AC Milan v Udinese, Coppa Italia, January 27, 2010
Even after the Rossoneri’s insipid performance in the 2-nil defeat to Inter Milan last weekend in the derby, Leonardo’s cohorts will be the favourites to advance into the semi final of the Italian Cup.
The only lingering doubt for Milan is whether they have the mental fortitude to come back after Jose Mourinho’s charges hammered a significant nail in the coffin of their neighbours title hopes. Collectively Milan were poor last time out, never taking advantage of Inter’s 10-men despite having the majority of the match to assert their numerical dominance.
Individually the match was also painful for several of Milan’s leading lights. Ronaldinho once again went missing in a big game he so badly needed to perform in while also suffering the ignominy of missing a penalty, while The Sun were only too happy to report Gazzetta Dello Sport’s slating of David Beckham, with the paper giving Goldenballs just 5/10 with the footnote, “he looked like he was in a waxworks museum. Apart from the occasional cross he was largely absent.”
With their three-match winning streak now evaporated, and Milan resigned to trailing Inter by nine points in the race for the Scudetto, the pressure to at least win the domestic cup to secure some silverware this season has become even more paramount. Leonardo has admitted as much by telling reporters, “the Coppa Italia is a prestigious tournament and we want to go all the way.” (AC Milan are 6/4 to win the Italian Cup.)
On the injury front for Milan, striker Alexandre Pato remains the main absentee, meaning that much of the attacking responsibility for the hosts will fall on Marco Borriello’s shoulders. All eyes will also be focus on Ronaldinho once more, as the buck-toothed wonder needs to prove that his Inter performance was a blip, and he is still the potent forward who has claimed nine goals and eight assists the season. Super Pippo Inzaghi could also get the nod in the attack. (Milan are 13/8 to win both halves.)
At the back the Rossoneri will be hopeful for the return of Alessandro Nesta at the heart of their defence, after more disappointing derby displays from Ignazio Abate, Thiago Silva, Luca Antonini and Gennaro Gattuso. Dida will again wear the gloves in goal.
In Udinese, Leonardo could barely have hand-picked a better opponent to play after their recent upset. In short, the Zebrette are still yet to win on their travels this season, and their last victory of any type dates back to November 28 2009. Completing the dark clouds over the visitors’ heads, last weekend’s 3-2 loss to Sampdoria saw the Friuli outfit drop just one place and one point clear of the drop zone.
Without question Udinese’s dangerman is 32-year-old forward Antonio Di Natale. The Azzurri striker has scored 13 goals in 17 matches this season, including bagging a free-kick last time out. However most of the strikers’ goal arrived in a purple patch at the beginning of season so the onus is on the forward to rediscover his goalscoring touch.
With Ghanaian playmaker Kwadwo Asamoah still unavailable on international duty, Simone Pepe will be asked to support his striker by breaking from midfield, along with exciting young Chilian talent Mauricio Isla. Gokhan Inler, who has been heavily linked with a move to the Premier League in the past, will look to balance out Pepe and Isla’s forward runs by offering stability as his side’s holding midfielder.
Udinese will also need to hope that Slovenian keeper Samir Handanovic has a faultless match between the sticks, with the 25-year-old custodian one of the more underrated goalies in Serie A.
101predicts: AC Milan 2 – Udinese 0 (13/2)
Full match odds here.