Serie A Preview: Sassuolo v. Milan

Date: Sunday, March 6, 2016

Kickoff: 9:00 AM ET (USA)  /  15:00 CET (ITA)

League Position: Milan (6), Sassuolo (7)

Mapei Stadium, Reggio Emilia, Italy

After the results went our way last round Milan now sit just one point back of Inter and the fifth position, and perhaps more surprisingly just 6 points back of third place. Now, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but it’s nice to be this deep into the season and still have every match be of real, vital importance.

Milan also qualified for the Coppa Italia final for the first time since 2003 (when they won it) during the midweek with a convincing victory over plucky Alessandria. But there’s no rest to be had as a difficult to beat, seventh place Sassuolo side welcomes the Rossoneri this weekend.

Match winner.

Match winner.

Tale of the Tape

Last 6 Serie A matches:

Milan: WWDWDW
Sassuolo: DLDDWW

Milan’s unbeaten run is now nine matches long, while Sassuolo come into this match off back to back wins over Empoli and Lazio.

The Rossoneri have never won at the Mapei Stadium, and Sassuolo have lost just twice at home this season. They have, however, conceded at least two goals in their four most recent home matches.

For the second straight week both teams in this contest have been very good at scoring from free kicks (10 for Milan, 9 for Sassuolo), and varying degrees of poor at defending them (9 conceded for Milan, 7 for Sassuolo).

One sign that Milan’s consistent line-up is gelling together is the drop in our average number of long balls per match. With 66, we currently sit in 15th in the league statistically, where for long stretches of the past few seasons we’ve been the unfortunate kings of that hill.

Honestly there’s not much to separate these two sides statistically at the moment, offensively or defensively. Milan have slightly more average possession and pass accuracy, but it’s really just a few more goals scored that has us six points ahead of the hosts in the table.

Missing Pieces

I’m not sure if Montolivo will be missing or not as I’m seeing different reports in different places. One thing I know is that very few of you will miss him should he be unable to go. Luiz Adriano’s injury means he can’t take advantage of Niang’s, while Diego Lopez, Mexes, and Ely remain unavailable through injury as well. It’s a shame the in-form Abate will be out as well, but his suspension might be a blessing in disguise, providing some rest for the oft-injured fullback.

Sassuolo are at basically full strength with just midfield option Laribi missing for the Neroverdi.

Possible Line-up

Donnarumma

De Sciglio – Alex – Romagnoli – Antonelli

Honda – Kucka – Bertolacci – Bonaventura

Balotelli – Bacca

The squad has stayed pretty consistent over the last few weeks, to which I would partially attribute our unbeaten run. But with injuries and suspensions Mihajlovic has some choices to make this round, some tougher than others.

Abate has a pretty natural replacement in De Sciglio. While the youngster has been largely disappointing he does get to play on his preferred side here with the veteran absent, so hopefully he can flash some of the talent that got him so hyped up in the first place. The rest of the back line remains intact with Torino-conqueror Antonelli on the other flank.

I’m still not a Bertolacci devotee but I’m willing to be convinced. I (and many of you) would still like to see Mauri some more but it’s doubtful that occurs in this match. So the Genoa connection remains central while Honda and Jack keep doing their thing on the outside.

Bacca is a given, but the question of his partner is truly up in the air. Neither one of Balotelli, Menez, or Boateng are truly fit, so I imagine we’ll see some platooning at this poisition both during this match and in the coming weeks. Menez showed he still has the scoring touch in the Coppa Italia, but Balotelli showed the desire Mihajlovic asked of him, bagging a goal himself. I’ll choose Mario this week, because we know he can change a game in an instant, and provided he actually decides to do some running, I think he might still be the most ready to start on Sunday.

Super Mario is technically Japanese too if you think about it.

Super Mario is technically Japanese too if you think about it.

What to Watch for:

Danger Man – Really, it can only be Berardi, right? Even with a bum ankle, even with only six goals this season (tied with Defrel for tops on the team), he’s the one who strikes fear in Milanisti hearts. The young man has a motor, and the versatility to be effective all over the field. He’s got a temper too, and the juxtaposition of he and Balotelli on opposing strikeforces  is a point of intrigue in this match.

Bacca and…? – Speaking of Mario, M’Baye Niang’s unfortunate accident came at the worst possible time for the young Frenchman, and I would argue for his potential replacements also. None of the other strikers on staff besides Bacca are fully fit, and with a midfield that still struggles to generate opportunities at times, the Colombian really had relied on his partner for a significant amount of service. So one of these guys with fitness questions is going to get a tryout this week and it looks like it will be Balotelli. Would be hard to judge any of them fairly after such a long time since they saw substantial Serie A action, but something tells me they’ll all be on a fairly short leash if they fail to make an immediate impact.

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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