AC Milan v Panathinaikos: What to Look for

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AC Milan play their final friendly of the summer versus Panathinaikos in the Stadio Nereo Rocco in Italy on Saturday night. The result may not be of the utmost importance, but the team’s play with the Serie A opener versus Sampdoria taking place just nine days later. Milan have played decently throughout the summer, but not necessarily convincing enough to imagine a Scudetto or deep Champions League run. To be fair to theĀ Rossoneri, many members of the squad have been absent.

AC Milan v Panathinaikos: What to Look for

The Return of the Double Pivot

Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer are back with the squad. Kessie participated in the Olympics with Ivory Coast, while Bennacer was home recovering from COVID-19. The duo are back in training and ready for the season.

The double pivot midfield is extremely important to manager Stefano Pioli’s system. With Kessie and Bennacer, he’s found the perfect blend of creativity, composure, and toughness. The duo complement each other very well, and Bennacer’s absence last season (due to injuries) slowed down the club’s Scudetto run. All that is in the past, and they’re back.

Expect Kessie and Bennacer to start, but not to play the entire match. Kessie still deserves some rest after Olympic football, whereas it’s difficult to imagine Bennacer being in top condition after a bout with Covid-19.

The most important thing to watch for here is the chemistry between the two. They need to reignite that rather quickly to allow Milan to have a strong and fast start to their domestic and European campaigns this season.

The Second Half Midfield for AC Milan

It’s safe to assume Kessie and Bennacer will start the match. They will, however, most likely be subbed off at halftime. This leaves Milan with Sandro Tonali, Rade Krunic, and Tommaso Pobega as the other options to slide in.

Tonali looks like a generational talent. There’s a tone of work he has to do to reach his potential, but he could easily be the top Italian midfielder in just a couple of seasons. He was lost on the depth chart last season, however. Milan need to make him a focal point of the bench, and one of the first substitutes in every match. Kessie and Bennacer will be absent throughout January due to the African Cup of Nations, and Tonali will likely be the top choice midfielder. He had a great outing last week versus Real Madrid, so look for him to do the same versus Panathinaikos.

Krunic isn’t the greatest option, but he’s a favorite of Pioli’s. Pobega’s future at Milan, at least for next season, is still up in the air. With that being said, both players will likely see time on the pitch. They’ll work hard to impress as Milan are reportedly in negotiations for another midfield addition.

Olivier Giroud, Once Again

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s status for the beginning of the season remains up in the air. He was terrific for Milan all of last season when healthy, but the health has been a major factor. He missed roughly half of last season.

Due to this, Milan made securing a back-up striker a top priority this transfer window. Enter Giroud. He has a stellar pedigree as a World Cup and Champions League winner, so is welcomed with open arms at Milan.

Now, however, he’ll be thrust into the spotlight rather quickly. It seems as if he’ll start the season as Milan’s striker, for at least as long as Ibrahimovic is unavailable.

Giroud scored in Milan’s friendly a couple of weeks ago versus Nice, and will look to do the same on Saturday to be ready for the season opener versus Sampdoria.

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