Napoli is still on track to unseat AC Milan as the Serie A (SA) champion this season despite a 0-0 draw against Verona at the weekend. Despite this, the Blues have recently been much more like the weaker half of this clash. They suffered a staggering 4-0 defeat in a home league head-to-head match earlier in the month, and last week, when they fell 1-0 at the San Siro, they were unable to exact any retribution in the first leg of this UEFA Champions League (UCL) quarterfinal match.
Milan may possibly become the first team to defeat Napoli three times in a single season since Lazio in 1994/95 as a result. The hosts have a strong home record in this competition despite their recent H2H losses, going undefeated in each of their last 12 UCL contests at Diego Armando Maradona Stadium (W9, D3). Notably, this year’s competition saw victory in all four of the matches played here.
While Stefano Pioli acknowledged there was some “regret” that his team couldn’t extend their lead late in the first game after André-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s red card, Milan did secure what may be a key lead going into this second leg. After a 1-1 draw against Bologna over the weekend, they would have been even more disappointed that they were unable to improve their standing in the top four of Serie A.
Despite having their goal violated in that match, Milan’s strong UCL run this season has been built on solid defensive performances. Their finest consecutive run of clean sheets since 2004/05, when they advanced all the way to the competition’s final, has occurred in each of their last five UCL games.
Piotr Zieliski has been involved in five goals (G3, A2) in his previous four home UCL outings for Napoli, despite his goal drought since mid-March. Rafael Leo of Milan has scored five of his previous six goals in competition while on the road, including two goals earlier this month at this location.
At least two changes from the first leg will be required of Luciano Spalletti, though a third might affect his team’s chances of coming back from a one-goal deficit.
The return of top scorer Victor Osimhen up front will more than make up for the absence of Napoli’s defensive rock, Kim Min-jae, who was sent out for dissent in the closing minutes at San Siro, joining Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa in being suspended.
Although the Nigerian international has now fully recovered from his injury, his backup Giovanni Simeone is once again sidelined due to a thigh issue; Giacomo Raspadori should be removed from the starting lineup.
Eljif Elmas or Tanguy Ndombele will either replace Anguissa in the midfield trio for the hosts, which also includes Stanislav Lobotka and Piotr Zielinski. This latter player has contributed to five goals in his last four home Champions League games, contributing to a goal around every 49 minutes.
Milan, on the other hand, made 10 changes to their lineup on Saturday, keeping only Mike Maignan and giving Stefano Pioli’s backup players a chance to shine.
With Olivier Giroud leading the line, the visitors should return to full strength after last week’s victory at home. The veteran striker has been involved in six goals from nine European appearances this season, the most for Milan since Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2011–12.
The Swedish striker will not play on Tuesday due to both ineligibility and an injury, but Simon Kjaer, Sandro Tonali, and Rafael Leao are among those expected to return.
Leao (33) is the only player to have completed more dribbles in the Champions League this season than Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, and his total is the most by a Milan player since Kaka in 2004-05 (37).
Napoli possible starting lineup
Meret, Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Rui, Ndombele, Lobotka, Zielinski, Lozano, Osimhen, and Kvaratskhelia.
AC Milan possible starting lineup
Maignan, Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Hernandez, Krunic, Tonali, Diaz, Bennacer, Leao and Giroud.
We predict: AC Milan and Napoli draw 1-1 (AC Milan prevails 2-1 overall)
Milan’s pragmatic approach has helped them in this season’s competition and could potentially help them advance to the semi-finals, despite the fact that Napoli play the more exciting brand of football.
It won’t be simple, especially with Osimhen back in the mix and thousands of success-starved Neapolitans cheering for their hosts, but the Rossoneri have been preparing for a return to Europe’s elite table for years, so they can handle the challenge.