Serie A Preview: AC Milan v. Empoli

Date: Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kickoff: 2:45 PM ET (USA) / 20:45 CET (ITA)

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy

Starting the Serie A season away at Fiorentina was always going to be difficult, but since they went down to ten men early on it’s very hard still to have a good read on what this Milan team is and what it can potentially be. What it has to be is better than Empoli, who visit the San Siro this weekend.

Empoli took a point from the Rossoneri in both meetings last season in matches where both the home sides ended up with a man disadvantage. Without intending any disrespect to Empoli (as if any Empoli fans are reading this), they are team that Milan must beat if we are to take seriously any talk of this being a rejuvenated team. In past years this would have been a nice, soft landing after a tough opener, but Mihajlovic surely knows that even this early victory is important in front of the home fans.

Tale of the Tape

Both sides dropped their opener but not all losses are created equally. While the Rossoneri fell in Florence, their visitors this week were undone at home by Chievo. Valter Birsa scored on them you guys. Valter Birsa. Time for Milan’s new strikers to get it going.

Milan received 13 red cards last season, leading Serie A, and opened their account this campaign with a clumsy second yellow from Ely. Honestly not exactly sure what to make of that except that it’s killing us! Discipline definitely something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Milan failed to record a shot on target (9 attempts) in round 1. Chievo managed 4 on target in 14, scoring once through ex-Milan man Saponara. In fact, they largely outplayed Chievo with higher possession and passing percentage along with more shots and corners. But they were blitzed with three goals in about 8 minutes early in the second half and couldn’t recover.

Empoli had a putrid away record last season (Milan’s wasn’t much better) and won just one of their final 13 away matches. Hopefully the trend continues for a Milan team that needs the San Siro to be a fortress once again.

Defend the wall!

Defend the wall!

Missing Pieces

Ely serves the suspension he earned last weekend while the French trio of Mexes, Menez, and Niang remain out injured.

Empoli are missing just Vincent Luarini, an occasional choice in defense.

Possible Line-up

Diego Lopez

Abate – Alex – Romagnoli – Antonelli

Mauri Suso – De Jong – Bonaventura

Bertolacci

Luiz Adriano – Bacca

I advocated for starting the two young center backs last week, and I’d do it again if Ely was available. You can’t whine for youth all the time and then get irate when they make mistakes. The second yellow was questionable but definitely clumsy and penalties happen. Romagnoli had a solid enough game otherwise, and we are not spoiled for choice whenit comes to his partner. I’m not sure why we shipped Paletta out, as I thought he’d be our best option, but assuming he’s fit I guess i’ll go with Alex. He will stay put mostly and is strong enough in the air. Zapata too prone to error himself for me.

De Sciglio has got to show me something very soon. I know a lot of people aren’t high on Abate either but he started hot last season and was consistently better in my opinion, even if not by a wide margin. Antonelli slots in on the other side.

Something has got to change in this midfield. We certainly have some choices there, but the right combination is still eluding Milan management. I didn’t say they were all good choices necessarily, but I think something serviceable can be cobbled out of this squad. I remove Honda, through no real fault of his own really, and but Bertolacci behind the strikers to see what he can do. I also want to see more creativity and threat in the middle, so young Mauri Suso would fit in along side De Jong and Bonaventura.

Tough start for the two new strikers, and now with a certain Liverpool loanee in the picture both will be hungry to score. I’d be comforted greatly to see one of these guys make himself a goal (or two!) while this midfield maybe gets sorted.

Oh, hello there.

Oh, hello there.

What to Watch for:

Danger Man: It has to be Saponara doesn’t it? In addition to being the only goalscorer appearing for either side here in round 2, players always want to put in a good display against their old employer. I’d imagine one who probably, and rightfully, doesn’t think he got much of a shot at that old employer would be even more motivated to shine. We saw flashes of his quality in our brief time with him and he did score seven times last year. He’s a key man now for Empoli and it will be interesting to watch him continue to develop as a young player.

New Players: Especially new, old players. He’s back everyone! And while Mario has promised to be less “entertaining” he’s certainly a galvanizing force. We can only pray he’s a positive one. Or how about a neutral one. I’d take that. Kucka was announced during my writing of this post. He’s a decent player but I’m not sure he’ll solve our midfield woes any more than our current crop will. Still, he should be familiar with old pals Antonelli and Bertolacci, and will presumably get opportunities to prove he’s the man for the job.

About Dave Lamb

Dave Lamb is a lifelong Milan supporter, public school teacher, and aspiring stand-up comedian living in Boston. You can follow him on twitter @DaveLambComedy

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