely improved from last season’s struggles. Milan will be upbeat on the evening and will be keen to make a winning start to the new campaign.

Stefano Pioli can also bring on the likes of Divock Origi, Charles De Ketelaere and Alexis Saelemaekers, among others, if needed. Milan are comfortably the better side on paper, and it should prove to be a regulation win for the defending champions.

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