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AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has named the youthful starting XI for Sunday’s game against Spezia that was expected.

Milan will be looking to make it three wins from three to start the 2020-21 Serie A season when they welcome Spezia to San Siro.

The Rossoneri have actually won their first five competitive games this season when factoring in the Europa League qualification, but they come off the back of their most dramatic victory yet, that being a penalty shootout win over Rio Ave in Portugal on Thursday after 24 spot kicks.

Pioli has named a young XI for the game against Spezia which features the same back five players as the opening two league games. Sandro Tonali gets the start alongside Rade Krunic in midfield, with Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao flanking Brahim Diaz, and Lorenzo Colombo up front.

Official Milan XI (4-2-3-1): G. Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Gabbia, Hernandez; Tonali, Krunic; Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, Leao; Colombo.



Official Spezia XI (4-3-3): Rafael; Sala, Erlic, Chabot, Marchizza; Pobega, Ricci, Major; Green, Galabinov, Gyasi


The main headline from the squad called up to face the newly promoted side is that new signing Jens Petter Hauge gets a spot in the forward groups.

Of course there is no Romagnoli, Musacchio, Duarte, Conti, Ibrahimovic or Rebic.

A. Donnarumma, G. Donnarumma, Tătărușanu.

Calabria, Gabbia, Hernández, Kalulu, Kjær, Laxalt.

Bennacer, Çalhanoğlu, Díaz, Kessie, Krunić, Saelemaekers, Tonali.

Castillejo, Colombo, Leão, Hauge, Maldini

After a dramatic win against Rio Ave on Thursday, AC Milan will look to continue its strong start to 2020 against Spezia Calcio. The newly-promoted club will be playing its third Serie A match of the season, having just won a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Udinese on Wednesday. Manager Vincenzo Italiano prefers to run a traditional 4-3-3, with two classic wingers, a false nine (of sorts) and three central midfielders. Spezia frequently employs a press when the opposition is in possession; the three forwards drop into the defensive third and look to force turnovers. After playing 120 minutes on Thursday, it is crucial that Milan does not overlook this match and takes all three points.

Spezia’s Defense

Spezia’s four-man backline is nothing short of chaotic right now, seeing 7 different starters over its first two matches. After the disaster against Sassuolo, Italiano benched Martin Erlić and Jacopo Sala, while club captain Claudio Terzi returned from suspension in place of Cristian Dell’Orco. Unfortunately for the newcomers, it took Terzi just 60 minutes to draw two yellow cards, meaning that he will miss the fixture against Milan.

Spezia’s defense is well-organized and does not often get caught out, as the two full-backs generally do not advance too far up the pitch. The Ligurian side also benefits from the steady presence of Matteo Ricci, who plays as a holding midfielder just above the two centre-backs. Ricci is a distributor, receiving the ball above the defense and looking to play to either the wingers or the two more advanced midfielders. Though the 26-year-old is not the best of tacklers, Ricci is rarely out of position and provides a strong defensive presence in the centre of the pitch.

Interestingly, Spezia’s left side has proven to be much more competent than the right so far, allowing only 3% of the club’s shots against. Juan Manuel Ramos, the primary left-back, is a solid defender, winning 43.8% of his pressures so far. Also on the left, winger Emmanuel Gyasi has a high defensive work rate. The Torino academy product drops back often to challenge attackers, which allows Ramos to stay deep and close the gap between himself and the left centre-back.

While Spezia has a few quality pieces, this defense is simply not talented enough to threaten Milan’s offense. The backline gives away possession in its own half far too much and is weak individually; its players have been beaten one-on-one 24 times in the last two matches, according to . That said, Milan’s offense will be drained and is still missing its two star forwards, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ante Rebić. The Rossoneri’s attacking depth will certainly be tested in this fixture, but Stefano Pioli’s side should be able to grab at least a couple of goals in this one. Look for Milan to focus play down its left side, as Theo Hernandez should be able to use his pace to take advantage of either Sala or Salva Ferrer at right-back.

Spezia’s Offense

At its best, Spezia’s attack plays fast-paced, using combinations on the wings to advance forward and whip in crosses into the box. At its worst, it is slow, unorganized and plays too many long balls. Spezia often does well in possession, keeping the ball in the midfield and finding open players with short passes. However, once it begins to venture into the attacking third, the offense often stalls, lacking both the creativity and the talent to generate chances. Spezia’s offense relies on two wingers, two central midfielders and striker Andrey Galabinov, while holding midfielder Ricci is often behind the play in a supporting role.

Galabinov is by far Spezia’s most intriguing and threatening offensive weapon. The Bulgarian has scored all three of his side’s goals this season, two of which were headers. At 31, Galabinov is incredibly slow for a lone striker and prefers to play as a false nine, dropping in front of the central defenders and looking to quickly play the wingers out wide.

This unsuccessful attacking play is indicative of Spezia’s general offensive strategy. After Gyasi wins the ball, two centre-mids, Ricci and Maggiore, combine before finding Galabinov. The striker does not press high initially, playing a few yards in front of the centre-backs. Then the Bulgarian drops into space, receives the ball from Ricci and plays a fantastic one-touch pass to the wing.

This allows Verde to venture into the space behind the striker, which opens up when a Udinese defender tracks Galabinov’s run. Immediately after passing the ball, Galabinov charges forward, positioning himself between the lines and remaining unmarked in the box. This is a classic false nine move that also explains why Spezia prefers to play on the wings. The club lacks a true attacking midfielder, and offsets it by focusing its creative play out wide. Only 23% of Spezia’s attacks have come through the middle, one of the lowest numbers in Serie A through two weeks


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