Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 23/20
The race for the top four spots in the Serie A, which all warrant a place in the Champions League next term, is heating up by the week. On Friday evening, AC Milan will have to do whatever they can not to lose any ground when they take the trip to Udine, to face Udinese at the Stadio Friuli. The match will be played within round 27 of the Italian top flight.
Udinese might’ve hoped to be involved in this race in the early stages of the campaign, when their form had them very close to the top for a while. However, things in such surroundings got a bit too hot for them at one point, and they quickly slid down to the middle ranges of the table.
At the moment, Andrea Sottil’s team are in 11th place with 35 points, with a comfortable 16-point cushion separating them from the relegation zone, and just eight away from Atalanta in sixth. Were the competition in the upper regions of the table slightly less fierce, they would perhaps stand a chance of playing in one of the lesser UEFA competitions. As it is, staying in the middle, surrounded by the likes of Torino (8th, 37 points), Bologna (9th, 36), Sassuolo (10th, 36 points from 27 games played already), Fiorentina (12th, 34) and Monza (13th, 33), is arguably a fair expectation. Their Coppa Italia campaign stopped after the second round, Monza being the team to get the better of them.
Udinese won just one of their last six outings, the last one, beating Empoli away by 0-1. Before that, they lost 1-0 away to Torino, drew 2-2 at home against Sassuolo, lost 3-1 away to Inter Milan, drew 2-2 at home against Spezia, and drew 0-0 away to Atalanta.
Winger Gerard Delofeu, who spent the second half of 2016/17 playing for Milan on loan from Everton, and centre-back Enzo Ebosse, are long-term absentees through serious knee problems. The rest of the squad should be at Sottil’s disposal for this game.
With Marco Silvestri in goal, the trio of Rodrigo Becao, Jaka Bijol and Nehuen Perez will likely form the back line. Walace, Tolgay Arslan and Sandi Lovric will be fighting the battles in the middle of the park, flanked by Kingsley Ehizibue on the right and Destiny Udogie on the left, while captain Roberto Pereyra supports striker Beto in attack.
As for the Rossoneri, their title defence has gone beyond recall with Napoli running away with it; the sky-blues from Naples are 18 points ahead of second-place Inter, and Milan now have to look to secure another season in the Champions League. At the moment, they’re sitting in that priceless fourth place with 48 points, two less than city rivals Inter, one less than third-place Lazio, and just one more than AS Roma in fifth. Atalanta seem to be drifting away right now, with 42 points and 0-1 down at halftime against Empoli at the time of writing. So, it’ll probably come down to a race between Inter, Lazio, Milan and Roma for the three Champions League spots apart from that belonging to Napoli.
Speaking of UEFA’s elite competition, Stefano Pioli’s men are enjoying a fine campaign there right now. Having navigated their way through a group containing Chelsea, RB Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb, by finishing second to the Premier League team, they’ve managed to edge past Tottenham Hotspur in the round of 16. They will now face none other than Napoli in the quarterfinals, with the first leg set to take place on April 12th at San Siro. They’ll face the league leaders three times that month.
As for their current form, Milan won three, drew two and lost one of their last six matches in all competitions. First they beat Spurs 1-0 at home in the first leg, with Brahim Diaz scoring what turned out to have been the only goal of the whole tie. Then they beat Monza away by 0-1, and Atalanta at home by 2-0, before losing 2-1 away to Fiorentina, drawing 0-0 in the second leg against Spurs, and drawing 1-1 at home against Salernitana.
Striker Olivier Giroud is suspended for this match, and it’ll be interesting to see if Pioli goes with 41-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who lacks match fitness at the moment, or out-of-favour Divock Origi to replace the Frenchman. Alternatively, Ante Rebic, who usually plays out wide, could step in as a makeshift striker.
Attacking midfielder Junior Messias is injured.
Mike Maignan will stand between the posts. Fikayo Tomori, Pierre Kalulu and Malick Thiaw are expected to play in defence. Davide Calabria and Theo Hernandez should play as the wing-backs, flanking Ismael Bennacer and Sandro Tonali in the middle of the park. Whatever Pioli decides regarding his central attacker – Ibrahimovic, Origi or Rebic – Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao are the most likely candidates to start on the attacking flanks.
After two consecutive winless games in the league, things have gone far enough when it comes to Milan dropping valuable points.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 23/20