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Preview: AC Milan vs. Napoli - prediction, team news, lineups
19/12/2021 16:01:20

After both clubs were recently toppled from the summit of Serie A, second-placed AC Milan and Napoli - who sit fourth - convene in a classic Calcio fixture at San Siro.

While Milan remain adrift of their city rivals despite Zlatan Ibrahimovic's late heroics last weekend, their southern counterparts have picked up just one point from their last three league matches amid an ongoing injury crisis.

We say: AC Milan 1-1 Napoli

In what is sure to be an intensely-contested affair, a low-scoring draw could be the outcome, with both sides still diminished by injuries up front.

Milan have won six from eight on home soil in Serie A this term, but Napoli have held the edge over them during recent years, and can use their counter-attacking pace and interplay to snatch a point.

Match preview

With a customary bicycle kick in stoppage time, Milan's ever-reliable talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck to salvage a point last time out for the Rossoneri, who looked set to fall to another disappointing defeat.

Losses against Fiorentina and Sassuolo in recent weeks - plus having their Champions League exit confirmed by a 2-1 reverse at Anfield - had stopped Stefano Pioli's men in their tracks, but the 1-1 draw with Udinese at least temporarily moved them two points clear at the top of the Serie A standings.

Though Inter's subsequent wins saw their old foes replace them at the top of the pile, Milan remain well placed as the season's halfway point approaches. There are two fixtures to fulfil before that stage is reached and the brief respite of the winter break can be enjoyed, so last season's runners-up must first take care of a couple of tricky customers.

Before visiting surprise package Empoli in their final game of a rollercoaster 2021 - during which they seemed to have the Scudetto in their grasp before meekly surrendering it to Inter, then started the current campaign in red-hot form - the Rossoneri tackle their bogey team on Sunday night.

Milan have won only one of their last 13 encounters with Napoli in the top flight, losing seven times in the process. Indeed, they have not beaten their fellow title contenders at San Siro since 2014, including a 1-0 loss there last March.

Nevertheless, having experienced a rare midweek away from the intensity of first-team action, Pioli and company - who were this week matched up with old boy Andriy Shevchenko and his Genoa side in next month's Coppa Italia third round - will be keen to capitalise by beating a faltering away side.

Almost within the blink of an eye, it seems, Napoli have not only seen their long-held unbeaten start to the campaign torn up, but also find themselves back in the pack at the top end of the Serie A standings, where they now sit fourth.

After a stunning start to life at Stadio Maradona, lately Luciano Spalletti has been beset by a series of injuries to integral players, which has taken its toll on a thinly-staffed squad by comparison with Inter's.

The Partenopei's latest setback came last weekend, when they were beaten 1-0 by Empoli despite firing in a total of 30 shots on their plucky visitors' goal. Though split by a vital Europa League victory over Leicester City, which helped them progress to the next stage in Europe, that means that Napoli have lost both of their last two domestic games, having previously taken nothing from an enthralling encounter with Atalanta.

In fact, since the beginning of November, the Campanian outfit have picked up just five league points - placing them 16th in the table for that period - which gives Spalletti cause for serious concern.

Before the second half of the campaign kicks off in the new year - when they will go on to meet Barcelona in the Europa League and Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia - Napoli will seek to get back on track with a positive return from Sunday's clash and the subsequent visit of struggling Spezia.

Team News

After becoming just the third man since the turn of the century to net 300 goals in Europe's top five leagues last weekend, the tireless Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be called upon once more by Stefano Pioli, whose other striking options are thin on the ground.

Milan currently have Ante Rebic, Rafael Leao and Pietro Pellegri sidelined, but Olivier Giroud recently returned to training and should start on the bench.

Simon Kjaer will be missing for several months following reconstructive ACL surgery, so Fikayo Tomori continues to partner Alessio Romagnoli at the heart of the back four. Pioli is expected to bolster his defensive options next month, when he could potentially recall on-loan Mattia Caldara from Venezia as cover.

Meanwhile, Napoli's injury problems show few signs of abating, as Lorenzo Insigne, Fabian Ruiz and Kalidou Koulibaly have all been undergoing individual training programmes and are unlikely to feature this weekend.

The Azzurri also have top scorer Victor Osimhen out of action until 2022 due to a cheekbone injury, but both Mario Rui and Stanislav Lobotka were able to undertake full training and will be available to Luciano Spalletti.

Piotr Zielinski is also poised to be passed fit after suffering from respiratory problems during last week's match, but Kostas Manolas will not play for the club again having agreed a return to Greece with Olympiakos.

Without Koulibaly and Manolas, Amir Rrahmani will join Juan Jesus in central defence, while Dries Mertens deputises for Osimhen up front.

AC Milan possible starting lineup:

Maignan; Kalulu, Tomori, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Tonali, Kessie; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Messias; Ibrahimovic

Napoli possible starting lineup:

Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Rui; Demme, Anguissa; Politano, Zielinski, Lozano; Mertens

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