For the first time since acquiring the ownership of Milan in 1986, Silvio Berlusconi returns to the Stadio San Siro as a foe, with top-flight newcomers Monza taking on their fellow Lombard rivals in their maiden Serie A encounter. Berlusconi’s 31-year-long trophy-laden era brought 29 major trophies into the Rossoneri cabinet, making this emotional reunion one of the most heavily anticipated fixtures on the Serie A schedule.
Berlusconi helped establish Milan as a supreme force not just in Serie A but in Europe and beyond. Though the former Italian Prime Minister’s final decade at the San Siro witnessed the club’s decline at both financial and football levels, the Rossoneri have done well to recover in the past few years and re-establish themselves as a permanent fixture in the Scudetto race.
Indeed, Milan have quickly adapted to life after Berlusconi as they are the reigning Serie A champions and are vying for back-to-back league titles for the first time in the 21st century. Last weekend’s hard-earned 2-1 victory away to Hellas Verona made it five wins in six Serie A matches for the Rossoneri (L1), keeping them within touching distance of pacesetters Napoli.
With only three points separating Milan from reclaiming control at the summit, Stefano Pioli’s men are unlikely to extend their former president a warm welcome. However, no stranger to defying the odds, Berlusconi has proved throughout his political and football-related career that he relishes playing as an underdog. You don’t have to look beyond Monza’s historic Serie A promotion to understand the extent of the 86-year-old’s winning mentality.
It took Berlusconi only three years at the helm of Monza to grant them top-flight status for the first time in club history. Based on the team’s recent showings in Serie A, they are hellbent on staying here long past this season. Yet last weekend’s 1-0 loss at Empoli may have dampened some enthusiasm in the visiting camp following Raffaele Palladino’s phenomenal managerial start at the Biancorossi.
Except for a frustrating 2-1 home defeat to fellow Scudetto hopefuls Napoli on the eve of September’s international break, Milan have gone unbeaten in their nine remaining Serie A matches this season (W7, D2). Interestingly, the last time the Rossoneri won seven of their opening ten top-flight fixtures as the defending champions in 1992/93, they went on to defend the crown.
Pioli’s men have been relentless since Serie A returned to action in October, winning all three league outings via an aggregate score of 7-2, including a 2-0 beating of Juventus in their most recent home game. Their eye-catching domestic form is likely to go on this weekend, considering Milan have won their last six Serie A home encounters against newly-promoted sides without conceding.
There’s another piece of history that backs Milan for success. Inter remain the only of the ten Lombard sides to have defeated the Rossoneri in their first-ever Serie A showdown (W6, D3). Monza will be the 11th club from Lombardia to face the seven-time European champions in Serie A, yet they’re heavily fancied to collapse at the San Siro.
Palladino’s appointment as a new chief of staff at Monza has proved a turning point in an otherwise abysmal start to the club’s maiden Serie A season. After going winless in their first six league matches under Giovanni Stroppa (D1, L5), the Biancorossi had won each of Palladino’s opening three top-flight games at the helm before slumping at Empoli.
Monza’s Achilles heel has been their inability to perform outside the Stadio Brianteo. Barring a scintillating 3-0 romping of basement boys Sampdoria on the back of the international break, the visitors have been winless on their four remaining league road trips this season (D1, L3). More importantly, a lack of the cutting edge saw them draw a blank in all three defeats in that run.
However, Monza have proved they are not afraid of colliding with Serie A big guns. Palladino’s touchline debut was a resounding success as his side overcame record-time Italian champions Juventus 1-0 at home to embark on the abovementioned three-match winning streak. That kind of defensive resilience is what Monza must draw on if they’re to stand a chance at the San Siro.
Milan vs Monza Potential Line-ups
Milan (4-2-3-1): Ciprian Tatarusanu; Pierre Kalulu, Fikayo Tomori, Matteo Gabbia, Theo Hernandez; Sandro Tonali, Ismael Bennacer; Brahim Diaz, Charles De Ketelaere, Rafael Leao; Ante Rebic.
Monza (3-4-2-1): Michele Di Gregorio; Marlon, Pablo Mari, Armando Izzo; Carlos Augusto, Stefano Sensi, Andrea Barberis, Patrick Ciurria; Gianluca Caprari, Matteo Pessina; Christian Gytkjaer.