Calcio is back, as after three months of lockdown, we pick up from the Coppa Italia semi-final. The first leg all the way back in February ended 1-1 at San Siro, but Milan have a mountain to climb if they are to get the result they need without suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Theo Hernandez and Samu Castillejo.
Juventus have only minor concerns with Gonzalo Higuain and Giorgio Chiellini not fully fit, but Maurizio Sarri seems likely to use a trident with Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo and Douglas Costa. It’s one of the final opportunities for Miralem Pjanic to prove he still belongs in Turin, but Rodrigo Bentancur is the heir apparent.
While Juve focused on the job at hand, the Rossoneri went into this crucial match with their usual brand of self-inflicted chaos. CEO Ivan Gazidis confirmed his semi-hostile takeover of the club by meeting the team at their training ground on Wednesday, in the absence of current-former-who-knows director Paolo Maldini. Sacking Zvonimir Boban the day before their match with Genoa, waiting until two days before the Coppa Italia semi-final to finally speak with the players, reassuring Stefano Pioli he could still save his job while working on personal terms and transfer strategy with Ralf Rangnick, it’s been like a guide on how not to run a football club.
It's no wonder there are reports Ibrahimovic let loose at Gazidis during this tense training ground stand-off. “This is not the Milan it once was,” he is rumoured to have said, and there’s no arguing with him there. For a start, winning the Coppa Italia may well be their best route into Europe, as once again the talk of a top four finish has fallen by the wayside.
Difficulties in the boardroom and problems on the field for il Diavolo. Going into the cauldron to face La Vecchia Signora is a momentous task even at the best of times, but given all the obstacles facing the club, they'll need a minor miracle.
Given the absentees, Pioli has been working all week with a team he hopes can overcome Juve and continue the chase for silverware. A 4-2-3-1 system has reportedly been chosen, with should in theory provide the team with both balance and the unpredictability to allow the attacking midfield trio of Lucas Paqueta, Giacomo Bonaventura and Hakan Calhanoglu to change positions as the game dictates.
It says much about the current state of the club, that two of the three are not guaranteed to even be at Milan come next campaign. Paqueta has according to reports been sharp in training and, should he return to his best, it could either lead to the club keeping him or selling him at somewhere near to the €35m they spent on the Brazilian. Bonaventura is a free agent with the likes of Roma, Torino and former club Atalanta linked.
Croatian Ante Rebic should be at the top of the formation and the hope is that the form which has seen him be one of the few bright spots this year can resume after the long break. The player on a two-year loan from Eintracht Frankfurt has seven goals for the club, including the opener in the first leg of the Coppa Italia against Juve.
Davide Calabria is expected to take over Theo's left-back position, with Andrea Conti on the opposite side, both of them far from reliable at the best of times, let alone facing Ronaldo and co. That could potentially put increased strain on the central midfield pair of Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer, as both players will need to be tactically switched on throughout the game to both cover the full-backs, as well as move the ball forward to the front four.
We yearned for a return to normality with Calcio coming back, so it feels fairly apt that Milan should go into the Coppa Italia semi-final with their now traditional brand of self-inflicted chaos.
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