Three key battles that could be crucial in Milan’s showdown with Atalanta

Milan will have to be at their best on Friday night as we welcome Atalanta to San Siro for what promises to be a thrilling showdown.

Both sides are in great form, and while the visitors have scored a staggering 95 goals in 35 Serie A games so far this season, we’ve bagged 27 in our last nine outings since the restart.

READ MORE: Talking tactics: Milan’s effective use of high press, Calhanoglu-Ibrahimovic link up vs Sassuolo

In turn, the stage is set for what should be an entertaining encounter, although Stefano Pioli will be forced into making adjustments given Alessio Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez and Ismael Bennacer will be missing.

It’s going to take a serious collective effort to contain Atalanta and pose our own attacking threat without leaving ourselves exposed, and these three battles could ultimately be decisive in determining the outcome.

Image courtesy of La Gazzetta dello Sport

Kjaer vs Zapata

As per MilanNews, it’s suggested that our experienced centre-half will be fit to feature as he’s struggling with muscle fatigue, and his presence will be absolutely pivotal to our chances of securing a positive result.

His leadership and organisational skills will be vital in marshalling the backline in general, but with youngster Matteo Gabbia expected to come in and replace Romagnoli, he’ll be even more important in supporting his defensive partner and guiding him through difficult moments.

Further, there is the potential for a real physical battle up top with Duvan Zapata expected to lead the line for Atalanta, and so Kjaer has to not only come out on top in this individual scrap, but by doing so he’ll be able to have a wider influence on our defensive display to ensure we keep things tight at the back.

Kessie vs Gomez

Assuming Kjaer is available, that will avoid a scenario in which Franck Kessie is forced to play in defence and so he can continue in his natural role where he has flourished since the restart.

Alejandro Gomez has seven goals and 18 assists in 42 games so far this season, and while Atalanta’s threat comes from all angles, shutting him down will be important to try and stunt their attack.

The 32-year-old opened the scoring in our 5-0 defeat prior to Christmas and grabbed an assist, so it’s vital that Kessie is able to not only track him and nullify his threat but also provide a defensive shield in front of the backline too.

Our attacking quartet vs Atalanta midfield/defence

After Juventus slipped up at Udinese, Atalanta will be coming to San Siro for all three points to keep their Scudetto hopes alive. Milan must not allow them to overwhelm us with the attacking quality that they have running through the entire side.

Ruslan Malinovskiy, Robin Gosens, Timothy Castagne and others along with Zapata and Gomez will ensure we have our hands full, but we can stem the flow of their attack and flip the pressure back on them if Ante Rebic, Hakan Calhanoglu and Alexis Saelemaekers can pin them back and force them to sit deeper.

We used the high press so effectively against Sassuolo to gain control of the game, but especially with Bennacer missing, we’ll surely stand off and keep a solid defensive shape in our own half and rely on the frontline to provide the first line of press.

If we can do that successfully, it could be absolutely integral to ensuring that we don’t just sit back and be forced to deal with wave after wave of attack from the visitors.

Naturally, there will be other individual battles and sub-plots that will play a big role in the result, but if Milan can come out on top in these particular scraps, it should give us an increased chance of picking up three points. Given how we’ve played since the restart and the results we’ve gained, don’t bet against us extending our fine form on Friday night.