Seeking to bounce back immediately from derby defeat in the Coppa Italia, AC Milan’s pursuit of the Scudetto continues on Sunday night, against Lazio.
The Rossoneri arrive at Stadio Olimpico having seen a 13-match unbeaten run ended by arch-rivals Inter, while their hosts have won four of their last six Serie A games to stay in the race for European qualification.
As much as ever, Milan’s destiny has been intertwined with their Nerazzurro counterparts in recent times, and after last season’s title went to Inter, the red-and-black side of Italy’s second city have been aiming to exact sweet revenge.
Despite their comeback win in the last league meeting between the clubs, however, Stefano Pioli’s side were undone by that of his fellow former Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi on Tuesday, when Milan were beaten 3-0 in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie.
Having entered the Derby ahead in the Serie A standings by just two points, after both teams won on Good Friday, the Rossoneri know that Inter still have a game in hand and can harness all the experience of finishing the job this time last year.
Pioli and company must again handle the pressure of playing after their closest rivals this weekend, as they star in Sunday’s late kickoff after both Inter and Napoli have already played, but they fared well enough in similar circumstances when beating Genoa 2-0 in their last league outing.
It may have taken a late strike from substitute Junior Messias to ultimately seal the deal, but victory over the Grifone took Milan onto a tally of 71 points – their best return at this stage since the 2010-11 campaign, when they most recently claimed the Scudetto.
Not always convincing as an attacking force – particularly with Zlatan Ibrahimovic still sidelined and Olivier Giroud working overtime in his absence – the Rossoneri have relied on an unbreachable defence to stay undefeated for so long in Serie A: their streak of six successive clean sheets in the league is the club’s best since the glory days of 1994.
Having conceded only seven top-flight goals in 2022, only Liverpool have shipped fewer throughout the top five European leagues during that time, so Lazio may have their work cut out to replicate Inter’s success on Sunday.
Including a 4-0 Coppa Italia quarter-final defeat back in February, Lazio have already lost twice to Milan this season – both at San Siro – and they now stand on the brink of losing to them on three occasions in the same campaign for the first time since 2004-05.
In fact, a 2-0 league reverse last September means they welcome the Rossoneri to Rome having conceded six goals to them this term without even managing a reply.
Nonetheless, they will take to the field on the back of posting seven points from the last nine available, and their push for European qualification – which has only gained momentum since exiting the Europa League – remains on track.
Once again, captain and talisman Ciro Immobile bailed the Biancocelesti out last Saturday, as he moved onto 25 Serie A strikes for the season with a dramatic late equaliser to deny his old club Torino victory.
That followed a hat-trick against another former employer, Genoa, a week earlier, and the Italy international remains two goals clear of Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic in the Capocannoniere standings with just five games left to play.
Under pressure from clubs surrounding them in the standings – including Atalanta, Fiorentina and bitterest foes Roma – Immobile’s goals have helped Lazio to the highest total of any Serie A side in the final half-hour this season (25 so far). Certainly, his input could be crucial when the Aquile attempt to tear apart Milan’s back four.
Lazio Serie A form:
AC Milan Serie A form:
AC Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Lazio 1-0 AC Milan
There is little to choose between two of the teams to have kept the most clean sheets in 2022 – nine for Milan and six for Lazio (who are joint-second in that regard) – so goals could be at a premium.
The Rossoneri are under more intense pressure than their Roman rivals and may crack at some point, which would have serious consequences for their dreams of the Scudetto.