Kick-Off: Sunday, February 22, 15:00 CET. San Siro, Milan
Picking Up The Pieces
Milan are now out of the Scudetto picture for good. Losing 2-1 to Inter last Sunday sees them placed 11 points behind the league leaders. While their primary target is now probably beyond reach, they are still active in the UEFA Cup and are looking likely to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Even qualification for Europe's elite competition does not seem as straightforward as it once did. Fiorentina, Genoa and Roma are close behind and, should Milan hit a run of poor form, it could see them fall below any of those sides.
The injury bug has come back to Milanello as well. Kaka was unfit for the derby against Inter last weekend with a sprained left foot and seems likely to miss this match. Milan were also holding out hope that Alessandro Nesta would be bolstering the defensive ranks at some point but that prospect has now been shot down. Nesta’s back problem, which has kept him out of the entire season to date, is now going to prevent him from making a single appearance at all. He underwent a minor surgery this week and his campaign is over.
Milan's performance on Wednesday in drawing 1-1 away to German side Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup was reasonable overall but they lost defensive focus late on and allowed their hosts to get back in the match. Indeed, Werder almost won the game in the final minutes.
Scaling The Mountaintop
As usual, Cagliari, who only finished six points clear of the drop last season, were expected to battle against relegation this term. Amazingly, they have shocked everyone by challenging for a European spot, currently sitting in seventh place.
In the seven matches they have played in 2009, Cagliari have only dropped five points in total, two of those being in the away draw against Inter. The other three came in a home loss to Atalanta two weeks ago. Despite the disappointment of that defeat, they will still feel confident in this match against Milan.
With the draw away to Inter being impressive enough, Cagliari outdid themselves by winning away to Lazio and Juventus six days apart in January. The charge up the Serie A table has been led by the attacking duo of Robert Acquafresca and Nelson Jeda, who have both scored three goals in 2009.
28/01 (Serie A):
01/02 (Serie A): Lazio 0-3
07/02 (Serie A):
15/02 (Serie A): Inter 2-1
18/02 (UEFA Cup): Werder
25/01 (Serie A): Lazio 1-4
28/01 (Serie A):
31/01 (Serie A): Juventus 2-3
08/02 (Serie A):
15/02 (Serie A):
Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Andriy Shevchenko and Marco Borriello are injured. Kaka is questionable for this match as his left foot sprain is still bothering him.
Daniele Bonera returns from suspension. Kakhaber Kaladze, Giuseppe Favalli and Massimo Ambrosini face a ban if they are cautioned.
Possible Formation (4-3-2-1): Abbiati; Zambrotta, Bonera, Maldini, Jankulovski; Beckham, Pirlo, Ambrosini; Seedorf, Ronaldinho; Pato
The visitors have just one sure absentee through injury, young striker Daniele Ragatzu.
They have no suspension worries. Michele Fini, Daniele Conti and Carlos Matheu are one caution from receiving a suspension.
Possible Formation (4-3-1-2): Marchetti; Pisano, Lopez, Bianco, Agostini; Fini, Conti, Biondini; Cossu; Acquafresca, Jeda
PLAYERS TO WATCH
As Kaka may again be missing, Ronaldinho again takes the reins of the attack. His performance against Inter last weekend was inconsistent, but he can afford to be no slouch against Cagliari. In 2009, Milan have been either hit or miss. The one constant has been the good form of Alexandre Pato. He has five goals in seven matches this year, and seems likely to add to that tally.
When Cagliari last played in this stadium, they drew with Inter 1-1. Robert Acquafresca― who is on-loan at Cagliari from Inter― scored the goal that earned his side a point in that match. How great would it be for him to score against the club he grew up hating?
Although Milan are out of the title hunt, they need three points here to keep the sides challenging for fourth spot at bay. Cagliari haven’t taken anything from this fixture in ten years and that trend will likely continue.
Milan 2-0 Cagliari
Joel Whitehead, Goal.com