Milan travel to an out-of-sorts Lazio in desperate need of a win as they look to keep their slim Scudetto hopes alive. With the two sides enduring disappointing results in midweek, it will be a game of massive importance, as both franticly attempt to keep their season’s ambition in sight.
The Rossoneri slipped to an eight point deficit behind arch-rivals and league leaders Inter following Wednesday night’s disappointing home draw to Genoa. The Rossoblu are sat an impressive fourth, just four points behind il Diavolo, but it was two points dropped for the Milan giants, especially after holding a first half lead. It’s just one of many times Carlo Ancelotti’s men have surrendered a lead this campaign, with critics again circling around the Rossoneri defence – which was questioned once more after wilting under the late Genoa pressure. Although it would be harsh for the back line to shoulder all of the responsibility – the much maligned attacking force misfired on the day and failed to trouble the Rossoblu defence. Kaka, whose match-winning display at Bologna last weekend had most declaring his return to form, was largely on the periphery as he struggled to get on the ball and hurt the opposition. This resulted in the lack of any kind of service for the in-from Alexandre Pato, who endured an altogether difficult night, along with his Brazilian team mate. Only David Beckham’s superb free-kick could break the Grifone resistance, with Andrea Pirlo’s two dead-ball efforts, which were denied by the crossbar, the only other notable chances the Rossoneri could muster. A worrying sign for Ancelotti, although credit must go the impressive Rossoblu rear guard.
A concept they will be unlikely to face come the weekend as they prepare to face a Lazio defence that has conceded a staggering 18 goals in their previous eight league outings. A horrible statistic and one that looks likely to end any kind challenge for a European place. Even the goal-shy Sampdoria netted three on their way to a convincing win over Delio Rossi’s men on Wednesday, as the Sky Blues defence capitulated. It will be an area they have to improve on if they are to get anything from Sunday’s match, as Kaka and Pato rarely have two “off-days” on the bounce. And if the hosts continue to defend in the manner that has led to two heavy defeats in a row, then they will find themselves on the wrong end of a hiding and left desperately clinging on to any hope of catching their rivals.
Rossi will however be confident his side can cause the Rossoneri plenty of problems at the other end. His side’s ruthlessness in front of goal has kept them in touch of the top six, with Goran Pandev, Mauro Zarate and Tommaso Rossi all in impressive form this season. A frightening prospect for Ancelotti and his team but if Milan are a team reeling following their late collapse in midweek – the Biancocelesti are in total crisis, encapsulated with the fans venting their frustrations prior to Wednesday’s game.
Ancelotti would be smart to set out to frustrate his opponents on Sunday, as the Aquilotti tifosi will be quick to get on their side’s back following recent disappointments. An early goal for il Diavolo would really test le Aquile character.
The damage Kaka, Pato and Clarence Seedorf can do to any side is devastating (Bologna last weekend proves that), and with the Biancocelesti allowing the likes of Samp and Cagliari to smash three and four past them – the odds seemed stacked in the Rossoneri’s favour with Kaka undoubtedly licking his lips at the prospect of carving open such a disorganized defence.
A word must be said on the fortunes of England’s own David Beckham. Not only has he netted in his last two appearances but he has offered Ancelotti a lot in terms of endeavour, fight and strong tackling. Three traits the irrepressible Gennaro Gattuso indispensably gave the team – a mantle Becks has taken on (to an extent). He may come to play a big part in Milan’s season, for however long that is (I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours).
However, the injured Gattuso has been a major loss not only for his bite and tenacity, but for leaving the creative force of Pirlo lying in a deeper role instead of further up field, influencing the play on the attacking side. A force Milan clearly miss – not that he does a bad job of protecting the back four and spraying passes around from a deeper position, it’s more that Gattuso complements his Italian counterpart, allowing the midfield maestro to dictate the game and supply the forwards with defence splitting passes. Beckham and Massimo Ambrosini just aren’t suited to anchoring the midfield, so Pirlo is forced to a more defensive position, affecting the whole team.
The Rossoneri will be expecting to dominate the midfield area so Becks will again be pivotal come Sunday. Though it won’t be the England star who Rossi will be worried about – he has the pressing matter of keeping Kaka, Pato, Seedorf and Ronaldinho (albeit probably off the bench) at bay. A daunting task for an error-prone and unconvincing defence – Kaka and co. just might have a field day.