Friday, February 1, 2013

Milan-Udinese Preview: Testing, 1…2…3…

In an impressive run of form, Milan are undefeated in the league in January… all against teams in the lower half of the table. But this week, we welcome 9th place Udinese to the San Siro to see if those games were just flukes or if Milan really deserve to climb the table. We will be tested by a team that does amazing things with such a small budget. We will be tested by the veteran striker Di Natale. We will be tested by players like Muriel. But mostly, we will be tested by ourselves. Can we stay focused for 90 minutes and play  our best game? Will our new signings get some time on the pitch, and will they fit in quickly with our squad? Will we stop making dumb mistakes and conceding on set pieces? Will we pass the Udinese test?

Can they win against a bigger team? And at home?

With the mercato, we of course welcome the infamous Mario Balotelli, but yesterday, Milan also signed a 21 year old Polish defender named Bartosz Salamon. There will be a welcome post profiling him in the upcoming weeks, but until then, just know that he can play center back and also in the midfield (although he himself said he will play in defense.) Also, there’s this:

While I doubt we’ll get to see him or those mad skills on Sunday (or anytime soon, really, given how young he is,) know that we definitely have something to look forward to. Welcome, Salamon!

But back to Udinese, their last six games started with draws versus both Palermo and Atalanta before the break. But then, wins against Inter, Fiorentina, and Siena were only interrupted by a proper 4-0 thumping that Juventus gave them. Despite having two keepers with long-term injuries, Daniele Padelli has done very well for them in net. He was lined up with Pasquale, Domizzi, Bata; Lazzari, Heurtaux, Allan, Di Natale, Danilo; Pinzi, and Muriel against Siena last week. Despite the distraction of a case in his native Brazil in which Danilo was sentenced to a year in prison for racist behavior earlier in January, Guidolin has done a fantastic job of creating a squad that does not suffer when even the big players are not available. And yet, availability won’t be a problem for him when we face his team on Sunday, as he has nearly a complete squad to draw from.

If one doesn't get you, the other one will

Allegri is not quite as lucky, at least at the defensive midfield position. With De Jong out for the season, Ambrosini’s thigh muscle tear hurts us that much more. But I would hope that Yepes and Bonera might both be available to be called upon in defense if needed to help give us more experience in that half of the pitch. Or that other new-to-us old defender-who-shall-not-be-named. I also like to think that Abbiati has done well enough to earn his starting spot back. The fullbacks should be De Sciglio in Constant, even if Allegri had Abate play last week on the right.

From there forward, Allegri’s got choices. Expect Montolivo to start, but whether Flamini and Boeateng will be his midfield soldiers again or not remains to be seen. The big question on everyone’s mind is: Will Balotelli start up front? I think everyone is dying to see the Triple Threat™ of Niang, Balotelli, and El Shaarawy up front. But Allegri has been known to not start players who are new, and also has Pazzini and an underused Bojan, as well as an out of form Robinho to draw from. Having players to choose from for our strike force is certainly not a problem, actually choosing them is.

Will Balotelli's deal with the Devil do more than sell tickets and jerseys?

Regardless of whom Allegri lines up, this game is a litmus test for the team and its motivation and concentration. Udinese are deadly in attack, they strike as often as necessary in order to score. In fact, their match vs. Juventus was only their fourth match all season where they failed to score, so a clean sheet would be a lot to ask of our squad. Sure, Milan have done well lately against teams who were 13th on the table or below, but will we be able to step it up against a team that is only four spots below us? And more importantly, will Elaine get her review post up before the kickoff of the Super Bowl? Oh. That is probably not as important to you. Or even me. But I do hope to be able to watch that game with a Milan victory ahead of it. With the infusion of confidence this mercato has given the fans and the team, I really do hope Milan pass this test.

This post inspired by the music of U2

Milan vs. Udinese
Sunday, February 3rd • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)
This match will be shown on RAI in the U.S.
(check comments for stream links prior to kickoff)