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Preview: AC Milan vs. Roma - prediction, team news, lineups
06/01/2022 13:42:10

Seeking to keep pace with the league leaders in Serie A, second-placed AC Milan resume their campaign after the halfway break with a challenging clash against Roma.

Though inconsistency crept into a creaking squad just before the interval, the Rossoneri are still within four points of city rivals Inter, while their capital counterparts won two of their last three games in 2021 to hang onto sixth in the standings.

We say: AC Milan 2-1 Roma

Milan average over two goals per game in the league this term, and have a number of their attacking stars back in action for Serie A's resumption.

They can, therefore, take advantage of the defensive flaws which have undermined Roma outside of the capital, and start 2022 with a morale-boosting win.

Match preview

Having narrowly lost to Scudetto rivals Napoli the previous weekend, Milan were glad to wrap up a rollercoaster year with a win just before the break, as they saw off an enterprising Empoli side 4-2 in an eventful encounter at Stadio Carlo Castellani.

A run of four defeats in eight games since November's Derby della Madonnina had seen Stefano Pioli's side hauled back into third - after they had topped the table following Napoli's fall from grace - but a brace by Franck Kessie, who by necessity featured in a more advanced role, helped them to return to second spot at the turn of the year.

Indeed, 2021 had started with the Rossoneri leading the pack as 'Winter Champions', before fading away in the spring, so Pioli will hope his young squad are able to reverse that trend this term.

With their win in Tuscany, Milan become only the second team in Serie A history to achieve at least 17 away victories in a calendar year, but ahead of Roma's visit this week, their home record is just the seventh-best in the division.

The Rossoneri have lost two of their last three home games in the top flight - as many as they had suffered in their previous 13 - so will be pleased to see a number of more experienced players returning to fitness at the start of a hectic period.

While the next month encompasses the start of their Coppa Italia campaign and high-profile clashes with Juventus and Inter, it starts against a side they beat 2-1 earlier this season.

The frustration felt by Roma fans after their team's draw with Sampdoria to close out an underwhelming year summed up the club's lack of consistency, coming just days after an unexpected 4-1 win over Atalanta.

That victory over a direct top-four rival was the Giallorossi's second success on the bounce, following two previous losses, so ending the season's first half sixth - just two points shy of fifth-placed Juve, and six behind Atalanta in the final Champions League berth - was something of a consolation for coach Jose Mourinho.

In keeping with the trend established by his Portuguese predecessor Paulo Fonseca, the former Chelsea boss has maintained an impressive home record since taking charge, by winning six of their league fixtures as hosts; keeping five clean sheets in the process.

However, before they travel north to the second city, the capital club have fared far worse on the road: losing five of their nine away matches so far, plus suffering that already infamous 6-1 thrashing at Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League.

Indeed, in 2021, a brittle Roma side lost a total of 12 away games in Serie A, and only in both 1949 and 1950 have they suffered more in a calendar year. Mourinho and company will, then, be determined to combat that weakness in the coming months, but they start with a particularly tough task.

Team News

A fortnight's rest and recovery has aided Milan's cause significantly, as they have been able to reintegrate the attacking trio of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Rafael Leao (bicep) and Ante Rebic (muscular), who all joined training earlier this week following injury and are expected to feature on Thursday.

Appointed captain earlier this term, Davide Calabria has also returned from a spell on the sidelines and will contest a place at right-back with his Italy colleague Alessandro Florenzi, but Ismael Bennacer, Franck Kessie and Fode Ballo-Toure are all representing their countries at the Africa Nations Cup and will be away for at least a fortnight.

In the absence of both Bennacer and Kessie, Sandro Tonali should join Tiemoue Bakayoko in the midfield pairing which knits together Stefano Pioli's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. However, the club have announced that another unnamed player has tested positive for COVID-19 and will join reserve goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu in self-isolation.

Roma, meanwhile, have not confirmed their current cases of the virus, but Borja Mayoral, Chris Smalling and Daniel Fuzato are believed to be the three men who are positive, and the trio will not travel to San Siro.

Midfielders Ebrima Darboe and Amadou Diawara are both on Africa Cup of Nations duty for at least the next fortnight, but were unlikely to start in any case.

The visitors do, though, welcome back captain Lorenzo Pellegrini to the side after an injury layoff during December, and he should start in support of Nicolo Zaniolo and top scorer Tammy Abraham up front.

AC Milan possible starting lineup:

Maignan; Florenzi, Tomori, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Bakayoko, Tonali; Messias, Diaz, Saelemaekers; Ibrahimovic

Roma possible starting lineup:

Patricio; Kumbulla, Mancini, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Veretout, Cristante, Pellegrini, Vina; Zaniolo, Abraham

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