AC Milan’s miserable run continued last weekend with another derby defeat, and the Serie A champions seek its end on Friday, when they host Torino at San Siro.
Having lost four of five matches since exiting the Coppa Italia to their visitors, the Rossoneri are well off the title pace and face a scrap to finish inside the top four.
Last Sunday’s Derby della Madonnina saw an ailing Milan side desperately trying to avoid losing to their city rivals once again, but just weeks after a 3-0 defeat in the Supercoppa Italiana they were forced to swallow another bitter pill.
Stefano Pioli’s men had conceded 12 times in losing their three previous outings, having also been knocked out of the cup by Torino amid an awful start to 2023: despite salvaging a draw at Lecce midway through last month, Supercoppa defeat in Saudi Arabia was followed by a 4-0 reverse at Lazio – and they were then humbled at home by Sassuolo.
Successfully defending the Scudetto, then, was already a pipe-dream – with Napoli sprinting off into the distance at the Serie A summit – and Inter’s 1-0 derby win started February in an increasingly familiar fashion.
The Rossoneri have lost four league games in a row for the first time since early 2017, and now languish some 18 points adrift of top spot. Indeed, they have slipped to sixth and are one of five teams realistically in the race to join the league leaders inside the final top four.
A shadow of the squad which pipped Inter to glory last season, Milan are seeking some much-needed relief from their ills, as after Friday’s home fixture they will then play their fourth straight match at San Siro when hosting Tottenham in the Champions League’s last 16.
With both his tactics and dropping of last year’s MVP Rafael Leao drawing criticism, Pioli is under pressure to produce a turnaround; now meeting a team that have twice got the better of his over the past few months is therefore not exactly ideal.
Torino not only won the reverse fixture 2-1 in Turin – thereby ending Milan’s 17-game unbeaten streak away from home – but also enjoyed a memorable victory on their most recent visit to the second city, in the last 16 of the Coppa Italia.
On that occasion, the Granata took their Rossoneri rivals to extra-time, and despite then going down to 10 men, substitute midfielder Michel Adopo made himself an unlikely hero with his 114th-minute winner.
Since then, Toro may have been eliminated from the cup by Fiorentina, but in the league they have staged a late fightback to draw 2-2 at in-form Empoli before edging out one of their fellow contenders for a place in the top seven, Udinese.
Sitting side-by-side in the Serie A standings, the two teams were ultimately separated by Yann Karamoh’s second-half strike, which helped the hosts leapfrog their visitors in the table.
Following the 15-point penalty recently handed down to old foes Juventus, now Ivan Juric’s side aim to claim ‘best of the rest’ status, behind the league’s established top six.
Having posted the club’s third-best points total at this stage since the mid-1990s, they may now fancy their chances of claiming an historic treble over the champions by extending Milan’s misery on Friday.
After Stefano Pioli’s uncharacteristic tactical tweak last time out, it is expected Milan will continue with their new 3-5-2 setup on Friday. They will still be missing several key men, though.
First-choice selections Ismael Bennacer (thigh), Fikayo Tomori (hip) and goalkeeper Mike Maignan (calf) are all on the sidelines, and the trio will instead aim to be ready for the first leg against Tottenham.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has finally returned to training following an ACL injury that kept him out for eight months, but the 41-year-old will be on the bench at best following his goalscoring appearance in a midweek practice match.
In the latter’s likely absence and considering Divock Origi’s pallid display in the derby, Rafael Leao could be promoted from the bench to partner Olivier Giroud up front. Before the World Cup, Leao had an average of 3.6 shots per game, but that rate has dropped to 1.3 since returning from Qatar and he has lost his place.
Meanwhile, Torino’s ex-Milan striker Pietro Pellegri is set to miss out on a return to San Siro due to a thigh problem, so Antonio Sanabria, Demba Seck and back-to-back goalscorer Yann Karamoh are all in contention to start instead.
Samuele Ricci recently sustained a calf injury which will keep him out until next month, with Valentino Lazaro and David Zima (both knee) being longer-term absentees.
January signing Ronaldo Vieira may replace Ricci in midfield, while Ivan Juric’s back three should stay unchanged with Zima unable to return for the foreseeable future.
AC Milan possible starting lineup:
Tatarusanu; Kalulu, Kjaer, Thiaw; Calabria, Pobega, Tonali, Krunic, Hernandez; Leao, Giroud
Torino possible starting lineup:
Milinkovic-Savic; Schuurs, Buongiorno, Rodriguez; Aina, Linetty, Vieira, Vojvoda; Miranchuk, Vlasic; Sanabria