Sunday’s Serie A action gets underway with a high-stakes fixture between out-of-sorts Milan and surprise relegation candidates Sassuolo. Back to the Stadio San Siro after a series of disappointments on the road, the Rossoneri cannot accept anything less than three points here.
Following a dramatic 2-1 victory at Salernitana to get the new calendar year off to a flying start, things have gone from bad to worse for injury-plagued Milan. Everything started with a 2-2 home draw with Roma, where Stefano Pioli’s team spurned a two-goal cushion beyond the 85th minute.
An underwhelming Coppa Italia exit to ten-man Torino at home, followed by an equally disturbing 2-2 stalemate at newly-promoted Lecce, set the tone for Milan’s disheartening 3-0 Supercoppa Italiana defeat to fierce rivals Inter. But the reigning Serie A champions’ misery culminated with an embarrassing 4-0 loss at Lazio on Tuesday.
On the cusp of equalling a six-game winless streak in all competitions for 2018 under Gennaro Gattuso, Milan cannot take anything for granted against underperforming Sassuolo. The visitors eked out a 1-1 draw at Monza last time out, ending a sub-par four-match losing league streak, throwing under-pressure boss Alessio Dionisi a lifeline.
However, unless the Neroverdi put the breaks on a disastrous eight-game winless run in Serie A (D2, L6), Dionisi could soon meet the end of the road at the Mapei Stadium. With 18th-placed Hellas Verona just five points behind, Sassuolo can feel the heat as their long-standing top-flight status now hangs in the balance.
Milan’s bid to secure a third consecutive top-four finish is up in the air, let alone their hopes of winning back-to-back Serie A titles for the first time in the 21st century. Runaway leaders Napoli are already 12 points up, while fifth-placed Roma are breathing down the champions’ necks, with only one point separating the sides ahead of this matchday.
Still, Milan can draw confidence from having been beaten only by high-flying Napoli across their last 17 top-flight outings at San Siro (W12, D4). An unfathomable three-match winless home league run against Sassuolo (D1, L2) threatens to douse the optimism in Pioli’s corner, though, as does the fact the Rossoneri have netted under 1.5 goals in their last five home H2Hs in the league.
Player to Watch: Olivier Giroud
With the entire Milan squad performing below expectations, it’s difficult to separate one from the pack. But Olivier Giroud could be the difference-maker after netting a title-winning brace at Sassuolo on the final weekend of last season’s Serie A.
After coming out victorious on their last two Serie A visits to Milan, Sassuolo are lining up a hat-trick of top-flight triumphs at the 19-time champions. But you’d need to go back to mid-September for their last league win on hostile turf courtesy of a 1-0 success at Torino, which incidentally remains their only victory on the road this season (D3, L6).
Dionisi has to take care of his side’s uneventful second-half performances on the road, which has seen them outscored after halftime in seven of their ten away league matches this term. Indeed, only three clubs have scored fewer Serie A goals away from home in 2022/23 than Sassuolo (3).
Player to Watch: Domenico Berardi
Domenico Berardi is not exactly enjoining the season of his life, but he has often been a thorn in Milan’s side. The winger’s impressive haul of ten goals and four assists against Pioli’s men in Serie A makes the Rossoneri his favorite victim.
Besides long-term absentees Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alessandro Florenzi, and Fode Ballo-Toure, Milan will be without midfield schemer Ismael Bennacer, who has accumulated yellow cards. Mike Maignan has returned to partial training and will unlikely make the cut for this fixture.
As for Sassuolo, first-choice goalkeeper Andrea Consigli is out with a knee injury, while former Inter striker Andrea Pinamonti has yet to overcome a muscle strain. Otherwise, Dionisi has the rest of his squad ready to go.
Milan vs Sassuolo Predicted Lineups
Milan (4-2-3-1): Ciprian Tatarusanu; Davide Calabria, Pierre Kalulu, Simon Kjaer, Theo Hernandez; Sandro Tonali, Tommaso Pobega; Junior Messias, Brahim Diaz, Rafael Leo; Olivier Giroud.
Sassuolo (4-3-3): Gianluca Pegolo; Rogerio, Martin Erlic, Gian Marco Ferrari, Jeremy Toljan; Davide Frattesi, Pedro Obiang, Hamed Traore; Domenico Berardi, Armand Lauriente, Gregoire Defrel.
Milan vs Sassuolo Prediction
Neither side can settle for a draw, especially Milan, if they’re to strengthen their position in a keenly-contested top-four battle. Sassuolo’s away form has been an utter let-down this term, so we back the Rossoneri to return to winning ways.
Prediction: Milan Win
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