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Palermo-Milan preview: the battle of Sicily

This is the first of three battles Milan will fight without their Swedish warlord, and one that should give us an answer to the age-old question - is every Ibra team Ibra-dependent? Will the young cavalrymen led by the old, battle-scarred generals ride into victory or will they falter and allow the arch enemies in black and blue to close in ahead of the big showdown? On the day of the UEFA Champions League draw that saw Tottenham Hotspur matched up with Real Madrid, Milan only has one major goal left this season - win the long overdue domestic title that will end Inter's reign at the top.


Two absolutely crucial men in Milan's gameplan have to be Boateng and Cassano. Prince is back on the list of call-ups and, whether he starts in midfield or behind the strikers, or even on the bench, may just tip the scales in Milan's favor. The attacking duo of Cassano and Pato will start a game for the first time, and we should be very confident that these two will find an understanding on the pitch. Cassano loves through balls; Pato loves getting on the end of through balls. Palermo's defense isn't among the fastest in the league, and dealing with pacey strikers isn't their strong side - as evidenced by their tragic 0-7 loss to Di Natale and Sanchez. There is no reason Cassano and Pato can't emulate the performances of Di Natale and Sanchez respectively.

I'm not saying this will be easy for Milan; far from it. Ever since that game the Sicilians have been playing a tougher game, they seem to be more physical in their approach, probably because they're terrified of the same thing happening again. It goes without saying that an early goal for Milan would be key, both from a tactical and from a psychological point of view.

What are some of the dangers Milan's defense will face tomorrow? Fabrizio Miccoli is traditionally dangerous and chronically motivated against big teams. On the right, Abate will face one of Italy's best left backs in Balzaretti but at this point, there is no reason to doubt Ignazio's ability to stop just about any left-sided player there is. Palermo's key man, however, is Pastore. Van Bommel's presence in front of the defense should do wonders against the sensitive and easily irritated Argentinian, and it wouldn't surprise me if he has a very frustrated night. Palermo attacking trio will probably be completed with Pinilla, and the dynamism of the three front men is something to look out for. It may be crucial that Nesta gets his tactical game on and works as a stopper whenever he can.

Whether Allegri chooses to start Robinho or Boateng behind the strikers, you can count on Migliaccio and Bacinovic to try to stop that player by any means necessary. If Robinho starts, it would probably be wise of him to drift out wide often and switch positions with Cassano from time to time, as a static Robinho would be very easily muscled off the ball. The same can't be said about Boateng who has the power to deal with these challenges and, if fully fit, may be the better option tomorrow.

Other than that, there aren't many dilemmas for Allegri. Gattuso and van Bommel will definitely start, the vacant midfield spot will likely be filled by Emanuelson and Antonini should get the nod at left back again (although I personally wouldn't mind seeing Jankulovski again).

It won't be an easy game, but Milan sans Zlatan should be determined to prove their worth and make a good introduction for the derby, so they will go to Sicily with every chance of returning triumphant. The reverse fixture ended with a 3-1 victory for Milan, one that Ibrahimovic was crucial in but also one in which Pato found the net. The young Brazilian will have the perfect chance to prove he can lead Milan's attack in the next month, and I for one have faith in him.

Forza Milan!