Preview: Hellas Verona vs. AC Milan

Preview: Hellas Verona vs. AC Milan

As the Scudetto contest boils down to an absorbing battle between two Milanese rivals, AC Milan have the chance to reclaim first place on Sunday evening, when they visit Hellas Verona.

After Inter went a point clear at the top with victory on Friday, the Rossoneri – seeking a first Serie A title in over a decade – can assume the summit before the last two games with at least a draw at Stadio Bentegodi.

Having watched on as defending champions Inter fought back from two goals down to beat Empoli, Milan are now intent on regaining the initiative by winning their penultimate away game of an eventful campaign.

With a 19th national title theirs to lose with just three games left to play, the Rossoneri have not been crowned champions for 11 years, so the pressure on a relatively young squad’s shoulders is intense.

Stefano Pioli’s side followed a stoppage-time victory over Lazio with last week’s late Rafael Leao winner against Fiorentina to stay on track for the title, and the Portuguese winger’s 82nd-minute strike at San Siro brought a collective sigh of relief from the club’s long-suffering fans.

Another win on Sunday would effectively see Milan three points to the good, due to a superior head-to-head league record against their Nerazzurro rivals, who knocked them out of the Coppa Italia in last month’s semi-finals.

If they are to hang on over the closing weeks, it may well be a rock-solid defence which gets them over the line. Conceding just eight goals in 15 league games since the turn of the year – including clean sheets in each of their last four home fixtures in Serie A – has helped Pioli’s men inch ever closer to Calcio’s ultimate prize.

Indeed, only Champions League finalists Liverpool currently boast a longer unbeaten run than Milan throughout the top five European leagues, and a total of 13 games without defeat sees the Rossoneri sitting on 77 points so far.

The last time they accumulated at least that many after 35 Serie A matches was back in 2011 – the season of their last Scudetto.

Having lost their last two home games against Milan, Verona also squandered a two-goal lead in October’s reverse fixture – losing 3-2 at San Siro – so their recent record in this fixture is far from positive.

Nonetheless, the Scaligeri will again aim to win successive Serie A matches for the first time since January this weekend, following last week’s defeat of Cagliari; they have yet to repeat the same result in the past 13 league games, making them Calcio’s kings of inconsistency.

The three points earned by first-half goals from productive pair Antonin Barak and Gianluca Caprari keeps the Veneto outfit safely inside the top half of the table by a margin of six from Sassuolo, who occupy 11th, so Igor Tudor’s first season in charge is set to conclude with his primary objective met.

Having taken the reins early in the season with Hellas in a state of disarray, Tudor’s well-drilled side have now suffered just two losses from their last 10 Serie A fixtures – both of which were against teams then in contention for the title – and should surpass last year’s finish of 10th.

Generally faring better on home soil this term, Verona now face back-to-back fixtures at the Bentegodi, before their campaign concludes with a trip to Lazio, who are likely to be seeking points for European qualification.

Given the impressive output of Barak, Caprari and star striker Giovanni Simeone this term, they will surely fancy their chances of springing a surprise or two, to sign off in style.

Hellas Verona Serie A form:
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AC Milan Serie A form:
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AC Milan form (all competitions):
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We say: Hellas Verona 1-2 AC Milan
With such a reliable front three, Verona should be fancied to break down even Milan’s steadfast back four at some stage, but that may not prove enough to taste victory at the final whistle, given their visitors have lost only a single Serie A away game.

The Rossoneri have not been prolific of late, but having Ibrahimovic back on the bench offers an invaluable option to mix things up if the game remains deadlocked in the tense final stages.

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