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Milan-Roma Preview: Lupophobia


Some say the fear of wolves is irrational, but this year, Milan have every right to experience lupophobia. First Roma set a new league record by winning their first ten games straight. Then they have continued undefeated through the season to date. And now, their talisman, the legendary Francesco Totti is back. There is nothing irrational about fearing this team, particularly with Milan’s horrifying league record this year. So my diagnosis is simple: I have lupophobia.

A recurring nightmare for me


I said it early on: Roma probably had the smartest mercato of any Serie A team. And that theory has translated to the best start of any Serie A team ever. Even if they have only won one of their last five games since their historic perfect start, they are still undefeated. And that one win came just last week, not coincidentally as Totti returned to the bench and against another top team, Fiorentina. Their mercato buys were clever, calculated, and handled quietly and fairly. (So basically completely the opposite of Milan’s mercato.) And that has translated to a season of fantastic football that has produced consistent results to have them sit a mere three points behind the league leaders. If you’re not scared, you should be.

The players have praised Rudi Garcia for changing the mentality of the team, and that would be difficult to argue against. This team is reinforced, certainly, but many of the players are the same as the squad of recent years, most notably the defense. And yet the results are entirely different. I hope this lupophobia isn’t debilitating.

I may also be suffering from Tottiphobia.

Last week’s match vs. Fiorentina was a 2-1 win for Roma after four straight draws which saw Mattia Destro return as a sub after his long injury to score the winning goal. Garcia lined up De Sanctis; Dodó, Castan, Maicon, Benatia; Strootman, Pjanic, DeRossi; Ljajic, Florenzi, and Gervinho. The only positive for Milan out of this is that Pjanic was sent off at the end of this match, and will be suspended for our game on Monday. It’s most likely that the less talented Bradley would start in his place. Garcia will also be missing Balzaretti to injury, and our favorite ex-Milan striker Borriello is unlikely to make it back from injury in time. What a shame.

Milan have some hope. After all, the club is celebrating its 114th birthday on Monday. And we are doing it in style, with the new Milan headquarters, also known as “Casa Milan,” as well as the Champions League Round of 16 draw in Nyon earlier that same day. But will any of that festivity translate to the pitch? The players have shown that they can play with heart in the Champions League, but will they be motivated enough to not let Roma crash our party? And will they couple that motivation with actual football, showing us the talent we know they have? Or will the horrifying events of the past year or two continue to be like a weight around their necks?

Yes, it's a Milan birthday party, but that is no punch bowl.

Then there are the injuries. Who wants to try to fight off a pack of wolves when you are not at full strength? Milan are missing Amelia, Silvestre, Birsa, Robinho, and El Shaarawy. Emanuelson is still in doubt as of this writing, too, having suffered a knock to his toe on Monday and not playing vs. Ajax. With Abbiati’s muscle issues on Wednesday, it is possible that Gabriel could play in goal. And Abate is expected back, as well as Pazzini, so at least there are a couple of positives as far as availability.

With both Birsa and El Shaarawy out injured, it leaves Allegri with a conundrum: who will be the third player in attack along with Balotelli and Kaka? His most likely options would be to start the €11m man, or Saponara, as it is unlikely he would start even an in-form Pazzini. And while Mediaset are already reporting it will be Saponara, Allegri’s knee-jerk reaction has always been Matri. (Although I’m holding out for Pazizni to at least come on as a sub.) So there’s something for you to lose sleep over.

"Hey, Allegri! Remember me? I scored 15 goals last year. And I'm fit again."

Muntari is available, which almost guarantees that Poli and every other decent midfielder will be sitting on the bench while he starts with De Jong and Montolivo. I am personally more than open to surprises here, but not expecting one. In the back, he should start De Sciglio and Abate, if they are both 100% fit. If not, then if Urby is available, he’ll start on the left, otherwise it will be the indomitable Constant, with De Sciglio starting on the right. After saying he has faith in Mexes and Zapata, he started Bonera and Zapata on Wednesday, so I guess he’ll pic two of those three for the center back pairing. Or if Montolivo does something stupid again, maybe he’ll end up with all three on the pitch again in a parked bus. Allegri’s surprises are rarely good.

The most encouraging thing as a Milan fan, sadly, is that since Allegri has not been able to motivate the squad, Berlusconi is apparently going to abandon his important duties such as updating his dog’s facebook page and take the chopper over to Milanello and give them all a pep talk on Sunday. Other than that, I have to hope that some of that Milan magic wears off on them and they rise to the occasion to give us something to celebrate from this match. And by celebrate, I mean party like it's 1899, and that a draw would be like a victory here. Maybe it’s just the lupophobia speaking, but with our comparable teams’ form, it’s hard not to fear a mauling.


This post inspired by the music of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

Milan vs. Roma
Monday, December 16 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)
This match is being shown LIVE on both BeIN Sport and RAI in the US
Check here for stream links ahead of the match