Two of Italy’s three surviving teams will be playing each other for the first time in European competition in this UEFA Champions League (UCL) quarterfinal match. For the first time in eleven years, AC Milan is in the UCL semifinals. They will be eager to take the crucial first-leg lead, but with just one victory in nine competitive home games (D3, L5) against Serie A’s (SA) runaway leaders Napoli, they face a difficult challenge.
Even so, Milan’s impressive 4-0 victory over Napoli earlier this month will have given them more confidence. They followed it up with a disappointing goalless draw at home against Empoli on Saturday, but keeping another clean sheet was a significant plus. Milan is attempting to record their fifth straight clean sheet in the competition, which would be a first since the competition’s 2004–05 season.
Napoli defeated Lecce 2-1 over the weekend to avenge their humiliating loss to the hosts; this was also the same margin by which they defeated Milan here earlier in the season. With the league title all but secured with to their victory on Saturday, the Blues can now fully concentrate on this match, which will be their first-ever UCL quarterfinal.
The fact that Luciano Spalletti’s team has won eight straight away games while scoring at least twice in each of them highlights their remarkable recent road performance. As the top scorers in this season’s UCL with 25 goals scored, a European tie could result in another barrage of goals on Milan’s field. Their double here earlier in the season was notable for being the first time they had scored 2+ times in seven away H2Hs against the Rossoneri.
Olivier Giroud needs just one more goal to become the first AC Milan player since Zlatan Ibrahimovi to score five or more goals in a single UCL season. Giovanni Di Lorenzo of Napoli scored over the weekend, giving him two goals in his previous three away UCL games.
Stefano Pioli was once again made uncomfortably aware of his team’s lack of depth against Empoli after making many changes to his starting XI, thus Milan’s regulars should all be back on Wednesday night.
From the beginning, Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud will be present, while Rade Krunic and Simon Kjaer are expected to join them. In an effort to top his outstanding performance against Napoli earlier this month, Brahim Diaz also makes a comeback.
However, with Pierre Kalulu slated to miss out due to a calf injury, veteran shrewd Kjaer will compete with talented Malick Thiaw for the chance to partner Fikayo Tomori at the center of the hosts’ back four.
Giroud leads Milan in goals scored in the Champions League this season with four, while Napoli has four players with the same number of goals as the French forward: Victor Osimhen, Piotr Zielinski, Giovanni Simeone, and Giacomo Raspadori.
But in addition to the devastating loss of Serie A’s Capocanonniere leader Osimhen due to a thigh injury, Simeone, his deputy, is now questionable after suffering an injury against Lecce.
Raspadori might be forced to fill in for the injured Argentine international in the visitors’ front three, which also has Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, alias “Kvaradona,” on the left.
AC Milan possible starting lineup
Maignan, Calabria, Tomori, Kjaer, Hernandez; Tonali, Krunic, Bennacer; Diaz, Leao, and Giroud.
Napoli possible starting lineup
Meret, Di Lorenzo, Kim, Rrahmani, Rui, Anguissa, Lobotka, Zielinski, Lozano, Raspadori, and Kvaratskhelia.
We predict: AC Milan 0–0 Napoli.
Napoli might anticipate continuing their recent dominance against Milan at San Siro after just winning their eighth straight Serie A road game. The Rossoneri could be able to shut them out for the second time in a fortnight, though, thanks to absences, setting up a tantalizing return in Naples the following week.