AC Milan host Atalanta at San Siro on Sunday in a Serie A clash between two sides who are enduring indifferent starts to the season.
From their three league games so far, Milan have won one, drawn one and lost one. It has certainly not been the start that Gennaro Gattuso would have hoped to see from his side following another summer of change at San Siro, and the Italian will hope to see improvements this weekend.
Atalanta arrive in Milan just one place below their hosts on Sunday in 14th and level on points with their counterparts. Like the Rossoneri, Atalanta have struggled for consistency so far, losing twice in their first four Serie A games, with one win and one draw also chalked up.
Sunday’s match is an opportunity for both sides to kickstart their stuttering early form and begin the catch up with those already breaking clear of them in the ascendancy in the table.
Milan’s opening match of the campaign provided further evidence of how far off the top teams in Serie A the Rossoneri have fallen, as Gattuso’s side slipped to a 3-2 defeat away to last season’s runners-up Napoli.
They responded in a strong manner, however, with a 2-1 defeat of Roma the following week, courtesy of a 95th-minute winner from Patrick Cutrone. Their domestic progress has since been halted, however, as Milan were held to a 1-1 draw away to Cagliari.
A narrow 1-0 win over Dudelange in the Europa League on Thursday night got Milan back to winning ways, but also suggested that there is still much work to be done by Gattuso’s side.
Atalanta, meanwhile, began their Serie A campaign in more positive fashion with an impressive 4-0 win over Frosinone before securing a hard-fought 3-3 draw away to Roma the following week.
A succession of defeats have followed, however, with back-to-back deficits to Cagliari and SPAL grinding Atalanta’s momentum to a halt with 1-0 and 2-0 defeats respectively. Gian Piero Gasperini’s side will be anxious to avoid a third successive defeat when they travel to the San Siro on Sunday.
If the previous meeting between the two sides is anything to go by, Sunday’s match could prove to be another occasion full of big incidents.
In a dramatic encounter between Atalanta and Milan at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia in May, the home side produced a stunning late equaliser from Andrea Masiello in the 92nd minute to cancel out Franck Kessie’s opening goal on the hour mark as the teams drew 1-1.
The drama was not limited to the goals, however, as both sides had a player sent off. Rafael Toloi was dismissed for the home side in the second half, before Riccardo Montolivo saw red for Milan just over ten minutes later in the match.
Both sides will be seeking greater control over proceedings in search of a much-needed win on Sunday.
Duvan Zapata vs Gonzalo Higuain
Having scored the winner as Milan beat Dudelange 1-0 in the Europa League on Thursday, summer signing Gonzalo Higuain will undoubtedly be the danger man for the home side on Sunday, with the Argentine star set to provide Milan’s primary goal threat.
Atalanta have a known marksman of their own, however, in the form of Colombian striker Duvan Zapata, who will fancy his chances of using his physicality and experience to trouble an inconsistent Milan defence which has struggled for stability this season.
The departure of Leonardo Bonucci has left Gattuso’s defence short of leadership and composure, and Zapata will certainly have the chance to exploit any deficiencies at the heart of the home side’s rearguard.
The central component of the away side’s defence from last season has also moved on, however, as Mattia Caldara, who was on loan at Atalanta last term from Juventus, joined their opponents on Sunday from the champions during the summer as part of the deal which saw Bonucci return to Turin from Milan after one season at the San Siro.
In essence, Sunday’s game could be decided by which side’s main man up front is able to cause more damage to the opposition’s weakened defence.
Milan’s ranks will be shortened by three absences on Sunday, with Riccardo Montolivo the highest profile injury victim in Gattuso’s side, while full backs Andrea Conti and Ivan Strinic are also sidelined for the weekend.
Atalanta, meanwhile, will travel to Milan short of one defensive option of their own, with centre back Marco Varnier absent. The 20-year-old is still recovering from a cruciate ligament rupture suffered in July.
Though both sides are in similar need of the win, the pressure on Milan to deliver a league victory will be greater as Gattuso’s side look to push up in the table, and the home comforts of San Siro should see the Rossoneri take control of Sunday’s match.
Gonzalo Higuain’s goal in midweek should have provided added confidence that Milan have the necessary firepower to earn the three points, with defensive frailties the primary concern which must be rectified to secure a victory this weekend.
Prediction: AC Milan 2-1 Atalanta