Given the current league table and when it’s taking place, the match against Cagliari is undoubtedly one of AC Milan’s most important fixtures of the season. Tonight’s game will be followed by the last international break of the season, after which the final straight leading to the final matchday on 22 May really will begin. Before looking too far ahead, however, the Rossoneri need to focus on the present and pick up the three vital points on offer this evening in Sardinia. As tonight’s 20:45 CET kick-off draws nearer, here’s our Match Preview.
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After missing the team’s last match against Empoli through suspension, Theo Hernández will be at Coach Pioli’s disposal tonight: the Frenchman, who has just been named in the latest France squad, is ready to return to the left flank. While Simon Kjær is the only Rossoneri player with a long-term injury, Daniel Maldini won’t be available for the trip to Sardinia. Assessments need to be made regarding Tonali and Díaz, both of whom have had physical problems during the week. The Spaniard and captain Romagnoli are one booking away from suspension. Zlatan Ibrahimović, who has scored in each of his last seven games against Cagliari, is in contention for his first start since 23 January.
"Right now, every team has a lot of motivation and objectives to reach; as such, you always need to play with intensity and be really alert," said Coach Pioli in his pre-match press conference. "This will absolutely be the case for us tomorrow against Cagliari – they play really attacking football. They are aggressive in the challenge and, like us, are working towards a big objective. We'll need to bring our quality to the fore and just play football the way we know how to. We need to be consistent, alert and composed throughout."
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The Rossoblù are heading into tonight’s game on the back of consecutive defeats to Lazio and Spezia, results which they were hoping to avoid in their fight for survival. Prior to this, they’d enjoyed a really good spell, going five unbeaten. While the Sardinians don’t have anybody out through suspension, a number of players are struggling with injury. Strootman, Nández, Ceter, Rog and Walukiewicz are on this list, although the latter two have trained in part with the rest of the team in recent days and could be in with a chance of playing. There are also doubts about Gagliano, who has been following a personalised programme, and Dalbert, who was forced to come off in Liguria. It’s likely that Cagliari will play in their usual 3-5-2 formation with a front pairing of Pavoletti and João Pedro (this duo have scored 15 of the Rossoblù’s 28 league goals this campaign).
“Great teams punish your first mistake, and AC Milan have the quality and speed to hit you on the break as soon as you make an error in possession,” said Walter Mazzarri ahead of the game. "We’ve worked well during the week; it’s a new game and we need to get back to what we were doing up to the Torino match. Playing well won’t be sufficient; we’ll need to be solid, attentive and balanced. Against the best sides, there needs to be the right balance between wanting to attack and ensuring you have enough cover at the back. Furthermore, we can’t afford to be careless on set-pieces."
For the second time this season, AC Milan are heading into a matchday as the “true” leaders in Serie A, with no team currently in a position to move ahead of the Rossoneri through games in hand. In this latest round of fixtures, Coach Pioli’s men will take to the pitch knowing how their nearest rivals in the league – Napoli and Inter – have done. The Diavolo, who have recorded two 1-0 victories in a row, haven’t picked up three consecutive wins with clean sheets since May 2021, when, in getting the better of Benevento, Juventus and Torino, they propelled themselves towards Champions League qualification. The numbers are positive for the Rossoneri, who have scored in each of their 14 away fixtures in Serie A this season. Should they do so in Sardinia, they’d equal a Club record set during the 1967/68 campaign.
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Marco Di Bello will be the man in the middle for tonight’s showdown, with the 40-year-old set to take charge of his 136th Serie A match. In total, he’s refereed 13 matches involving AC Milan, three of which have taken place this season: the away wins against Atalanta and Empoli, as well as the home draw against Juventus. His last Cagliari match was on 22 September, when the Rossoblù suffered a home defeat to Empoli. AC Milan’s record with Di Bello as the referee is as follows: nine wins, two draws and two defeats. Peretti and Del Giovane will be the linesmen, while Marinelli will perform the role of fourth official. Fabbri and Meli will oversee VAR.
Matchday 30 in Serie A kicked off yesterday evening with the following results: Sassuolo 4-1 Spezia and Genoa 1-0 Torino. Today, in addition to Cagliari v AC Milan at 20:45 CET, Napoli v Udinese (15:00 CET) and Inter v Fiorentina (18:00 CET) will take place. Tomorrow, Venezia v Sampdoria (12:30 CET) will be followed by Empoli v Hellas Verona (15:00 CET), Juventus v Salernitana (15:00 CET), Roma v Lazio (18:00 CET) and Bologna v Atalanta (20:45 CET).
This is the current league table: AC Milan 63; Napoli 60; Inter* 59; Juventus 56; Lazio 49; Atalanta*, Roma 48; Fiorentina* 46; Sassuolo° 43; Hellas Verona 41; Torino 35; Bologna* 33; Empoli 32; Udinese** 30; Spezia° 29; Sampdoria 26; Cagliari 25; Venezia*, Genoa° 22; Salernitana** 16. (° one additional game played; * one game in hand; ** two games in hand).
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