A match the Rossoneri can’t afford to get wrong, both in terms of their approach and the result. AC Milan v Empoli is coming up at San Siro on Saturday evening. It’s a league fixture that will kick off at 20:45 CET in front of a vociferous home crowd, even if stadium capacity is capped. Empoli will provide a tough test, with the Azzurri capable of playing open and high-quality football. They’ll also be motivated by the fact that they’re yet to win in 2022. As for the Diavolo, they know that they need to build on the excellent result they achieved in Naples in order to stay top of the league.
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The Rossoneri will be without Theo Hernández for tonight’s game: after picking up a booking against Napoli, the Frenchman is suspended. One of Florenzi or Ballo-Tourè will likely take his place. Romagnoli is set to make the bench at the very least, with the Rossoneri captain having missed the trip to the Stadio Maradona after coming off injured against Inter in the Coppa Italia. Bakayoko won’t be available due to a muscle problem, while Simon Kjær remains sidelined with a long-term injury. Two players are one booking away from suspension: Romagnoli and Díaz.
"Empoli are a very dynamic and technical side," said Pioli during his pre-match press conference. "We’ll need to be attentive and composed in our work. They can play in different ways, are unpredictable and their midfielders make plenty of forward runs. Their objective at the start of the season was to stay up, and they’re very close to achieving this. Andreazzoli deserves credit for the job he’s done. We know the difficulties we’ll encounter, and I’m convinced that we’re in good shape heading into the game."
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The Tuscans are practically at full strength for the match at San Siro: only Marchizza and Haas – both out with serious injuries – are unavailable. With ten points separating them from third-bottom Venezia, Andreazzoli’s side are in a comfortable position in the table, although they’re yet to win in 2022. Indeed, their last victory dates back to 15 December: a 4-3 away win against Verona in the Coppa Italia. Their last Serie A success came on 12 December, when a goal from Cutrone proved enough to beat Napoli on the road. This will give them further motivation to try to put in a great performance at San Siro, where they did very well in January, taking Inter to extra time in the Coppa Italia.
"You need to do everything you can against the league leaders, both as a team and as individuals," said Andreazzoli on the eve of the game. "You have to hope for a bit of good luck and, at the same time, that they’re not at their best. There’s a large gap, but we need to really exploit the things under our control."
The Rossoneri are without a win at San Siro in almost a month. Indeed, since their last victory against Sampdoria on 13 February, they’ve been involved in two draws, first against Udinese and then against Inter (in the Coppa Italia), on home turf. The Diavolo can’t afford to underestimate their opponents, especially given the fact that they’ve won just two of their last six matches against teams in the bottom half of the table (D3, L1), drawing their last two against Salernitana and Udinese. In order to stay where they are in the table, Coach Pioli’s men need three points.
Daniele Chiffi will be the man in the middle for the Saturday evening showdown. The 37-year-old has taken charge of 67 Serie A matches and is set to referee the Rossoneri for the fourth time this season. The three previous fixtures saw the Diavolo record three wins: AC Milan 2-0 Lazio, AC Milan 3-1 Roma and AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria. The Rossoneri’s overall record when Chiffi has been the referee is as follows: six matches, four wins, one draw and one defeat.
Four Serie A matches are taking place on Saturday, starting with Salernitana v Sassuolo and Spezia v Cagliari, both 15:00 CET kick-offs. Sampdoria v Juventus (18:00 CET) and AC Milan v Empoli (20:45 CET) will bring today’s action to a close. Five matches are scheduled for Sunday: Fiorentina v Bologna (12:30 CET), Hellas Verona v Napoli (15:00 CET), Atalanta v Genoa (18:00 CET), Udinese v Roma (18:00 CET) and Torino v Inter (20:45 CET). Lazio v Venezia (20:5 CET) will be the final game on matchday 29.
This is the current league table: AC Milan 60, Inter 58*, Napoli 57, Juventus 53, Atalanta 47*, Roma 47, Lazio 46, Fiorentina 43*, Hellas Verona 41, Sassuolo 39, Torino 34*, Bologna 33*, Empoli 32, Udinese** 29, Sampdoria 26, Spezia 26, Cagliari 25, Venezia* 22, Genoa 18, Salernitana** 15. (* one game in hand, ** two games in hand).
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