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Catania-Milan Preview: Dances with Elephants

Fresh off from a Champions League draw that tasted like a victory, Milan are now traveling to their island getaway for a little… football? That doesn’t seem right. But it is their fate, and they will face a very dangerous Catania side, too. Gli Elefanti are unbeaten in their last 7 matches, with 4 wins and 3 draws, so meeting them at home will not be an easy kind of dance. Maybe something more along the lines of the Argentine Tango?

The Argentine Tango is a dance filled with passion, but has kind of a love-hate thing going on. This is a perfect way for Maxi Lopez to face off against his old club, and even for Legrottaglie to meet the club he had a brief affair with. But most of the passion will come from the desire to win from both sides. Milan need to keep our 4 point lead at the top of the table, and cannot count on Napoli necessarily to let Juve drop points on Sunday. Meanwhile, Catania are desperately leaning toward that 6th place spot, just 2 points behind Roma, Vincenzo Montella’s former club.

Milan cleaned up the San Siro with Catania in November. Looking back, it is strange to see how much I worried about such a few injuries. I think I would give my right arm to only have that many injuries now. Also, emotions were raw following Cassano’s heart surgery just 2 days before this fixture. This time, we’re in their house, the Stadio Angelo Massimino, and despite being inspired by Wednesday’s draw, our boys will also be exhausted and/or trying to save something for next Tuesday’s match in Spain. Plus, Catania seem to have only gotten stronger as the season has progressed. Last week, they came back from 2 goals down to steal a point from Napoli… at the San Paolo.  So unless Stromaccioni manages to work some miracles with the other half of Milan, this could be our toughest match in the league for the rest of the season.

No Roma? No Problem.

Montella has done incredibly well with seemingly limited resources. He has led this Catania side to 7th place, on 42 points. That’s ahead of their Sicilian cousins, Palermo, as well as Inter. But Catania general manager, Pietro Lo Monaco, has challenged him to reach the 6th place finish for a Europa League spot next year. Add to that the prospect of beating a Milan team that they have never beaten since returning to Serie A in 2006-07, and this could be a very sizzling dance, indeed.

Catania have swapped between a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2 formation this season. Although Montella played a 3-5-2 against Napoli, there is a chance he may try the 4-3-3 against Milan, if he’s watched what has happened to other opponents who have met us in a 3-5-2. If he hasn’t, or if he is half as stubborn as Allegri, he might line up something like this: Carrizo; Bellusci, Legrottaglie, Spolli; Izco, Barrientos, Lodi, Almiron, Marchese; Gomez and Bergessio. Lodi has been their star this season, with 8 goals and 5 assists, he tops both charts for gli Elefanti. But don’t rule out our 6 month Milan wonder Legrottaglie, who, when not injured immediately upon arrival, has produced 4 goals.

So that's what he looks like without head bandages!
Milan probably should be exhausted, but I’ll bet the players are actually living on adrenaline right now. Not even the media-fueled San Siro pitch controversy can dampen their spirits, and I expect everyone wants to play on Saturday to stay sharp for next Tuesday. Unfortunately, we have our usual healthy roster followed by the even longer injured roster. That injury roster does not seem to have gotten any longer after Barcelona, though, through some divine intervention. And in fact, Abate is rumored to be eligible for tomorrow, too. Spirits may also be buoyed that Cassano returned to full training yesterday and will undergo medical tests on Monday to see if he is clear to play. The one downside is the suspension of Muntari and Mesbah due to yellow card accumulation, we could have really used them to offer a bit of rest for the weary.

One rumored lineup is Abbiati; Zambrotta, Mexes, Bonera, Antonini; Aquilani, Seedorf, Nocerino; Urby; Ibra and El Shaarawy. That is not my own guess. I would expect Abate to start in lieu of Zambrotta, and perhaps the veteran to come on late, maybe even to score like he did in the initial fixture. I do expect Nesta to be rested, but I would also expect that perhaps Seedorf might be rested if Allegri plans to start him again on Tuesday. We haven’t seen Merkel since he’s been back with the squad, perhaps he’ll help our midfield get some rest. And of course, I desperately want Maxi Lopez to play (and score!) against his old club. That is always extra fun to watch.

I want to see some Argentine on Argentine goalscoring action.

Allegri has a lot more pressure than usual to come up with the right balance of quality and resting the big players for Champions League. With the usual hands cuffed, blindfolded and gagged feeling produced by one of the longest injury lists of any club that I can remember in recent years. We can only wish him the best, and then, being the greedy little fans we are, demand three points. Because that’s how we roll.

Juve fans worldwide are drooling and will be monitoring this game closely to see if we slip up. Many people think that this is their best chance for Milan to slip up in the coming fixtures. But they forget that we are Milan. We eat elephants for breakfast. (Well not literally, that is illegal, and probably not very tasty, either.) We are ready to tango with any and all predominantly Argentine clubs, especially Catania. Because winning is what we do best. Let’s show the elephants how it is done.

Catania vs. Milan
Saturday, March 31st • 18:00 CEST (12noon EDT)
This match will be shown on FSC, RAI International & on ESPN3 in the U.S.


This post inspired by the White Rabbits