AC Milan will take on Cagliari in the Coppa Italia Round of 16 on Tuesday evening, hoping to build on their win against Sassuolo at the weekend. It should be an interesting clash, with Stefano Pioli making several changes to the starting XI. 

Milan got back to winning ways in the league with the win against Sassuolo on Saturday. It wasn’t the best of performances, but Stefano Pioli’s men got the job done at least. On Tuesday, another challenge awaits in the Coppa Italia.

Cagliari are the opponents and the Rossoneri will be looking to advance to the next round, knowing that Inter and Napoli have already been knocked out. In fact, this could be their best chance in a long time at winning the tournament.


Game date: Tuesday, January 2
Kick-off time: 21:00 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Alessandro Prontera (VAR: Gariglio)


Team news

Pioli will be able to rely on a decent squad for this one, but the likes of Yunus Musah and Noah Okafor have not recovered in time. Furthermore, Ismael Bennacer has already departed for Algerian, with the AFCONs coming up next for him.

Samuel Chukwueze will be available, though, having been granted a few days extra by the Nigeria head coach. He’s set to start on the right flank, as per the latest report, giving Christian Pulisic some rest after scoring the winner against Sassuolo.

The biggest surprise is in the defence, however, with the Primavera star Alex Jimenez set to make his debut for the Rossoneri. He will start on the left-hand side, with Jan-Carlo Simic slotting in at centre-back alongside Theo Hernandez. A makeshift back four, in other words.

The midfield tandem, with Pioli reverting to the 4-2-3-1, will consist of Yacine Adli and Tijjani Reijnders, while Luka Romero and Chaka Traore should also get the chance in the attacking trio. It’s an eleven that will be really interesting to see in action, topped off by Luka Jovic in the No.9 role.

Predicted Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Simic, Hernandez, Jimenez; Reijnders, Adli; Chukwueze, Romero, Chaka Traore; Jovic.


The opponents

It’s been a very strange season so far for Cagliari, clinching just three victories in the first 18 league games. Their first win only came after ten games, and it was a wicked comeback from 3-0 down to 4-3 up against Frosinone (all in the final 20 minutes of the game as well).

Claudio Ranieri has done a decent job with the team, in fairness, but you could argue that they never should have been promoted in the first place. They are here now, anyway, and have certainly recovered a little from the poor start to the season.

On their path to the Round of 16 in the Coppa Italia, they first beat Palermo 2-1 and then fellow Serie A side Udinese with the same scoreline. Both games were decided in extra-time and it’s clear that Cagliari are a hard-working side, as you would expect from any Ranieri-led team.

The former Milan man Gianluca Lapadula, now 33 years old, will most likely be on the bench and he has scored just two goals this season. In only eight appearances, though, as he missed a big chunk of the start due to ankle surgery.

Their top goalscorer at four goals, namely Leonardo Pavoletti, is injured and will miss the game. This is certainly a big blow for the Sardinian side.

Cagliari (4-3-1-2): Radunovic; Di Pardo, Wieteska, Hatzidiakos, Obert; Jankto, Prati, Deiola; Makoumbou; Petagna, Oristanio.


Head to head

These two teams last faced each other at the end of September. Milan prevailed rather comfortably with a 3-1 scoreline, although Cagliari did open the scoring in that game. The Rossoneri could have avoided that, though, with some poor defending on display.

Interestingly, this will be the first clash in the Coppa Italia between Milan and Cagliari, so there are no precedents in that sense. In the league, however, the teams have faced each other 24 times, with Milan winning 19 of these (1D, 4L).


Ones to watch

For Milan, it’s fairly obvious that we must keep an extra eye on the Primavera youngsters: Simic, Jimenez and Chaka Traore. They will be eager to show themselves but there will inevitably also be some pressure, so let’s see how they will cope.

To name one of the veterans, Tijjani Reijnders is a player who will be very important for Milan. His passing and movement have been really good lately, so he just needs to continue like this. Indeed, the €20m price tag is looking more and more like a bargain.

As for Cagliari, it will depend a bit on the actual formation as there have been some contradicting reports. Andrea Petagna is a strong striker who could give Simic a hard time at the back, so keep an eye on that battle.

Furthermore, many had high hopes for Jakub Jankto (he was even linked with Milan) but he hasn’t been that successful as of late. He does have a lethal left foot on a good day, though, so the Rossoneri must be careful.


Prediction

Milan need to win this one, especially considering that Inter and Napoli have both been knocked out on their side of the knockout tree. Anything else would be a disaster for Pioli, seeing as this could be his only shot at a trophy this season.

Then again, Cagliari and Ranieri have been known to perform at their best when playing as the underdogs, so Milan need to be careful as always.

AC Milan 2-0 Cagliari

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