Afternoon Calcio fans! Thanks for joining Sports Mole
for today's early offering from Serie A as AC Milan
travel to lowly Pescara. Massimiliano Allegri
's side need maximum points to pile the pressure on Fiorentina as the race for Champions League qualification comes to a close.
The Rossoneri took a giant stride towards wrapping up third place last weekend, with Mario Balotelli
's late winner at home to Torino. With Fiorentina losing at home to Roma, Allegri's side are now four points clear of La Viola with just three matches left to play.
Milan were far from convincing against Torino but despite struggling for long spells had Balotelli to thank for his timely late intervention. Complacency must be avoided against Pescara today to complete a remarkable turnaround for Allegri's men, with Champions League football a strong achievement given their difficult start to the campaign.
Pescara can play with freedom this afternoon, with relegation finally confirmed with defeat to Genoa last weekend. Cristian Bucchi
's side have won just a single game this calendar year, struggling to score goals throughout a miserable season. Pride was restored to a degree two weeks ago with a battling point against Roma, but a shock victory tonight would help give hope that Bucchi's beleaguered side are capable of an instant return.
BREAKING TEAM NEWS!
Milan have been forced to shuffle their pack tonight as M'Baye Niang
gets a rare start in attack. A full look at both starting XIs will follow in just a few moments.
Abbiati, Abate, Zapata, Yepes, Constant, Flamini, Muntari, Nocerino, Niang, Balotelli, Robinho
PESCARA: Perin, Zauri, Cosic, Capuano, Balzano, Rizzo, Togni, Di Francesco, Cascione, Sculli, Sforzini
Niang's inclusion is a slight surprise for Milan this evening, with the French starlet picked to replace the suspended Kevin-Prince Boateng
. The omission of Stephan El Shaarawy
is an outright shock from Allegri, who picks Robinho
in his starting XI alongside Balotelli.
is also rested in central defence for the visitors as Colombian veteran Mario Yepes gets a rare start alongside Cristian Zapata. Kevin Constant
also keeps his place at full-back ahead of promising youngster Mattia de Sciglio
The forgotten figure of Antonio Nocerino
also starts in central midfield for Milan tonight after a largely frustrating campaign. Nocerino was virtually ever-present last season but has been forced to make do with a place on the bench more often than not in 2013.
With Riccardo Montolivo
and Bojan still out injured Nocerino will be charged with providing support to Balotelli from midfield. The functional duo of Sully Muntari
and Mathieu Flamini
both start in a more withdrawn central role, despite both potentially heading for the San Siro exit door this summer.
Pescara stick with Lazio loanee Giuseppe Sculli
in attack this afternoon, with the forward supported by Ferdinando Sforzini. Young midfielder Federico di Francesco also keeps his place in the starting XI as Bucchi starts to build for the future and a Serie B campaign next season.
After recently being voted Milan's player of the season El Shaarawy's absence is a slight surprise tonight. The forward's form in recent months has been blighted by a persistent hamstring complaint so perhaps Allegri has chosen tonight to give his starlet a rest, with Roma ahead on Sunday evening.
PREDICTION! At the risk of being utterly predictable I just cannot see past a Milan win tonight. Allegri's side have been ruthless against teams in the bottom half of late and with Balotelli in imperious form the Rossoneri should tighten their grip on third place with minimum fuss today.
Both sides are out at a picturesque Stadio Adriatico as Milan bid to build a seven-point cushion in the race for Champions League football. Can Pescara offer any kind of resistance this afternoon or will Allegri's side go within touching distance of securing third place in Serie A? We are about to find out!
Pescara get the match underway and immediately concede a free kick as Niang intercepts a forward pass before being clipped by Togni. The visitors decide to keep possession deep as Zapata, Flamini and Constant all enjoy early touches.
OFF THE BAR! Milan win an early corner kick as Abate's cross is turned behind by Cosic. A curling delivery finds Balotelli unmarked in the penalty area, but the forward's powerful strike from six yards comes crashing back off the woodwork.
Pescara are very lucky not to be behind early on, with Balotelli normally so clinical from close range. The home side launch a break at the other end as Di Francesco attempts to meet a long diagonal pass, but Constant quickly reads the pass and cuts out any danger in the final third.
Sculli brings down Flamini to concede a free kick around 30 yards from goal. Milan take quickly in search of Robinho in a wide position but fail to find the forward as a set piece comes to nothing.
PENALTY TO MILAN! The visitors have a penalty for a silly late challenge by Cosic on Nocerino. A rash challenge from the Pescara defender presents Balotelli with a chance to score his 10th goal in Serie A this season.
GOAL! Pescara 0-1 Milan (Balotelli)
A trademark spot kick from Balotelli cooly sends Perin the wrong way and Milan have an early lead against the bottom club. That is Balotelli's fourth penalty for Milan as the forward maintains his utterly ruthless start to life at the San Siro, while also making up for that early miss.
YELLOW CARD! Pescara win their first corner kick but are quickly back on the defensive as Milan clear and break with pace through Robinho. The Brazilian's run is quickly ended as he is hauled down by a cynical challenge from Rizzo, which earns the young midfielder an early caution.
Bucchi's side must dig deep to maintain their pride this afternoon after that early setback. Togni picks up the mantle for Pescara but badly overhits a pass aimed towards the final third as Milan clear their lines with relative ease.
SAVE! Perin gets an important touch on Niang's touch to stop Robinho meeting a whipped cross into the danger zone. From the following corner kick Milan take short through Robinho, but Sculli does well to intercept as the home side hang on.
Niang is penalised for handball just as he looks destined to control and finish a superb pass from deep by Robinho. Both strikers have the chance to support Balotelli with a goal tonight and make their case for a permanent place in Allegri's starting XI, while El Shaarawy looks on bemused from the subs bench.
SHOT! Muntari sends a brilliant ball out wide to Niang with a diagonal pass that travels at least 30 yards. The Frenchman shows pace and purpose to drive into the penalty area before dragging how low strike just wide of the far post.
Abbiati is pressed into action for the first time today as he comes out to claim a floated cross from Succli with authority. Milan quickly regain control as Abate and Flamini combine in the final third, but Capuano reads the danger and intercepts with a fine block tackle.
Pescara have their brightest spell of the match as Sforzini beats the offside trap to meet a long free kick from Sculli. The forward shruggs off Yepes but never has a bouncing ball under control, eventually scuffing a low effort well wide of Abbiati's far post. Just a warning for Milan there that they must maintain focus despite dominating the early stages of a fairly routine encounter.
Sculli ends a Pescara counter after unceremoniously bundling Abate to the floor with a push near the corner flag. Milan have failed to press home their advantage since Balotelli's early penalty but still look pretty comfortable with a narrow advantage.
GOAL! Pescara 0-2 Milan (Muntari)
Rizzo concedes a silly free kick out wide as be brings down Balotelli with the forward going nowhere under pressure from Capuano. Robinho comes over to take the set piece and curls a cross towards the far post, which Muntari meets unmarked to lash home under the crossbar. The strike took a deflection off Sculli but either way Milan are now two goals to the good and now in complete control of the match.
Pescara full-back Zauri shows frustration with a cynical late lunge on Robinho out wide. Balotelli takes the free kick from around 30 yards, but Balzano reads the cross and heads out to safety.
Balotelli shares a heated exchange with Sculli after the pair clash near the corner flag, with the Milan forward eventually summoned by the referee for a word of warning. Meanwhile Pescara win a free kick which is taken by Togni, with Flamini watching the cross before smashing clear as a rare home attack is quickly snuffed out.
Yepes is forced to clear for a corner kick as Pescara create an overlap down the right flank. Balotelli of all people is back to clear the danger as Sculli's cross comes into the penalty area. The forward then aims a cross-field pass towards Niang but his effort ends up sailing over the bar from inside his own half.
Milan see out the first period with a safe spell of possession inside their own half, with Robinho eventually winning a free kick after being brought down by a clumsy tackle from Zauri. Balotelli then looks for Robinho with a clever flick inside, but the Brazilian fails to read his colleague's intentions as a promising break comes to nothing.
HALF-TIME Pescara 0-2 AC Milan
Well in truth that first 45 minutes was more comfortable than anything Milan could have hope for before kickoff. Balotelli's early penalty settled any nerves for the visitors, before a scuffed volley from Muntari doubled their advantage soon after.
Balotelli took just 10 minutes to register his 10th Serie A strike of the season, with that tally reached in just 11 matches. The forward is famously unflappable from the penalty spot and enhanced that reputation with a trademark finish from eight yards.
Pescara looked relatively comfortable in open play but were ultimately undone before the break by slack marking from a free kick. Robinho's cross towards the far post found Muntari completely unmarked, and the midfielder applied the finish for his 4th of the campaign.
The visitors have looked bright in the channels this afternoon, despite the absence of Boateng and El Shaarawy. Niang and Robinho have the made the most of rare starts to show pace and purpose down the flanks, while Flamini and Muntari have been effective in midfield with minimum fuss.
Milan must maintain their composure after the interval to secure a seven-point lead in the race for third place. If Fiorentina fail to secure maximum points away to Siena later this evening Allegri's men will be guaranteed third spot and a Champions League place.
The visitors have a number of options they may wish to introduce in the second period, with Pazzini and El Shaarawy both able to provide fresh legs in the final third.
Milan get the second half underway and immediately search for Niang with a long diagonal pass, which just goes astray. Pescara keeper Perin then puts the ball out of play under little pressure as the visitors quickly regain possession.
Nocerino shows quick feet in central midfield to beat two Pescara players, but Di Francesco goes down for the hosts resulting in a break in play. On reflection it looks like the youngster took an elbow to the face from Robinho which has gone unpunished.
Di Francesco quickly gets back to his feet and is involved again as the youngster just drifts offside with an attempt to meet a long pass towards the far post. Togni then ends a spell of possession for Pescara as he misplaces a short pass under little pressure.
GOAL! Pescara 0-3 Milan (Flamini)
Milan are home and dry as they once again take full advantage of inept home defending. Robinho was first on the scene as Zauri slipped on the ball just outside his own penalty area. The Brazilian waited for support and then sent a pinpoint pass across the six-yard box, with Flamini arriving to tap home his 7th Milan goal from close range.
If Milan are in an uncharitable mood there is definitely the potential for more goals in the remaining 33 minutes. Pescara have dropped to defend on their own penalty area and are struggling to retain possession with conviction anywhere on the pitch.
GOAL! Pescara 0-4 Milan (Balotelli)
Another quality finish from Balotelli rounds off a sweeping Milan move for their fourth goal of the match. Muntari started the break with a precise pass to Flamini out wide, with the Frenchman following his lead to find Balotelli just inside the six-yard box. Under pressure from two Pescara defenders the forward managed to turn and find the top corner for his second of the match and 11th Milan goal in as many games.
SUBSTITUTION: With three points secure Milan take the chance to give young midfielder Traore a first-team opportunity, with Flamini withdrawn after an impressive display.
SUBSTITUTION: Niang's search for a first goal in Serie A will go on as the young Frenchman is taken off with 25 minutes to play. Clinical striker Giampaolo Pazzini takes his place, with no less than 95 top-flight goals to his name.
Early changes are no surprise from Allegri, with Roma visiting the San Siro in what promises to be a fierce battle this weekend. Balotelli remains on the pitch and looks desperate for a hat-trick in the closing stages as Milan keep possession for a prolonged period.
MISS! Pazzini should really have added his name to the scoresheet after a clever chipped cross from Balotelli. The forward was unmarked inside the penalty area but failed to get full purchase on his strike form a tight angle, which Perin caught with a strong save.
Pescara are given the chance to pack the penalty area with a set piece as Constant brings down Di Francesco next to the corner flag. A curling cross is there to be attacked for the hosts, but Yepes uses his experience to head clear under pressure from two Pescara players.
SUBSTITUTION: Allegri quite surprisingly decides to use El Shaarawy from the bench, with the young forward replacing Robinho. Perhaps the Little Pharaoh needs a confidence after a relatively lean spell in recent weeks. Meanwhile Pescara swap Cascione for Andrea Mancini in the closing stages, the youngest son of Manchester City boss Roberto.
El Shaarawy quickly uses his pace to get involved, beating two defenders before racing into the penalty area. Perin stays big to force the forward wide and from a tight angle a deflected drive flies wide of his near post.
Balotelli dances past three defenders in a mazy dribble before crossing to El Shaarawy in the penalty area. Both El Shaarawy and Pazzini are desperate to turn home but a brilliant covering challenge from Cosic just denies Milan the chance to shoot from close range.
Mancini takes up a dangerous position with possession inside the final third but just hesitates at a crucial time, misplacing a pass towards Sculli. At the other end Rizzo is very fortunate to escape second yellow card after crashing into El Shaarawy from behind with a forceful challenge.
Di Francesco lets fly for the hosts but his wayward drive comes to going out for a throw-in on the far side. Mancini then sends a cross towards Sculli wide of its intended target as Pescara search for a late consolation without forcing a shot on target.
Rizzo again escapes a second caution after clipping Balotelli with a late tackle. Sforzini then hacks over Traore with studs showing as Pescara show visible signs of frustration after being soundly beaten. Another terrible tackle from Mancini on Muntari soon comes in as this match threatens to boil over in the closing stages.
SUBSTITUTION: Pescara hand Catalano his Serie A debut late on as he replaces teenager Di Francesco. When play resumes Milan string a spell of five passes together out wide, with El Shaarawy eventually conceding possession as he tries to beat his marker with a quick turn.
Pazzini strays offside in his attempts to meet a lofted pass towards the back post from Balotelli, which is unlike the forward from that range. A useful cross from Constant is then cleared by Capuano, with Pazzini eventually penalised for a push out wide.
FULL-TIME Pescara 0-4 AC Milan
In the end a comfortable victory for Milan which almost guarantees the Rossoneri a place in next season's Champions League. Balotelli continued his superb form with a brace, taking his tally to 11 Serie A goals in just 10 matches.
That just about does it for our live text commentary from Pescara. Thanks for checking in and be sure to visit Sports Mole this evening for comprehensive coverage of a full round of Serie A midweek fixtures. Good evening!