AC Milan will aim to subject Napoli to a third consecutive league defeat when the teams meet at the San Siro on Sunday.
AC Milan vs. SSC Napoli
Sunday, December 19, 2021 – 02:45 PM EST at San Siro
Napoli stormed to the top of the Serie A table after taking 10 wins and two draws from its opening 12 games. However, that unbeaten run came to an end with a 3-2 defeat to Inter Milan a few weeks ago.
It bounced back by thrashing Lazio, but since then it has drawn with Sassuolo, lost to Atalanta and lost to Empoli. That has seen Luciano Spalletti’s team slip down to fourth in the table.
AC Milan is second, four points behind Inter, but it could cut the gap to a single point if they win this game. Yet victory for Napoli would see them level with AC Milan on points, so it is a crucial game for both teams.
Koulibaly Misses Out for Napoli
Napoli’s downturn in form has coincided with a few injuries to crucial players. Star striker Victor Osimhen is sidelined for several months with a nasty facial injury, while midfielder Fabian Ruiz is also out, but perhaps the most important absentee is defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
The Senegalese captain is one of the world’s best defenders, so it is not surprising that Napoli has struggled in his absence since he tore a hamstring in the 2-2 draw with Sassuolo.
The team has conceded six goals in three games since then – including a 3-2 win against Leicester in the Europa League – and the defensive solidity it enjoyed in the opening months of the season has evaporated.
Milan Needs to Keep Pace with Inter
Milan also began the season with 10 wins and two draws from 12 games, leaving it level with Napoli at the top of the table. However, the Rossoneri then lost back-to-back games to Fiorentina and Sassuolo.
It rallied by beating Genoa and Salernitana, but a disappointing 1-1 draw with Udinese last weekend allowed Inter to leapfrog Milan at the top of the table.
Inter thumped Salernitana 5-0 on Friday night, allowing it to pull further ahead of Milan, so Stefano Pioli’s men need to win this game in hand to keep up with the Nerazzurri.
Milan will be missing lots of important players too for this game. Defenders Simon Kjaer and Davide Calabria are injured, while left-back Theo Hernandez is a doubt after suffering from flu-like symptoms. Forwards Ante Rebić, Rafael Leão and Pietro Pellegrini are also out.
Pioli opted for a back four of Hernandez, Alessio Romagnoli, Fikayo Tomori and Alessandro Florenzi against Udinese last weekend. Fodé Ballo-Touré can deputize for Hernández, while the other three should keep their places.
Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ismaël Bennacer started in midfield last time out, but we could see Franck Kessié and Sandro Tonali instead against Napoli.
Junior Messias is an option if Pioli wants to mix things up in attack, but he may persist with a front four of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alexis Saelemaekers, Brahim Díaz and Rade Krunić.
Eljif Elmas and Stanislav Lobotka are out of action for Napoli, along with Ruiz, Koulibaly and Osimhen. Juan Jesus has partnered Amir Rrahmani in defense in Koulibaly’s absence, while Piotr Zielinski has dropped into a deeper midfield role, with Adam Ounas playing behind Dries Mertens, who has done pretty well upfront in place of Osimhen.
With all the defenders missing, both teams to score looks appealing. Napoli have struggled with Koulibaly’s leadership at the back, which could hand the initiative to AC Milan in this game.
Serie A Pick: Both Teams To Score and Over 2.5 goals (-110) at DraftKings
Serie A Pick: Milan Draw No Bet (-145) at DraftKings