After Napoli finally took their first loss of the season in a high-level clash with Inter, we have another match between two of the best teams in Italy as the top-four and Scudetto races begin to heat up. Defending champions AC Milan aren’t quite matching last year’s title-winning pace, but they’re in the mix, 5 points behind leaders Napoli in second place. José Mourinho’s Roma aren’t quite challenging for the trophy as many believed they might be, but they’ve put together a handful of strong performances, the road win over Inter comes to mind, and find themselves just three points out of the Champions League places. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for both sides’ biggest-yet clash of the New Year.
AC Milan vs. Roma Odds
Milan are predictably a decent favorite at home in this match, with their end of the moneyline set at -120. Roma are pretty solid underdogs at +330, and the draw is +240. Goalscoring is a bit more of an even line; for a total of 2.5 goals, the over is +105, while the under is favored at -130.
AC Milan vs. Roma Prediction & Pick
After several of their young stars looked sharp at the World Cup, AC Milan will spend much of this January transfer window weathering all sorts of rumors centered around the likes of Theo Hernández, who now, surely nobody can doubt as the best fullback on Earth, and reigning Serie A MVP Rafael Leão, who seemed to be an automatic goal every time he came off of the bench for Portugal. Both players have vocalized a commitment to the club, but words can only go so far; what told us much more was Leão’s bright and seemingly highly focused performance against Salernitana, in which he scored just 10 minutes into the Serie A restart. Theo also played a full 90, a great sign of commitment when other World Cup finalists (and many who played less than Hernández during the tournament) haven’t touched the pitch yet for their club. It’s going to be a strange few weeks for Milan, but it’ll be vital to keep their heads down and focused on football as they attempt to reassert themselves on top of Italy.
Roma are coming off of a historic season in year 1 under José Mourinho, in which they secured their first trophy in 11 years, as well as their first-ever major European trophy, although the definition of “major” is up for debate, in the eyes of some. Indeed, they secured the inaugural Europa Conference League trophy, an achievement to be sure, but one that left fans and neutrals alike wondering if Mourinho and his men could secure more than a third-tier European trophy to bring back to the Nation’s capital. Year 2 under the most polarizing manager in football history has been very interesting; i Lupi have been dominant by no stretch of the imagination, but they’re alive in all three major competitions, Serie A, Europa League, and Coppa Italia. So it’ll be key for their future prospects how they manage the packed fixture load; will they make a hard push for further European glory, or will they focus on domestic pursuits and make sure they secure a return to the Champions League? This will be a huge storyline going forward from both a mentality, and squad rotation standpoint.
While Roma have put up some solid results this year, I love where Milan are sitting after the World Cup. Some key contributors got a nice period of rest, and those who competed in Qatar- Olivier Giroud comes to mind alongside Leão and Theo- were amongst the brightest stars of the tournament, and will bring loads of confidence and class back to the San Siro. I’m taking the Milan -120 moneyline, while the goalscoring total is a bit tougher of a call. Despite a bundle of defending talent, Milan are allowing a goal per game in the league this season after the figure was just above .8 last year; part of the difference can be attributed to the injury-caused absence of superstar keeper Mike Maignan, and the mediocre play of his replacement, the aging Ciprian Tatarusanu. Roma have struggled to get a goal at times, but I have a lot of faith in both teams to figure it out and get on the scoresheet in this match so I’m going with over 2.5 at +105.
Roma Attack vs. Milan Defense
Simply put, Roma will not win this game if they aren’t able to put significant pressure on Tatarusanu and the Milan back line. The centerpiece of the attack that will seek to accomplish that task is the hard-to-assess Paulo Dybala, the new owner of the most impactful World Cup performance delivered in about 10 total tournament minutes. At his best, Dybala is one of the most unique and creative attackers in World football, as he possesses the ability to play up top and score goals, or sit back and create for his teammates from a deeper-lying role. This season he leads Roma with 5 goals in the league despite playing in just 10 of their 16 matches thus far. In the recent match against Bologna, he was joined up top by Nicolo Zaniolo, who has struggled to just a single goal this league season. Sitting behind the pair of forwards is CAM and team captain Lorenzo Pellegrini, who was solid against Bologna in a contest that saw him convert a sixth-minute penalty which ended up being the only score of the game. Finally, the deeply streaky Tammy Abraham is an option off of the bench; if he doesn’t start, expect the English striker to see a half hour or more of action, as he did in the team’s last match.
At this particular moment, Milan’s defense looks a bit different than the one that really anchored their Scudetto-winning campaign a year ago. Veteran centre-back Simon Kjaer picked up a knock in the Cup, and is questionable for the Salernitana clash. Pierre Kalulu will most likely start in his stead if the Dane is unable to play; even if he is, Kalulu is likely to see some time as Kjaer is probably not playing a full 90 in his return from injury. The young Frenchman is a solid, even if inconsistent option as a backup, but the Rossoneri would love to see their star defender back in the fold. Speaking of stars in central defense, Fiyako Tomori is fresh and ready for action after being inexplicably snubbed by Gareth Southgate for England’s World Cup squad. The fullback pairing is pretty interesting as well; there’s literally not enough time in a day to say all of the great things there are to be said about Hernández at left back, as both a defender and attacker, but the right side is a bit more up in the air. Captain Davide Calabria has put in some solid shifts at that position, but following an excellent World Cup, American wingback Sergiño Dest might warrant some minutes. And of course, the loss of Maignan, perhaps the best goalkeeper in World football who has just won consecutive golden gloves and league titles in France and then Italy, looms enormously large. Tatarusanu is a fine option, but he doesn’t come close to adding the same value as the Frenchman. It’s still a solid group in the back for Milan, but not an impossible one for Roma to crack.
Milan Attack vs. Roma Defense
Another area of Milan’s roster that is absolutely perpetually injured is the group of attackers. Thankfully, the team has finally built some depth in that area so there are options, although they’re more limited with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ante Rebic, and Divock Origi all sidelined. That being said, there’s at least two legitimate stars they can field on any given day, one of which is obviously the defending league MVP, Rafael Leão. The Portuguese rising star once again leads the team with 7 league goals, as interest in acquiring his talent rises across the globe. He’s also on top of the Milan list with 4 assists in Serie A, as his game has really rounded out this year despite something of a slump during the fall. He can play up top or on the wing, but the striker position is much more likely to be filled by the finally-appreciated Frenchman Olivier Giroud, who put in an outstanding performance at the World Cup. He was also essential in last year’s title race with a double-digit goal league season in just about 21 periods of 90 minutes. The right wing is a bit more of a question; Alexis Saelemaekers has started recently, but he has yet to find consistently good form for the Rossoneri. He probably owns the job by default right now, but he is likely to find himself on the bench when health returns to the squad. Lastly, I’d like to highlight the attacking midfielders, who aren’t technically forwards but for Milan, play pretty far up the pitch. Brahim Diaz is the regular starter, and he’s surely earned the role, while Belgian youngster Charles De Ketelaere has begun to pick up some minutes, and do well with them. It’s a deep and star-studded group for Milan, and one could be convinced that they’re just getting started, with all of the rising talent on the squad.
They’ll be facing a stout Roma defense, whose total of 14 goals allowed in the league is the fourth-lowest total thus far. Veteran goalkeeper Rui Patricio is putting in another nice season as he settles into Serie A, and he should be well-rested as Diogo Costa held the Portuguese goalkeeping position throughout the World Cup. Directly in front of him is English centre-back Chris Smalling, who has continued to make an impact in Italy after his loan from Manchester United was made permanent in 2020. The young brazilian defender Roger Ibanez has also become a fixture for Roma, as he’s played every league minute so far in his third season with the club. Lastly, Italian defender Gianluca Mancini has also started every Serie A match for Roma, as he’s provided yet another steady presence in Roma’s back 3. Leonardo Spinnazzola is the top choice at left back but has missed a bunch of time injured; he’s expected back soon, but it is not at all clear that he’ll face Milan after sitting for the entire Bologna match. Forward-turned-wingback Stephan El Shaarawy is likely to continue to start in his place, while Turkish fullback Mehmet Zeki Çelik will be on the right. It’s a very solid defensive group, one that could be even better with some more health, and they’re fully capable of limiting Milan to the single-goal outing or clean sheet that will likely be needed for Roma to secure the three points.