Although the Rossoneri struggled during pre-season, Leonardo will be hoping to kick start his managerial career with a win in Tuscany…
Saturday, August 22, 20.45 CET
Stadio Artemio Franchi, Siena
Siena Face Up To Difficult Season Ahead
The Bianconeri have tended to struggle in Serie A since they arrived in Italy’s top flight in 2003, but finished 14th last term – a comfortable 10 points above the drop zone. They have lost some key players, however, particularly in Houssine Kharja and Juan Camilo Zuniga who have left for Genoa and Napoli, respectively.
Replacements have been purchased, with Reginaldo and Michele Paolucci being brought in to compete alongside Massimo Maccarone for a first-team spot. Albin Ekdal has also joined Marco Giampaolo’s side on loan from Juventus to provide some much-needed creativity in midfield.
While question-marks have been raised over some of Milan’s defending in pre-season, Siena have similar problems going forward. Although they only conceded 18 goals at home last term, they only scored 33 in 38 games – nine of which came from Maccarone. Reginaldo and Paolucci will need to find the net on a regular basis both to keep themselves in the side and Siena away from the drop zone.
Milan Have Much To Prove
New coach Leonardo has overseen more defeats than victories in Milan’s preparation for another Serie A campaign, while the Rossoneri also face the daunting task of finding Kaka’s replacement.
This role has fallen on Ronaldinho’s broad shoulders, and there have been suggestions around the club that the Brazilian has been training harder than ever in order to fill Kaka’s illustrious boots. It remains a gamble, however, as the former World Player of the Year is struggling to recapture the form that once made him the most feared player on the planet.
There has been some renewed optimism around Milanello after the Rossoneri beat title rivals Juventus on penalties in the Trofeo Berlusconi, but Leonardo’s men will have to start their competitive season on the right foot with the Derby della Madonnina just around the corner.
Although the squad has not been strengthened as much as fans would have hoped, there are still proud players in the Milanese ranks. While the great and good of calcio ponder over this season’s scudetto candidates, the Rossoneri have generally been moved into the second tier of clubs behind favourites Inter and Juventus – a fact that will not have gone down well in the Milan dressing room.
August 8 v Sampdoria (H) – LOST 0-3
August 1 v Ibiza (H) – WON 1-0
July 29 v Andria (H) – WON 3-0
July 26 v Mezzocorona (H) – WON 4-0
July 25 v Aris Salonica (H) – DREW 0-0
August 17 v Juventus (H) – DREW 1-1
August 8 v Benfica (A) – DREW 1-1
July 30 v Boca Juniors (A) – DREW 1-1
July 29 v Bayern Munich (A) – LOST 1-4
July 26 v Inter (A) – LOST 0-2
Marco Giampaolo has a fairly full squad from which to select his team, with only striker Marcelo Larrondo sidelined due to a thigh problem. However, Agostino Garafolo and Emanuele Calaio are both banned for Saturday’s game. Michele Paolucci could make his debut up front with Massimo Maccarone, with experienced Czech midfielder Lukas Jarolim supporting the front two.
Possible formation (4-3-1-2): Curci; Rossettini, Ficagna, Brandao, Del Grosso; Vergassola, Codrea, Fini; Jarolim; Paolucci, Maccarone
Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva is now available to Milan’s first team having signed for the club back in January, and should start alongside fit-again Alessandro Nesta. Christian Abbiati is ruled out through injury, as are Massimo Ambrosini and Clarence Seedorf, while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar must serve a one-match suspension.
Possible formation (4-3-1-2): Storari; Zambrotta, Nesta, Thiago Silva, Jankulovski; Gattuso, Pirlo, Flamini; Ronaldinho; Pato, Inzaghi
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Massimo Maccarone (Siena)
The former Middlesbrough striker is Siena’s major attacking threat and scored his first two goals for the Bianconeri against Milan back in 2007. A natural finisher, his instincts around the penalty area will need to be razor-sharp if Siena are to get a result against the Rossoneri.
With Kaka’s departure the 29-year-old could become the grinning focal point of the Rossoneri side, creating play and linking up the hard-working midfield with the strikers, enjoying his football once again. But it is not the first time he has had opportunities, and he is sadly yet to find his form of 2005-06 again. Leonardo is keen for ‘Ronnie’ to take his chance, but there is nothing the tactician can do once his compatriot steps over the white line onto the pitch. The flamboyant Brazilian could make the difference between a successful and a disappointing season for Milan, and he must start well on Saturday.
While Siena have been a tough nut to crack on many occasions, Milan will be highly motivated for their opening fixture to prepare for the derby in the best possible manner. Ronaldinho in particular will have a point to prove, while Pato and Inzaghi will be desperate to get on the scoresheet to give Leonardo a selection headache when Huntelaar returns from suspension.
Siena 0-2 Milan