Preview: Milan vs Salernitana – Pioli Set for Memorable Farewell

Saturday’s Serie A action caps off with Salernitana’s bow-out top-flight clash ahead of relegation as they head to San Siro to take on Milan. Despite being on the verge of a runner-up finish, the mood in the home camp isn’t much better. 

It’s not been a season Milan expected, let alone dreamed of, following a comprehensive recruitment campaign last summer. Left 19 points in Inter’s wake, the 19-time Italian champions have decided it’s time for a change in the dugout.

Long-serving manager Stefano Pioli will, in all likelihood, leave Milan after this game. Ex-Brighton boss and declared Rossoneri fan Roberto De Zerbi is ready and waiting to fill the vacancy. After amicable separation, the 44-year-old is close to returning to his homeland. 

However, it’s not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. Milan would still have to see off stiff competition from the Premier League to lure De Zerbi back to Italy. But for the moment, the focus is on a curtain-dropping fixture against Salernitana.

Despite a dreadful run down the tail-end of his coaching career at Milan, Pioli deserves an emotional farewell. After all, he ended Rossoneri’s decade-long title wait in 2021/22. The upcoming visit of the division’s worst side is a seemingly presentable opportunity for the 58-year-old to ride off into the sunset.

Dreadful Form Condemnes Pioli to Premature Exit

Pioli had one more year left to run on his contract with Milan before being informed by the club of an imminent break-up earlier this week. If the 58-year-old had a glimmer of hope that he could avoid the axe, such dreams vanished in thin air after overseeing just one win across the last eight outings in all competitions (D3, L4).

Last weekend’s sub-par performance in a 3-1 defeat at Torino was the unequivocal evidence that Pioli no longer has support in the dressing room. Things have not gone his way this term, even though Milan improved on last season’s fourth-place finish. The problem is they have been out of the title picture since September. 

The impending home return can’t put the smile back on Pioli’s face. Milan tore Cagliari into pieces in their last home game, steamrolling to a thumping 5-1 victory. But before that, they had gone three consecutive matches at San Siro without winning (D1, L2), conceding multiple goals on two occasions. 

God-given Parting Gift

Amidst all the negatives over the past few months, including a dismal Europa League exit at the hands of Roma, the one thing that can encourage Pioli is Milan’s free-flowing form in the front third. Only runaway leaders Inter (87) have outperformed Rossoneri’s 73-goal tally this Serie A campaign.

If Pioli sought a chance to go out in style, God seems to have heard his prayers, sending Salernitana to San Siro for his farewell game. Just two wins from 37 matches and a joint-lowest points haul across Europe’s top-five leagues (16) have deemed Granata one of the worst sides in recent Serie A history.

At the thick of Salernitana’s woeful season is an out-of-sorts backline. Stefano Colantuono’s men have conceded a league-high 78 goals in 2023/24. It’s not like they fared any better on the opposite end of the field, racking up a second-worst 29 goals. The figures get worse on the road.

Emphatic Milan Triumph in Store

The Salerno minnows have only scored 12 goals on 18 Serie A travels this season. Meanwhile, they’ve conceded 40! And as if that’s not disturbing enough, the visitors are still waiting for their first victory in 2024. Since beating Hellas Verona in December, they’ve gone winless in 20 outings (D4, L16).

On top of their embarrassing form this calendar year, this fixture has traditionally been unkind to Salernitana. They have defeated Milan just once in nine previous meetings (D3, L5). But in search of some positives, the sides shared the spoils in a goal-glutted 2-2 draw in December’s reverse fixture.

However, that’s pretty much the only encouragement Salernitana can take ahead of this trip. Milan have been relentless against bottom-ranked teams at home since a 1-0 loss to Udinese in early November. Their last five home clashes against current bottom-five sides have all yielded victories. 

Eyes on Rafael Leao

Unfortunately for Milan fans, this might not be just Pioli’s last game at San Siro. Rafael Leao’s future is also in doubt, with the Portuguese forward catching the eye of numerous top European clubs. A new hypothesis has recently emerged, linking him with a mega-money move to Al-Hilal.

Milan’s first intention is to keep hold of their standout performer. But they’d unlikely stay immune to a stratospheric offer that will almost inevitably arrive at their desk in the coming months. With that in mind, this could be Leao’s final game in the Milan shirt.

If such, we wouldn’t put it past the lightning-fast winger to throw a spectacle on Saturday. 

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