Evening Calcio fans. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for what promises to be an exciting end to the penultimate weekend of Serie A action as AC and Roma collide at the San Siro.
Milan are within touching distance of wrapping up third place and the final Champions League spot after a run of four successive Serie A wins. Fiorentina's late challenge has kept the race interesting but a win for the Rossoneri tonight will take them four points clear with just one match left to play.
's side have been remarkably consistent in 2013, guided to a strong finish by the brilliant form of Mario Balotelli
. Wednesday's 4-0 procession at Pescara was ruthless and means that three points will complete a turnaround after a dismal start to the campaign.
Roma's bright, attacking style has been plagued by inconsistency this season, a trait that ultimately cost Zdenek Zeman his job. Aurelio Andreazzoli
's side are four points behind Udinese in fifth place following today's early action and desperately need a positive result to claw back lost ground this evening.
The Giallorossi have summed up a frustrating campaign with their last two matches. A vital 1-0 win at Fiorentina looked to have got Roma on track for Europa League qualification, but the wheels came falling off with a shock defeat at home to Chievo on Wednesday.
BREAKING TEAM NEWS!
The starting lineups are in from the San Siro and Milan have picked an attacking side tonight, recalling Stephan El Shaarawy
and Kevin-Prince Boateng
in forward roles. A full look at both teams will follow in just a few moments.
MILAN: Abbiati, De Sciglio, Zapata, Mexes, Constant, Flamini, Ambrosini, Muntari, Boateng, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
, Burdisso, Castan, Marquinho
, Perrotta, Bradley, Dodo
, Lamela, Totti, Osvaldo
Allegri has decided to go for it tonight as El Shaarawy is picked ahead of Robinho
, with Boateng also back in the starting XI. They will play in advanced forward roles either side of Balotelli, who has scored in five successive matches at the San Siro for Milan.
Sully Muntari and Mathieu Flamini both keep their places in central midfield after scoring against Pescara, with Massimo Ambrosini recalled in a holding role. Phillipe Mexes also starts after being rested in midweek, with Mattia de Sciglio getting a chance at full-back.
Roma look slightly more conservative this evening, with Andreazzoli making changes following that humbling defeat to Chievo on Wednesday. With Daniele De Rossi
sidelined Simone Perotta
gets a rate start in midfield alongside Michael Bradley
. Maarten Stekelenburg
is also out so Romanain goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont
keeps his place in the side.
Italian international Federico Balzaretti also misses out for the visitors this evening, with Dodo
continuing at full-back. Roma should still possess a potent threat on the counter thanks to a trio of advanced players. Francesco Totti
and Erik Lamela
start either side of Pablo Daniel Osvaldo
, with Mattia Destro
dropping to the bench.
PREDICTION: Tonight's match promises to be an intense clash with both sides still desperate for points at this late stage of the season. A congested midfield battle will be crucial to the outcome, but I think Milan will just have enough quality in the final third to close out a 2-1 win. El Shaarawy is due a goal after a lean spell and could find the target, while Balotelli and Flamini are also likely scorers given their current form.
Both sides are slightly late out at the San Siro but eventually arrive as Totti and Abbiati lead out the two teams. Milan are in a changed strip of gold and black, which has rather presumptuously been named as their Champions League strip for next season. A win tonight will ensure they return to Europe's elite cup competition by guaranteeing third spot.
Eventually Roma get the clash underway and immediately attack down the wing as Dodo advances down the flank and beats De Sciglio to a long pass. His cutback is aimed towards Osvaldo at the near post but Abbiati reads the danger and is out quickly to claim with relative ease.
Roma keeper Lobont is called into action at the other end and chooses to punch a cross clear, with all the early indications pointing towards a clash full of attacking intent. Milan eventually settle in possession before Boateng picks out Flamini in an offside position.
collects a precise pass from Totti and decides to shoot from distance His powerful strike swerves towards the top corner and needs a strong save from Abbiati to tip past the far post. From the resulting corner kick Totti evades a packed penalty area with an aimless cross.
Totti gets a chance to redeem himself with a free kick from around 20 yards, but his effort deflects wide for a corner kick. Milan initially clear the danger but the ball falls to Marquinho just outside the penalty area. The Brazilian launches a low strike towards the near post but Abbiati is well placed to catch a drive placed well inside the far corner.
Roma continue a confident start with a sustained spell of possession as Totti flashes a cross into the penalty area, but none of his teammates anticipate the pass and Abbiati is able to come and claim under little pressure.
Totti is involved again as he beats Muntari with a cheeky nutmeg in central midfield. He eventually finds Marquinho out wide but the Brazilian's cross is a disappointment and gives Osvaldo little chance to attack at the far post. At the other end Milan want a free kick as Flamini is brought down just outside the penalty area, but nothing is given as the referee waves play on.
Balotelli gets his first sight of goal as Muntari's flick header sits up just outside the penalty area. The in-form striker elects to try his luck with a hopeful half-volley that flies both high and wide of the far post and out towards the corner flag. With 11 goals in as many games you cannot blame Balotelli for his confident approach, but that was a speculative effort.
CHANCE! Constant sends a truly woeful pass inside straight to a grateful Totti. The veteran drives inside the penalty area but elects for power in a strike that goes wide of the near post. Given Totti's undoubted quality that has to go down as a golden opportunity missed for the visitors.
Balotelli looks to get a shot off under pressure and is eventually blocked by a brilliant late sliding tackle from Perotta. The forward is quickly picked out again and drives at goal from range, with a combination of Bradley and Marquinhos
blocking the shot clear of danger.
De Sciglio launches into a challenge from behind on Lamela and is quickly penalised and warned to be more careful by the referee. The full-back is slightly fortunate to avoid an early caution for that over-zealous tackle, which gave him little chance of winning the ball.
Dodo wins possession in his own half and races clear down the wing, eventually sending a diagonal pass towards Osvaldo at the far post. The forward brings down the ball but under pressure from Mexes just fails to prod into the path of Lamela, who was waiting for a square pass inside the penalty area.
Roma once again break with purpose as Osvaldo wins a corner kick down the far side after being played in by Lamela. The visitors work a corner kick to Perrota but his delivery is a real disappointment and floats harmlessly into Abbiati's arms. An exciting start from both sides but we are just lacking a killer pass in the final third so far this evening.
CHANCE! Just as I bemoan a lack of quality in the final third Lamela slips a precise pass behind Milan's defence into the path of Marquinhos. The Brazilian's run is perfectly timed but Abbiati is quick off his line and does just enough to block the Brazilian's rushed low shot. Mexes then shows nerves of steel on the rebound to sell Osvaldo a dummy and clear to safety.
SHOT! Milan counter and produce a worthwhile strike at goal as Muntari smashes a swerving drive towards the top corner. The Ghanaian's effort has power but just lacks the required direction as a relieved Lobont watches the ball sail wide of the far post. Soon after an exciting race down the wing sees Dodo beat De Sciglio for pace and win a free kick inside his own half.
Balotelli shows quick feet to beat two defenders near the corner flag but just runs out of room as he drives out of play instead of the penalty area. Roma are then caught napping in defence as De Sciglio recovers from a slip to find Boateng with a low cross. The forward's flick towards goal is well timed but turned wide by a fine stop at point-blank range from Lobont.
An end-to-end match continues as Totti unleashes a powerful strike towards the far corner after being allowed space to shoot from Ambrosini. Abbiati watches a fierce drive and times his save perfectly to punch clear with two fists. Roma quickly attack again down the wing and win a corner kick as Marquinhos' cross is turned behind.
A superb subtle flick from Osvaldo comes within inches of meeting a forward charge from Lamela. Luckily for Milan defender Zapata reads the danger and covers to prevent a free run at goal. There is a lovely fluid style to Roma's persistent attacking style, but the visitors have failed to make their bright start count by breaking the deadlock.
Castan concedes a free kick just outside the penalty area after blocking Balotelli's path with a cynical challenge. Balotelli takes the set piece himself but merely provides Lobont with a routine punch clear after a tame effort.
YELLOW CARD! Balotelli has been booked despite making minimal contact, with the incident sparking chaotic scenes as Muntati confronts the referee. The midfielder has clearly said something in protest and is now physically restraining the offical, this is quite incredible. Surely he will see red for putting his hands on the referee?
RED CARD! And sure enough after a moment of madness Muntari has been issued with his marching orders. The Ghanaian had to be led from the pitch seething with anger but in all honesty his over-zealous protests were quite ridiculous. The referee stayed patient and was unmoved as he reduced Milan to 10 men just before the break.
Milan maraud forward at a man disadvantage as El Shaarawy wins a corner kick as his header takes a deflection of Burdisso. Balotelli goes across to take but his effort is comfortably cleared by Roma, with Totti and Osvaldo leading a swift counter.
HALF-TIME Milan 0-0 Roma
Well despite a lack of goals there are plenty of talking points after an entertaining first period at the San Siro. Roma have been impressive on the counter and now have the edge after Muntari's red card for outrageous dissent just before the interval. Milan now face a dilemma, do they sit and play for a point or risk losing all three to close the door on Champions League rivals Fiorentina?
Both sides have had chances to score this evening, with Boateng and Marquinho both forcing strong saves with efforts from close range. Totti has also impressed in a withdrawn central role, linking play with precision passing and quick thinking.
Milan have struggled to find a final pass for much of the first 45 minutes, with Roma's pressing style without the ball working to large extent. The pace of Dodo, Marquinho and Lamela has also helped Andreazzoli's side stretch the match, which should bode well with a man advantage in the second half.
Allegri may turn to his substitutes to firm things up after the break, particularly given the struggles of Ambrosini in midfield so far this evening. Antonio Nocerino could provide fresh legs in a central position, while Bakary Traore came on in that position against Pescara on Wednesday.
The pressure will now likely fall on Roma to press the match and search for a breakthrough when play resumes. A reminder that the Giallorossi must win to keep their hopes of a top-five finish alive, with bitter local Lazio also in their sights ahead of the Coppa Italia final.
Roma also have plenty of options at their disposal from the bench, with Destro and Miralem Pjanic standing out as players with the potential to unlock any defence. Alessandro Florenzi also has an eye for a pass and is a first-team regular, so expect to see him after the break.
We are back underway at the San Siro as Milan start the second half with a spell of possession deep inside their own half. Castan eventually robs possession from Balotell. He then finds Totti, who in turn picks out Marquinhos with a clever curling pass. The wing-back wins a corner kick that is cleared hurriedly by Mexes.
The referee has stopped play and asks Roma captain Totti to speak to the away supporters. Play has been stopped for an announcement to be made warning Roma fans to stop making racist chants, with the threat of suspending the match if it continues. A strong and commendable stance from the referee.
Play resumes as Roma quickly attack through Osvaldo, who whistles a low strike just past Abbiati's near post. The visitors need their powerful talisman to get involved and make the difference if they are to earn a famous win at the San Siro.
Balotelli goes down in pain after an accidental collision with Marquinhos, forcing another break in play as the Milan forward gets treatment. Milan attempt to restart once more but Bradley puts in a fine challenge to rob possession from Ambrosini as a scrappy start to the second half continues.
Milan win a dangerous free kick just outside the penalty area as Balotelli tangles with Perotta, with the match threatening to bubble over. Balotelli takes with a central drive towards goal that is easily gathered by Lobont.
Balotelli is quickly involved once more as his attempted corner kick curls out of play before reaching the penalty area. Roma have struggled to stamp their authority on the match but threaten on the counter as Marquinho's flick across goal is headed clear by Ambrosini.
And we have another stoppage as Marquinhos receives treatment after landing awkwardly under a challenge from El Shaarawy. The Brazilian eventually rejoins play after two minutes, with Roma quickly conceding a free kick as Bradley brings down Balotelli around 30 yards from goal.
Osvaldo picks out Dodo in advanced wide position, with the Brazilian sending a curling cross towards the far post. Unfortunately for Roma no midfielder has anticipated the clever pass and Mexes is able to hammer clear under little pressure inside the six-yard box. If Roma want to win tonight they need to commit more bodies forward.
The ugly side of Balotelli's game rears its head as he goes down asking for a free kick under a minimal challenge from Dodo. The forward then lunges into a late tackle on Marquinhos but escapes a second yellow card.
Boateng sends a wasteful pass out for a throw in search of El Shaarawy, who extends his leg in an attempt to keep the ball in play. Marquinho is then harshly judged to have committed a foul as he puts Zapata under pressure in the final third.
Roma make a positive change as Perotta is replaced by playmaker Pjanic. Meanwhile Milan also make a straight swap as Robinho
comes on for El Shaarawy to occupy an advanced wide position.
De Sciglio is caught in possession as he attempts to beat Dodo, giving away the ball inside his own half. The Brazilian drives to the byline and crosses, but Mexes reads the danger and heads clear with a fine covering challenge.
YELLOW CARD! Dodo shows petulance to pick up a yellow card late on after refusing to let Robinho take a quick free kick. Meanwhile Roma have made their second change, injecting fresh legs in midfield as Florenzi replaces Marquinho.
SHOT! Flamini breaks forward into the penalty area and just creates enough space to shoot from a tight angle. Under pressure from two defenders his low effort lacks power and is tipped wide by Lobont, who comes out to claim at the second time of asking.
YELLOW CARD! Ambrosini launches into a clumsy sliding tackle on Totti and picks up a deserved caution. Soon after Milan make a conservative change as Boateng is replaced by Nocerino in central midfield.
I've been thoroughly disappointed with Roma in this second half. Normally a side full of attacking intent the visitors have sat back for large spells and failed to use their numerical advantage. Pjanic is the latest to drive from distance as his swerving effort finishes just over the crossbar after travelling at speed through the air.
SUBSTITUTIONS: Both sides make changes to their attacks in the closing stages. Osvaldo comes off in place of Destro for Roma, while Pazzini replaces Flamini to partner Balotelli in attack for Milan.
De Sciglio continues a difficult evening as he concedes a corner kick after clearing Bradley's curling cross behind under little pressure. Pjanic elects to take and his superb cross bounces twice in the penalty area without making contact with a Roma player. The Bosnian's delivery deserved better on that occasion as this match drifts into the closing stages.
Pjanic looks for a pass but with little on tries a low strike from range. His effort is accurate but lacks power and is claimed with a strong save from Abbiati. The visitors then have a strong penalty shout as Lamela goes down under a challenge from Constant. The Argentine was looking for contact but was definitely brought down from behind and is extremely unlucky not to be awarded a spot kick.
YELLOW CARD! Burdisso concedes a late free kick for a needless challenge outside the area. Balotelli drives the following set piece well over from 25 yards, before Dodo tests Abbiati with a swerving shot at the other end. Finally in stoppage time we have some urgency from the two sides.
YELLOW CARD! Totti is penalised after cheekily trying to disposes Abbiari as he hoists the ball high to take a goal kick. Destro then has a chance to retain possession in the penalty area but his first touch is a real disappointment. We will have six minutes of added time following that unsavoury stoppage early in the second half.
RED CARD! Absolute madness in the closing stages as Totti's temper costs him dear. The forward reacts badly to pressure from Mexes and lashes out with an elbow to the chest. Already on a yellow card the forward is given a straight red and his marching orders. A shocking move from a player with his experience and we are now at 10-a-side for the final minute of added time.
FULL-TIME Milan 0-0 Roma
In the end a match that promised so much will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Muntari and Totti were both dismissed for frankly ridiculous antics, with both sides forced to settle for an unsatisfactory point. Roma can now finish no higher than sixth, while Milan need a result at Siena next weekend to ensure Champions League qualification.
That just about does it for a whirlwind penultimate round of Serie A action. Thanks for joining Sports Mole and be sure to check back in for comprehensive coverage of football across the continent. Goodnight!