Seeking a return to the Serie A summit, AC Milan visit Venezia in Sunday’s early kickoff knowing a win would at least temporarily lift them above their closest rivals at the top.
Following a 3-1 defeat of Roma on their comeback from the winter break, the Rossoneri are aiming to affirm their Scudetto credentials, while their hosts have been sidelined since December due to the cancellation of their midweek fixture.
Taking advantage of Inter’s game with Bologna being belatedly called off on Thursday, Milan narrowed the gap to their city rivals and leaders of the Serie A standings with a comprehensive win at San Siro.
There is now just a point separating the Milanese giants following the Rossoneri’s victory over Roma, who capitulated early on and never really recovered.
After the hosts took an eighth-minute lead through Olivier Giroud’s penalty, Milan extended their advantage when Junior Messias followed up a rebound off the post. Though Jose Mourinho’s men pulled one back, substitute Rafael Leao later broke clear to net a third, while both Brahim Diaz and Alessandro Florenzi also struck the woodwork.
Dreaming of a first title triumph since 2011, Stefano Pioli’s side started last year as ‘Winter Champions’ before fading away during the spring, so having hopefully learned from their mistakes, will seek to reverse that trend this term.
With that in mind, their chances of prolonging their winning streak to three games are particularly good, as not only are they set to face struggling opponents this weekend, they have won seven of their first 10 away fixtures this season – racking up more points on the road than at home.
Though their next league engagement will come against another lowly side, Spezia, the coming month encompasses the start of Milan’s Coppa Italia campaign and high-profile clashes with Juventus and Inter, so they dare not slip up at Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo.
One of eight clubs to have their opening match of 2022 cancelled at short notice, Venezia made the long trip south to Salernitana in vain, as the game was called off due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the home side’s camp.
The Lagunari therefore make their return to top-flight action with a testing clash against opponents they lost 2-0 to earlier this season, and even home advantage will not necessarily help them prevent Milan from doing the double, as they have so far won just twice at the Penzo.
Nonetheless, head coach Paolo Zanetti has overseen a relatively solid first half of the campaign, which featured highlights such as the comeback win against Roma and October’s victory over Fiorentina.
In their most recent outing, Venezia managed to get to half time all square against Lazio, when they hosted the capital club just before the winter break, but the Biancocelesti ultimately ran out 3-1 winners at the final whistle.
Defeat to Maurizio Sarri’s men may have ended a three-game unbeaten run for the Arancioneroverdi in league and cup competition, but they are flirting dangerously with an immediate return to Serie B – lying 16th in the table, just four points above the bottom three.
Only recently returned to the top tier following a long spell in the doldrums, Venezia have not beaten Milan since March 2000, so anything taken from Sunday’s game will be a significant bonus in their fight to avoid the drop.
Venezia Serie A form:
Venezia form (all competitions):
AC Milan Serie A form:
AC Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Venezia 1-2 AC Milan
Though virus-stricken Milan may be undermanned in certain areas – particularly defence – their hosts have conceded goals at a rate of nearly two per game on home soil this season, so are vulnerable to the Rossoneri’s rapid counter-attacks.
Another Venezia defeat will leave them teetering above the drop zone, while Pioli and company are set to stride on in pursuit of that elusive 19th Scudetto.