Following two very impressive victories, AC Milan will have to regain focus as they will face Sampdoria in the early kick-off slot on Sunday. As with every game until the end of the season, it’s an important one.
The Rossoneri are just one point behind Inter in the standings and the Scudetto race is far from over. However, they need to continue on the same path, otherwise their city rivals could end up extending the gap anyway.
Stefano Pioli made it clear that the derby shouldn’t be regarded as a turning point for his side, speaking at the press conference earlier today. Claiming three points does make life easier for them, though, as he admitted.
Game date: Sunday, 13 February
Kick-off time: 12:30 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Chiffi (VAR: Valeri)
While Pioli won’t be able to rely on a full squad for this one, it must be said that the injury situation has drastically improved over the last few weeks. Sure, veterans Simon Kjaer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are still out of action, but the likes of Ante Rebic and Fikayo Tomori have recovered.
On top of that, we can add the returnees from AFCONs, which include Ismael Bennacer, Franck Kessie and Fode Ballo-Toure. The latter’s availability is uncertain and Theo Hernandez is suspended but even so, Pioli has options on the left-hand side.
According to the latest report from Sky Italia, the manager will field Davide Calabria or Alessandro Florenzi in the left-back role. It doesn’t really matter which one he will go for, though, as both will play from start anyway.
Tomori has recovered fully and is ready to play from the first minute, having made an appearance off the bench against Lazio. This means that Pierre Kalulu, who has been rather successful lately, will get some rest tomorrow.
Initial reports suggested that Pioli would make a third change in the attacking trio, but Junior Messias is once again ahead of Alexis Saelemaekers for the right-wing spot. Finally, Olivier Giroud will obviously keep his spot up front, having scored four goals in his last two games.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Tomori, Romagnoli, Florenzi; Tonali, Kessie; Messias, Brahim Diaz, Leao; Giroud.
Sampdoria had a tough but somewhat okay start to the season, registering 20 points in the first half of the season, which put them in 15th place. After the Christmas break, though, everything was turned upside down with five consecutive defeats.
President Massimo Ferrero thus took the decision to fire Roberto D’Aversa and hire the former Milan manager Marco Giampaolo. Although his first game ended in a loss (1-0 against Spezia), he has since claimed a 4-0 win against Sassuolo.
Therefore, it will be very interesting to see where the Genoa-based side are in their development tomorrow, with it being a tough test for them. In addition to Giampaolo, one former Milan man that reinforced the team in January is Andrea Conti.
It has been a good start for the attacking right-back with two goals in three appearances. He has already signed a renewal with the club until 2025 (the first deal was until the end of the season) and he will probably be eager to show Milan what he can do.
Despite all the turbulence, therefore, Milan cannot afford to underestimate Sampdoria and must keep their concentration for the entire 90 minutes. The guests have everything to win from this clash as very few are expecting them to get anything out of it.
Probable Sampdoria XI (4-3-1-2): Audero; Bereszynski, Ferrari, Colley, Murru; Candreva, Ekdal, Thorsby; Sensi; Giovinco, Caputo.
Head to head
In the 127 league games played between the sides, Milan have a clear advantage with their 66 wins. However, recent history calls for some worry as the Rossoneri have drawn their last two home games against Sampdoria. And the recent home record isn’t exactly flattering, although the derby win was ‘at home’.
In the first leg this season, Milan came away with all three points from Genoa as Brahim Diaz’s early goal (after just nine minutes) was enough to seal the deal. It was quite a tight affair and the Rossoneri risked getting just a draw, as Sampdoria came close on a few occasions.
The last encounter at San Siro between the two ended 1-1 as Jens Petter Hauge scored the equaliser late in the second half. Hopefully, Milan will be able to break their recent home trend and the one against the Blucerchiati as well.
➤ Sampdoria have lost 66 Serie A games against AC Milan (W30 D31), only losing more against Inter (70).
➤ AC Milan are winless in their last two Serie A home games against Sampdoria (D2) and could fail to win three such matches in a row for the first time since 1987 (D1 L2).
➤ AC Milan have gained 52 points so far in Serie A this season, only having this many in the three points for a win era three times previously: in 1995/96 (1st place), in 2003/04 (1st place) and in 2020/21 (2nd place).
➤ AC Milan have gained only one point in their last two Serie A home games and could fail to win three such matches in a row for the first time since last April (D2 L2), when the last game in that run was against Sampdoria (1-1).
➤ Sampdoria won 4-0 last time out against Sassuolo, last winning two league matches in a row in November and last keeping successive clean sheets in the competition in May 2021.
➤ Sampdoria have failed to score in each of their last two away league matches, last recording three such games in a row in the competition in May 2018.
➤ AC Milan have had the most shots in Serie A this season following a high turnover (48), twice as many as Sampdoria (24).
➤ Olivier Giroud has scored seven league goals this season, all at the Meazza; among players with 5+ goals in the Big-5 European Leagues, he is one of five players to have scored in only one stadium, alongside Allan Saint-Maximin, Antonio Sanabria, Mattia Aramu and Lorenzo Insigne.
➤ Without Ibrahimovic, AC Milan have not lost a league game this season (W8 D1), with a win percentage of 89% (53% with him – W8 D3 L4).
➤ Antonio Candreva is the Italian midfielder to have been involved in the most goals over the last 10 Serie A campaigns (125, 62 goals and 63 assists) – he had a hand in three goals the last time out against Sassuolo (one goal, two assists), one more than he had in his previous eight top-flight matches (two assists).
Ones to watch
It may seem like a boring answer but it’s clear that Rafael Leao will be the key man for Milan tomorrow afternoon. He has been absolutely fantastic as of late and his partnership with Giroud could prove decisive, given that the Frenchman seemingly just needs one chance to score.
In addition to those two, it will be interesting to see Florenzi in the left-back role. It will obviously be very hard for him to replace Hernandez, but he has slightly different characteristics that might come in handy, such as his vision for the game and passing ability.
As for Sampdoria, it will be exciting to see Giovinco back in the league, having joined the team just a few days ago. Should he start, then his qualities will indeed be tested after so many years in the MLS and the Saudi Arabian league.
It goes without saying that Milan also must keep a close eye on Candreva, who always seems to have a good game against them. When he used to play for Inter, he was really a problem for the Rossoneri.
Milan are flying high from their wins against Inter and Lazio, and that’s why this game could be a bit dangerous. Sampdoria have nothing to lose (although they need to claim points) and the pressure is on Pioli’s men to deliver. With a strong squad available, though, they should be able to do it.
Prediction: AC Milan 2-0 Sampdoria
READ MORE: Pioli assures there was ‘never pessimism at Milanello’ but admits winning makes it easier