AC Milan won their first Scudetto in over a decade when they saw off threat from city rivals and arch enemies Internazionale to win the Serie A title last season. They will now begin their title defence at home against Udinese on Saturday evening. Udinese had finished 12th in the standings with 11 wins, 14 draws, and 13 losses from their 38 matches. The iconic San Siro will play host as the defending champions look to begin the season with flying colours.
Over 12 months ago, AC Milan also looked in contention to win the Serie A title during the 2020/21 season. However, they lost pace heading into the final stretches of the season which allowed city neighbours Inter Milan to win the Scudetto under Antonio Conte. However, Milan more than made up for that slump after posting six wins in their last six matches to end last season as champions of Italy. This allowed them to reverse the table on arch-rivals Inter Milan and win their first league title in 11 years.
Stefano Pioli who is certainly a popular man in Milan these days turned out to be the architect of a side largely comprising young players and guided by a handful of extremely astute veterans like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud. Last season was also the former Lazio manager’s first Serie A triumph after trying for years.
Milan also did that on a budget last year and preferred to make the most out of existing resources. However, despite the riches arriving from their title win as well as a long-overdue Champions League campaign, the summer transfer market has been pretty quiet at the San Siro so far.
Franck Kessie, who was at the heart of the Rossoneri’s midfield and drove their title triumph last season, has left to join the revolution led by Xavi at Barcelona. Meanwhile, senior striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is well on his final legs, will also be out of action until next year following knee surgery.
Responding to his lengthy spell on the sidelines, the defending champions swooped up Anfield cult hero Divock Origi from Liverpool and also signed the promising Dutch forward Charles De Ketelaere who had been making a name for himself in Belgium.
The latter arrives at a budget-busting 30 million pounds for Milan and while they do have a thinner squad and less depth on paper compared to the usual title contenders Inter and Juventus, they might also find a stronger challenge from AS Roma who have been building a strong side for Jose Mourinho this year.
Despite all the shortcomings that may appear in the way of a quiet summer window, AC Milan have had a strong pre-season campaign. They have warmed themselves up sufficiently for their Serie A title defence by winning four of the five fixtures and scoring 17 goals in the process.
Milan have a healthy record against Udinese as well, having lost just once in their last 10 matches against them. The Rossoneri will also begin this campaign as one of the favourites and they will be looking for nothing else but a successful start to the season.
Following February’s stalemate at the San Siro, Udinese have done extremely well to hold the Milan giants to consecutive 1-1 draws. However, despite their efforts in those cagey encounters, the visitors have managed to win just one of their last six Serie A matches on the opening day of the season.
The campaign opener against the defending champions will represent an extremely difficult challenge for the Fruilani who begin 2022-23 with much of the same squad over the last few years. Having several players agree to deals with other clubs, they haven’t exactly been able to find suitable replacements for them.
Headlining the list of departures is Argentina full-back Nahuel Molina, whose wonderful season saw him secure a move to the Wanda Metropolitano in order to play for Atletico Madrid – the same destination that Udinese captain Rodrigo de Paul had left for a year earlier. Meanwhile, former Barcelona forward Gerard Deulofeu also remains poised to depart despite a supposed transfer to Napoli not coming to fruition.
On the positive side of things, while talented wing-back Destiny Udogie is all set to sign for English giants Tottenham Hotspur, he will spend another year in Udine on loan.
Udinese, who finished 12th in the league last season, have acquired the reputation of being a selling side. They seem to be content about occupying the mid-table spots and not particularly challenging for Europe as long as they are staying clear of the relegation battler. The club also seems to be in sporting turmoil given that they are now on their third manager in a matter of months, after Luca Gotti was sacked in December last year and got replaced by his assistant Gabriele Cioffi instead.
While Hellas Verona have appointed Cioffi as a replacement for ex-Udinese coach Igor Tudor this summer, former Bianconeri defender Andrea Sottil will now be in charge of the dugout after enjoying a productive spell at the Friuli as a player around the turn of the millennium.
On his competitive debut last Friday, Sottil’s Udinese just managed to see off threats from Serie C side Feralpisalo in the Coppa Italia. They are arriving into this match on the back of a 2-1 victory in that competition and they are likely to face either Monza or Frosinone in October’s Coppa Italia second round.
ACM vs UDI, Serie A 2022/23
Date: 13th August, 2022
Time: 10:00 PM IST
Venue: San Siro, Milan
AC Milan form (all competitions):
Udinese form (all competitions):
AC Milan wins: 24
Udinese wins: 15
AC Milan Team News:
Franck Kessie is yet to be replaced and Sandro Tonali is expected to miss the Serie A opener against Udinese due to injury. Because of this, Pioli may have to improvise in midfield with Rade Krunic and the returning Tommaso Pobega among the top contenders to start at the centre of the engine room.
Tonali has been undergoing individual training at the Milanello but it may take him a while to get reintroduced to the group dynamics. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is certainly out of the equation while new arrival Divock Origi is also returning from injury himself. As a result, he may be eased into the squad.
This means that Olivier Giroud should once again lead the line for Milan as he had done so efficiently last season. Ante Rebic should be the backup to fill in as a central striker as he has deputised in that position several times before. Star signing of the summer Charles de Ketalaere might begin his Serie A career on the bench but is expected to see minutes in the second half.
Udinese Team News:
While new Udinese manager and former defender Andrea Sottil has preferred a four-man backline in the past, it won’t be surprising to see the visitors lining up in a more than familiar 3-5-2 formation for this clash. They did the same against Feralpisalo in the Coppa Italia last week and might be tempted to repeat that at the San Siro.
Much like AC Milan, the Bianconeri might also be tempted into fielding a starting XI that ended last season with Destiny Udogie occupying a place on the left flank. Gerard Deulofeu is expected to be the main threat in attack after he scored 13 goals in 34 Serie A matches last season.
Among the new arrivals, Jaka Bijol who came from CSKA Moscow and Adam Masina from Watford are expected to start. On the other hand, the Irish pair of Festy Ebosele and James Abankwah might have to settle for places among the substitutes.
AC Milan possible starting lineup:
Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Hernandez; Bennacer, Krunic; Messias, Diaz, Leao; Giroud
Udinese possible starting lineup:
Silvestri; Perez, Bijol, Masina; Soppy, Pereyra, Walace, Makengo, Udogie; Deulofeu, Success
While it’s true that the transfer market has been extremely underwhelming from Milan’s point of view, the Rossoneri have a clearly defined style of play that has proven to be efficient and effective over the last couple of years.
A home game against mid-table contenders Udinese should actually be easy pickings for the defending champions but Stefano Pioli will be expected to remind his players against letting their guard down.