Preview: Udinese vs. AC Milan
While they scraped through to the Champions League quarter-finals, AC Milan have made a slow start to March in Serie A and will seek their first win of the month when they meet Udinese on Saturday.
The champions will arrive at the Dacia Arena having taken one point from their last two league games, while their hosts won last week to end another long streak without victory.
Though Olivier Giroud scored just before the interval in Milan’s Monday night clash with Salernitana, the French forward’s eighth league goal of the season proved insufficient to see off the southern side, as Boulaye Dia’s second-half equaliser resulted in a share of the spoils at San Siro.
Denied on several occasions by the brilliance of Granata goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the hosts had to settle for just a point following their limp 2-1 defeat at Fiorentina a week earlier.
In between came a goalless Champions League draw with Tottenham Hotspur, which helped the Rossoneri secure a place in the quarter-final draw, but sitting fourth in Serie A and only one point ahead of Roma, a return to Europe’s top club competition is by no means guaranteed for next term.
Following Dia’s side-foot finish earlier this week, Milan have now shipped more goals than any other Serie A side from crosses (12), with three of their last four being conceded in that fashion – a reminder that Stefano Pioli’s defensive woes are not entirely resolved.
The veteran coach’s switch to a back three did steady the ship, though, after Milan went into meltdown during January, and they are still just two points shy of city rivals Inter, who occupy second place in the standings behind distant leaders Napoli.
Though they have lost only one of their last 11 league meetings with Udinese, the Rossoneri have not done the double over Saturday’s hosts since 2008, during the Carlo Ancelotti era. After winning 4-2 in August’s reverse fixture, they will now aim to do just that.
While they may have struggled to beat Milan during that spell, Udinese have shared three wins apiece with their second-city counterparts from the teams’ last eight encounters in Fruili.
Andrea Sottil’s current side would dearly love to record another victory this weekend, as they seek some forward momentum following an increasingly rare success last Saturday.
Having gone six games without a win, the Fruilani edged out Empoli, as Rodrigo Becao’s goal split the sides at Stadio Carlo Castellani and helped the visitors stay 10th in the table.
Not only have Udinese kept clean sheets in both of their last two league games, after holding Atalanta goalless previously, they are therefore in contention for a top-half finish come June.
Demonstrating greater signs of resilience and a more compact shape, the Bianconeri can now target a successful end to Sottil’s first season, which started in such a blaze of glory. That said, Serie A’s draw specialists would surely settle for a point against the Scudetto holders.
Udinese Serie A form:
AC Milan Serie A form:
AC Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Udinese 1-2 AC Milan
While Milan have been below their best for some time now, they can get back to winning ways on Saturday evening, when their hosts will seek just a fourth home success of the season. This contest could go all the way to the wire, though, as only Napoli have scored more goals than either side (both 11) during the last 15 minutes of play.