Having struggled to beat nine-man opponents at the weekend, AC Milan return to action on Tuesday, as they host mid-table Torino at San Siro.
While their late win at Bologna temporarily took the unbeaten Rossoneri top of the Serie A standings, Il Toro posted their first win in five games to creep closer to the top half.
Following more Champions League misery in midweek, Milan visited Emilia-Romagna on Saturday with the aim of maintaining a superb start to their domestic campaign, which has kept them at the front of the pack in the early stages of the Scudetto race.
However, Stefano Pioli’s absence-hit side threw away a two-goal half-time lead, with their hosts already down to 10 men. The recently returned Zlatan Ibrahimovic inadvertently turned in Bologna’s first, and the Dall’Ara was sent wild with delight when they found an equaliser soon after.
With Roberto Soriano’s sending-off then reducing Bologna to nine, the three points were salvaged when Ismael Bennacer put Milan back ahead in the 84th minute, before Ibrahimovic netted at the right end to seal the deal.
Such a comeback was required for the second successive weekend, as Pioli’s men were forced to claw their way back from two goals down against Verona to win their previous league game.
Now, with their injury and illness list showing few signs of abating, Milan must kick off a fortnight of potentially season-defining significance with a fixture versus one of their favourite opponents of recent times: Torino crumbled to a humiliating 7-0 defeat when the sides last met in May, and the Rossoneri also knocked them out of last year’s Coppa Italia on penalties.
They therefore start as hot favourites on Tuesday evening – having also won five Serie A games on the spin – but must capitalise on their apparent superiority, as they next visit Roma, before hosting Porto in a last-gasp attempt to keep their European hopes alive, and then old foes Inter in the Derby della Madonnina.
Previously unable to record a victory since the middle of September, despite a late fightback from their visitors, Torino finally earned a welcome three points on Friday night.
Their 3-2 win over lowly Spezia followed a tough run of fixtures, in which the Granata faced Lazio, Napoli and city rivals Juventus in three of their last four outings.
Antonio Sanabria – selected ahead of Italy striker Andrea Belotti by strong-willed coach Ivan Juric – and Tommaso Pobega gave Torino a two-goal cushion at the interval, but only Josip Brekalo’s 77th-minute strike effectively put the game out of reach for the away side.
The Turin outfit have sharpened up at the back this term, and are among the teams to have conceded the fewest shots on their goal in Serie A so far – a stark improvement compared to previous seasons, where they were renowned as one of the worst defensive sides on the peninsula.
Juric’s influence is surely responsible for such an uplift, considering the personnel remains largely unchanged, but the Croatian coach will face another stiff challenge to his rearguard on Tuesday, as Torino have leaked 14 goals to Milan across their last five league and cup encounters.
AC Milan Serie A form:
AC Milan form (all competitions):
Torino Serie A form:
We say: AC Milan 1-1 Torino
Milan may run out of steam amid a hectic three weeks of action between international breaks, and taking their eye off the ball is a distinct possibility with greater challenges lying ahead.
As the Rossoneri have not convinced since injury and illness started to ravage their fluent first-choice side, Torino can take advantage and steal a point home to Turin if they are clear-headed enough on the break.