Serie A Preview: Empoli v. AC Milan

Date: Saturday, January 23, 2016

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

League Position: Milan (6), Empoli (8)

Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli, Italy

Alright well, that was a pleasant surprise. Bookended by two nice finishes, Milan set out with a clear gameplan against Fiorentina and executed it to near perfection. Maybe Mihajlovic is figuring some things out lately, but it’s going to take many more similar results for Milan to hoist themselves back up into European contention.

La Viola outpossessed, outpassed, and outshot us as expected on Sunday, but just one of those shots was on target. A further 8 were wide of the goal and 5 were blocked by Milan defenders. The Rossoneri were far more economical: 4 shots, 3 on target, 2 in the back of the net.

It will be interesting to see if the manager employs similar tactics against Empoli, whose major statistics are far more comparable to Milan’s, or if he will change gears and try to turn the screws a bit more. Away from home, I’d be more than happy with another workmanlike 2-0 victory thankyouverymuch.

Right Bacca at you, Carlos.

Right Bacca at you, Carlos.

Tale of the Tape

Milan: DDWLDW
Empoli: WWWLWD

Usually I like to give the lowdown on who has the set piece advantage. Tough to do that this time around while Empoli and Milan have both scored 7 goals from set pieces and both have conceded 8. (I’ll give us the aerial advantage though, we have 7 headed goals to their 4).

And that’s not where the similarities end. Both average close to 50% possession per match, create about 10 chances per match, we’ve scored just two more goals than Empoli, and we’ve conceded just one less than them. Not difficult to see why they’re just one point back of the Rossoneri, or for the pessimists, why we are only one point ahead of the relative newcomers.

One key stat could be dribbling ability. Empoli win the battle 70% of the time one of their players takes on an opponent on the dribble, while we sit just above 50%. Empoli aren’t necessarily the type of squad to patiently break a team down, and neither are we, but they appear to have been more successful so far at powerful, direct attacks on opposing defenses. They have one player you might recognize who is particularly adept at this…

Missing Pieces

Milan are missing just the ghosts of Menez and Diego Lopez, and bit players this season Mexes and Ely.

Empoli on the other hand are without top choice CB Andrea Costa, and frequently used midfielder Leandro Paredes is suspended.

Possible Line-up

Donnarumma

Abate – Alex – Romagnoli – Antonelli

Honda – Kucka – Bertolacci – Bonaventura

Bacca – Niang

I remain in the “No Montolivo” camp this week, although I’ll be honest that Bertolacci’s not impressing me all that much either, and the captain was solid against Fiorentina. Still I have Kucka partnering Bert in the center on Saturday flanked by a rejuvenated Honda and ever-ready Jack Bonaventura.

Abate and Antonelli seem to be first choice at fullback. I’m among the few who like Ignazio it seems, but even I can see why others are so frustrated by him. De Sciglio has had chances to make that spot his and just hasn’t taken them. Alex and Romagnoli appear of course, and it’s been nice to have some consistency in all areas of the pitch at least as far as squad selection is concerned.

Bacca’s cemented in the first XI, Niang may need to start being more productive with a healthy Mario and other attacking options possibly on the way.

Not always among the goals, but often among the action.

Not always among the goals, but often among the action.

What to Watch for:

Danger Man – It’s obvious isn’t it? Gotta be our old pal Ricky Saponara, having a hell of a season for Empoli. 5 goals, 6 assists and plenty of running as always, the tireless 24-year old is the key piece of Marco Giampaolo’s attack. His driving, powerful runs put defenses into a frenzy and while perhaps not the most gifted passer he can get the job done in and around the area. And of course, there’s always that little bit of extra motivation against a team that never gave you the chance you (and many others) feel you deserved.

Game Plan – Hate to sound like a broken record but I am very interested to see exactly how Mihajlovic sets the team up for this match. It seems to me that all of our strengths align well with a counterattacking game plan which forgoes consistent possession for more open, high percentage attacking chances. And against a team like Fiorentina that was almost the natural way to play. But against an Empoli team that also doesn’t care as much for holding onto the ball, and likes to catch teams on the fast break themselves, one team may find itself playing a style that just doesn’t suit them. I fear that may be us, as we can still sometimes go into these matches with a “shark v. minnow” mentality, but the reality is that we’ve had much more success lately as a patient, opportunistic side than we have when we attempt to be the dominating force.

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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