'Things aren't working': Milan's title defense crumbling as Napoli hosts rivals Roma

After 86 minutes of its last Serie A home match, AC Milan's title defense was very much alive, two goals ahead of Roma and set to maintain the five-point gap separating the champion and league leader Napoli.

Less than three weeks later, Milan's hope of retaining the Scudetto is hanging by a thread after a sudden slump that has allowed Napoli to take an almost completely unopposed 12-point lead atop the standings. Milan also was knocked out of the Italian Cup and lost the Italian Super Cup to last season's Italian Cup winner Inter Milan.

Two quickfire goals from Roger Ibanez and Tammy Abraham snatched a shock draw for a dismal Roma that night at the San Siro and since then Milan has looked like a shadow of the team that last year snatched the title from neighbors Inter.

The partying that exploded last spring in celebration of Milan's first league crown since 2011 felt like a distant memory on Tuesday night when Lazio demolished Stefano Pioli's side 4-0, moving a point behind it in third place. Pioli all-but conceded the title after a miserable display in Rome, admitting that "right now a lot of things aren't working" as previously reliable performers either get injured or underwhelm on the field. Director Paolo Maldini insisted on Tuesday that the season "doesn't seem like a huge disaster," but the Milan icon has been criticized for flop summer signings including Belgium attacker Charles De Ketelaere and U.S. international Sergino Dest, whose display on Tuesday at left back in place of injured Theo Hernandez was calamitous.

On Sunday, Milan host struggling Sassuolo — the team whose stadium fans invaded en masse to witness a long-awaited title triumph in May — the perfect opportunity to set their season back on course.

But it would take a complete implosion for Napoli to let slip a historic first title since 1990, after racking up an incredible 50 points at the halfway stage of the season. Coach Luciano Spalletti knows his team has a "potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to end over three decades of waiting for Southern Italy's biggest club, which likely has Khvicha Kvaratskhelia back after the Georgian winger recovered from the flu.

Napoli hosts fierce rivals Roma for the first time since a huge dust-up between hardcore fans of both teams caused a motorway to be closed for nearly an hour when Roma supporters traveled to their dramatic draw with Milan. There will be no one in the away end at the Stadio Maradona on Sunday night as both sets of fans were banned from traveling for two months in the wake of that fight. Roma, like Lazio and Inter Milan, are a point behind Milan and has a promising attacking partnership forming between England international Abraham and Paulo Dybala.

Meanwhile, Juventus continue its bid to rise back up the table, following a brutal 15-point punishment for illicit transfer activity, when it hosts surprising Monza in Turin.  Massimiliano Allegri said last week that Paul Pogba and Dusan Vlahovic would be available for selection. Fans are wondering when French midfielder Pogba will finally play for the Turin giants after a knee injury nightmare cost him the World Cup and the first half of the domestic season.

What to watch out for: SAOT

Semi-automated offside technology (SAOT) will make its Serie A debut this weekend after being used at the World Cup and the group stage of this season's Champions League. Italy's top-flight will become the first major domestic league to implement the technology this weekend, in the hope it will end rows like the one in September after Juventus' winning goal against Salernitana was ruled out because VAR cameras somehow didn't spot Antonio Candreva standing by the corner flag, playing everyone onside.

Friday: Bologna vs Spezia, Lecce vs Salernitana.
Saturday: Empoli vs Torino, Cremonese vs Inter, Atalanta vs Sampdoria. 
Sunday: AC Milan vs Sassuolo, Juventus vs Monza, Lazio vs Fiorentina, Napoli vs Roma.
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© Agence France-Presse

1 comment about "'Things aren't working': Milan's title defense crumbling as Napoli hosts rivals Roma".
  1. Santiago 1314, January 27, 2023 at 6:34 a.m.

    Terry, did you watch the Same Game I did.???
    I even went back to Re-watch the game after reading your article.

    Did you actually Watch the Game.???
    Or just Mimicking some Rating from somewhere.
    Milan had him Playing Left Wing Back in a 4-2-3-1
    He was actually playing Left WING...
    And then being Required to Sprint Back, and Cover the Lf Back position when AC lost the Ball.
    He might have some Blame on the 2nd Goal, when Lazio Split a Pass between Him and the Centerbacks.
    But, the Real Problem was he had No Help from the CBs... He had No part in the PK against AC,
    On the other 2 Goals Against; Dest was put in the Position of Covering 2 or 3 Players at the End of a Defensive Breakdown on the other side.
    Double Check Me, and Let me know where we Disagree.???
    "Calamitous" would be a Good Description for the Whole AC Milan Game that day, but not for Dest Individually.

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