AC Milan will look to put their derby-day woes behind them on Wednesday evening as Novara visit the San Siro in the last 16 of the Coppa Italia.
The Rossoneri were replaced by Juventus at the top of Serie A after suffering a surprise 1-0 reverse at the hands of bitter rivals Inter at the weekend.
Diego Milito’s second-half strike was enough to give Claudio Ranieri’s men a priceless victory which moved them to within five points of Milan, despite falling as low as 17th in the table a few short months ago.
Milan will no doubt still be licking their wounds from that defeat, but they will view the visit of struggling Novara as a perfect opportunity to get back on track.
The Piedmont-based club are without a win in their last six matches since knocking out Catania in the previous round of the Coppa Italia and slipped to the bottom of Serie A after a demoralising 3-1 loss at relegation rivals Cesena on Sunday.
This is reflected in bwin’s 3Way football betting market for the match, with Milan installed as heavy 1/5 favourites, while the draw is priced at 21/4 and an away victory inside 90 minutes is rated as a whopping 12/1 shot.
Cup games can often be a graveyard for punters, particularly with the uncertainty of whether a stronger team such as Milan will decide to field a much-changed line-up.
Luckily, on this occasion, boss Massimiliano Allegri revealed the vast majority of his starting XI in his pre-match press conference, allowing us to make our betting call accordingly.
Alessandro Nesta is suspended for Milan’s next league match, which also happens to be against Novara, and so he will partner Philippe Mexes at the heart of a defence probably completed by Daniele Bonera and Luca Antonini.
In midfield, veteran enforcer Massimo Ambrosini and Urby Emanuelson are set to start and could be joined by Antonio Nocerino, with Filippo Inzaghi and the exciting Stephan El-Shaarawy likely to play up front.
Allegri is also considering including 16-year-old Bryan Christante, who made his debut as a substitute in the Champions League draw at Viktoria Plzen before Christmas and for whom there are high hopes at the San Siro.
So we can reasonably expect Milan to line up in a 4-3-1-2 formation, something like this:
Bonera Nesta Mexes Antonini
Nocerino Ambrosini Emanuelson
It is a very strong-looking team, particularly at the back, and suggests that Allegri quite fancies a tilt at a competition which, amazingly, Milan have won just once since 1977.
This gives me plenty of confidence that the Rossoneri can book their place in the last eight and this is compounded by Novara’s trials and tribulations on the road so far this season.
They are without a win in their nine Serie A away matches, picking up just two points and conceding 19 goals, which is more than two per game on average.
A tally of six goals scored away from Stadio Silvio Piola – including blanks on their trips to other Serie A big guns such as Udinese, Lazio and Juventus – suggests they may struggle to trouble Milan’s experienced back four.
With that in mind, Milan to win to nil looks like a reasonable short-priced play at 18/25, especially as they have conceded just five goals in nine league matches on home soil.
However, it would be remiss not to mention that two years ago, Novara, who were then a Serie B outfit, managed to score in a 2-1 defeat against Milan at the San Siro in the Coppa Italia.
Of course, a repeat is not entirely out of the question here considering the unpredictability of cup matches I alluded to earlier, so backing the hosts to win a match with under 3.5 goals looks to be a safer (and better priced) option at 3/2.
Punters could also do worse than take the 21/20 on offer for more goals to be scored in the second half of the match than the first.
Milan sit fifth in a table based on first-half home performances but rise to second for their efforts after the break, while Novara are rock-bottom of a first-half away table but leap to 13th where results in the final 45 minutes on the road are concerned.
But my money will be going on that 21/20 shout for Allegri to be celebrating victory at the final whistle of a match containing less than four goals.
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