AC Milan vs. Udinese, preview: It's a struggle out there

Dino Panato

Two of Serie A's slow-starters meet on Saturday at the San Siro, but it's the hosts whose future looks increasingly bleak, particularly now that they're without Mario Balotelli thanks to injury.

We're through seven rounds -- is it safe to say Milan have a problem yet? You've got to scroll pretty far down the table to find the rossoneri, down there in 12th place, even on points with Livorno. They've won just twice in the league, against the mighty Cagliari and even mightier Sampdoria, and have eked out last-minute draws against Bologna and Torino.

Milan supporters will be quick to tell you that their club got off to a poor start last season, too, yet ultimately made it to the Champions League. And they're correct: by round 7 last season, Milan had just seven points and were in 11th. But the competition is much stiffer this season. And if they don't have a Mario to save them, how will the rossoneri dig themselves out of this deep hole?

Speaking of SuperMario, he's out this match. No, not a suspension -- that's over. Balotelli is the latest name added to Milan's ever-lengthening injury list. So who will score the goals? More importantly, who will win that penalty in the 89th minute? Does a team challenging for the scudetto really rely on Alessandro Matri?

Well, stranger things have happened.

In a rare moment of good news, Milan welcome back Matias Silvestre, Kaka, and Valter Birsa. Still, their starting XI does not read like a list of players fighting to move on from the Champions League group stages. Add to that Nigel De Jong's one-game suspension and Philippe Mexes's four-game ban for punching Giorgio Chiellini, and you really wonder how Udinese aren't going to score goals.

The short answer is that the bianconeri aren't scoring many, just nine so far. They've also failed to pick up a single point on the road. Oh, and Luis Muriel, who's been a bright spark this season and already has two goals, just got back from international duty with Colombia on Thursday night. There's always Antonio Di Natale, of course, with the Udinese captain certainly looking up for it against Cagliari last time out, scoring one and setting up Danilo with a free kick.

Udinese, too, are well known for starting slowly and then sneaking in to the final Europa League spot. At this point last season, the only team they'd beaten was Milan. Over the course of the season, the zebrette have nothing to fear, as Francesco Guidolin will surely have them playing like a well-oiled machine by the winter break. Over the course of Saturday's 90 minutes? Well, this could be ugly for all involved, including those watching.

AC Milan injuries and suspensions

Mario Balotelli, Daniele Bonera, Mattia De Sciglio, Giampaolo Pazzini, Stephan El Shaarawy (injured); Philippe Mexes, Nigel De Jong (suspended)

Udinese injuries and suspensions

Željko Brkić (injured); Maurizio Domizzi (in doubt)

Projected lineups

Milan (4-3-1-2): Abbiati; Abate, Silvestre, Zapata, Constant; Poli, Montolivo, Muntari; Birsa; Matri, Robinho

Udinese (4-4-1-1): Kelava; Heurtaux, Danilo, Naldo, Gabriel Silva; Basta, Pinzi, Allan, Lazzari; Muriel; Di Natale

Match Date/Time

Saturday, October 19 at 8:45 p.m. local, 2:45 p.m. ET

Venue

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza (San Siro), Milan

TV

Sky Calcio 1 (Italy); BT Sport 1 (UK); RAI Internazionale (USA)

Online

BeIN Sport Play (USA); Bet365

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