AC Milan will be hoping to make it two wins on the trot as they travel to the Stadio Carlo Castellani to take on Empoli this weekend. Meanwhile, their hosts, who sit just one point behind the sixth-placed Rossoneri, have experienced a solid campaign to date under new coach Marco Giampaolo will be seeking to overtake both Milan and Sassuolo as they chase a possible Europa League spot.
Both teams will be coming into this game having suffered losses in their first games of 2016, but have bounced back with a draw and a win. For Milan, defeating Fiorentina on matchday 20 was exactly the thing that the team – and their manager Sinisa Mihajlovic – desperately needed. After two seasons sans European football, the ever-vocal president Silvio Berlusconi has made it loud and clear that the Diavolo must make a return to continental action next season, and whilst Milan still have a lot of work to do, beating the Viola – a team against whom they had not scored more than one goal at the San Siro since March 2006 – could be the jump-start to the revival they desperately need.
However, Empoli could represent a deterrent to Milan’s ambitions. The Azzurri have been in good form themselves this season and were unfortunate to take on Chievo without several key players due to a flu bug that had spread through the squad. Nonetheless, the Tuscan side managed to secure a draw to keep themselves in the running for a potential European football berth at the end of this season. The corresponding fixture last season finished as a 2-2 draw; however, when the two sides met earlier this campaign, Milan managed to come out on top with goals from new signings Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano, who was en route to China only to perform a u-turn and return to Milan after the deal fell apart. Despite the return of Mario Balotelli to the squad, the Italian international has only returned to full fitness after groin surgery and likely will not be risked from the start, meaning that it will be Bacca and M’Baye Niang who will likely lead the line for the Diavolo tomorrow.
A win for Milan would take them to 35 points – level with Roma but behind on goal difference – which would increase the pressure on the Giallorossi ahead of their crunch clash with a recently resurgent Juventus on Sunday. Meanwhile, victory for Empoli would see them jump into sixth and they could remain there provided that Sassuolo lose their fixture at home to Bologna – but given how solid the Neroverdi have been at home that may not be so likely. Regardless of how the other teams ahead of them fare, both sides will be heading into this game with the sole intention of winning, so fans and neutrals alike could be in for a treat on Saturday.
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