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Preview: AC Milan vs. Cagliari - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: AC Milan vs. Cagliari - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Sunday's Serie A clash between AC Milan and Cagliari, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

After posting Serie A's largest win of the season in midweek, AC Milan continue their pursuit of a top-four finish against relegation battlers Cagliari on Sunday.

In need of the points for very different reasons, the clubs meet at San Siro, both sitting near the top of the recent form table.

Match preview

Following their crucial 3-0 defeat of Juventus last weekend, Milan took Torino apart on Wednesday, as stand-in striker Ante Rebic scored a hat-trick and flying full-back Theo Hernandez bagged a brace.

The final 7-0 scoreline in Turin means that, after a period of struggle in the final third, the Rossoneri have now averaged four goals per game across their last three outings to sit joint-second with Atalanta on 75 points - with Napoli and Juventus still close behind.

As a result, if Milan win at home this Sunday - a task which they have found challenging in recent months - they will book their return to the Champions League after an eight-year absence.

A superior head-to-head record with Juventus could potentially make their clash with local rivals Atalanta, next week, a mere decider as to who will finish runners-up to Inter - providing both teams take care of business this weekend.

It has certainly been noticeable that since bringing the sparsely-used Real Madrid loanee Brahim Diaz into the team at Juve, Stefano Pioli's side have recovered their free-flowing best, which had deserted them throughout a testing period when they fell from league leaders to outside the top four.

Former Manchester City midfielder Diaz has played a part in four goals during the past week - scoring three and adding an assist - as his deployment has allowed playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu to switch to the left; providing more cover for Hernandez to carry out his characteristically lung-bursting runs into the opposition box.

With Rebic also flourishing in the central role he has had to occupy on several occasions this term, due to the repeated absences of top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it seems that Milan have stumbled upon a winning formula in the nick of time.

The injured 'King Zlatan' has scored in each of his last seven league games against Cagliari, so his inimitable presence will undoubtedly be missed this weekend, but the youthful side he will be cheering from the sidelines should prove more than a match for the in-form Isolani.

Though their top-flight survival is yet to be confirmed, Cagliari come into the penultimate weekend with their top-flight destiny firmly in their own hands, following a stunning revival during the past month.

Last weekend's 3-1 win at 18th-placed Benevento not only represented their fourth success in five matches, but also helped them leapfrog their chief relegation rivals - before a goalless draw with Fiorentina in midweek further distanced them from the drop zone.

A tally of 14 points taken from the last 18 available - plus twelve goals from their previous five outings, before Wednesday's blank - has steered the Rossoblu to within touching distance of safety.

With just two games remaining, then, Leonardo Semplici's talented team now have a five-point buffer over Benevento and are yet to meet a Genoa side with little to play for on the final day.

However, the Isolani have won just four of their 18 away games in Serie A this season, heading into their final road trip of a tumultuous campaign. Furthermore, they have a terrible past record against Milan - including January's 2-0 defeat versus the ten-man Rossoneri in Sardinia - so may have to wait a while longer to celebrate salvation.

AC Milan Serie A form:
  • W
  • L
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W

Cagliari Serie A form:
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • W
  • D

Team News

Milan's increasingly injury-prone striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic sustained a damaged knee in last week's win over his former club Juventus, and several Italian media reports suggest the Sweden star will now miss the rest of the season - plus potentially Euro 2020, should surgery be required.

Having often been absent due to injuries and illness this season, Stefano Pioli is well versed in covering his towering talisman's presence up front and should stick with hat-trick hero Ante Rebic as his main man on Sunday.

In his best form since joining the club last summer, Brahim Diaz overcame a muscular injury to feature against Torino and is likely to keep his place just behind Rebic, with either his fellow Spaniard Samu Castillejo or possibly Rade Krunic joining him alongside Hakan Calhanoglu, who will start on the left.

Meanwhile, in midfield, Sandro Tonali is looking to shake off a knock to compete with Ismael Bennacer for a spot in the engine room, but is more likely to be utilised as a second-half substitute if passed fit.

Ahead of their trip to the mainland, the visitors have winger Riccardo Sottil struggling with a thigh strain, though he has now resumed full training.

Defenders Sebastian Walukiewicz (back) and Arturo Calabresi (thigh) were late withdrawals before the Fiorentina game and remain doubtful, while Gaston Pereiro is still observing COVID-19 protocol following a positive test.

Leonardo Semplici may again opt for a back four at San Siro, with Diego Godin and Luca Ceppitelli as the central pairing, though young Andrea Carboni could feature should Cagliari switch back to a 3-4-1-2 formation, with top-scoring skipper Joao Pedro and Leonardo Pavoletti starting up front.

AC Milan possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Hernandez; Kessie, Bennacer; Diaz, Calhanoglu, Saelemaekers; Rebic

Cagliari possible starting lineup:
Cragno; Zappa, Ceppitelli, Godin, Lykogiannis; Nandez, Marin, Duncan; Nainggolan, Pedro; Pavoletti

We say: AC Milan 2-0 Cagliari

Suddenly firing on all cylinders again, as if lockdown had just been lifted, Milan can finish the first half of 2021 in similar fashion to their stratospheric re-start form last year.

With confidence coursing through the Rossoneri veins, even a recently resurgent Cagliari cannot deny them a deserved shot at the big time next term - earned by merit, rather than breaking away into an ill-conceived league of their own.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data

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Serie A Table
1 38287389355491
2 38247774413379
3 38239690474378
4 38239677383978
5 38245986414577
6 38215126155668
7 381881268581062
8 381711106456862
9 38157165254-252
10 381112154648-245
11 381012164758-1142
12 381011175165-1441
13 38913164759-1240
14 381010184258-1640
15 38912175272-2039
16 38910194359-1637
17 38716155069-1937
18 38712194075-3533
19 3865274592-4723
20 38311243983-4420
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Championship Table
1 462910775363997
2 462710963303391
3 462415779423787
4 4623111256391780
5 46239145850878
6 4622111373462777
7 461913146254870
8 4618141466491768
9 461911165755268
10 461810185553264
11 461517144752-562
12 461711184152-1162
13 46187214956-761
14 461515165052-260
15 4615121965541157
16 461413194961-1255
17 461216183745-852
18 461313203761-2452
19 46156254668-2251
20 461213215071-2149
21 461111243658-2244
22 461110253969-3043
23 46119264460-1642
24 461211234061-2141
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