Andy Brassell thinks Milan can again recover from a setback this weekend, as AVB feels the pinch in Marseille and Sporting look to best a weakened Benfica in the Lisbon derby...
"What might work in Milan’s favour ahead of Saturday’s trip to Bologna is Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Tuesday night. "
Milan aim for quick recovery
Bowed, but not down. It's been a tough week for Milan with two successive defeats, but one of this young side's most impressive features this season has been their ability to put setbacks behind them, and now the (still) Serie A leaders have the ideal chance to prove this really is part of their DNA.
The Serie A reverse at home to Atalanta and the Coppa Italia elimination to Inter unfolded on very different terms. The Bergamo side were in the sort of mood where they can tear any team apart and Stefano Pioli's side just have to shrug their shoulders and move on. The late, late loss to Inter, a tempestuous game which they played nearly half of with 10 men only to be beaten at the last, may have taken more out of them.
What might work in Milan's favour ahead of Saturday's trip to Bologna is Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Tuesday night. He showed his fettle with a fine finish to give his team the lead and then picked up a very avoidable red card. Pioli says Ibrahimovic has apologised to his teammates and the ban only counts for Coppa Italia matches, so the Swede will be available and ready to make amends - with a little bit of extra, enforced rest under his belt from his early departure from the derby.
Back Milan to win at Bologna at 1.9210/11
AVB looking fragile
When it's going badly at Olympique de Marseille, it's going very badly. If we rewind 10 days a surprise defeat at home to then-bottom team Nîmes was the catalyst for all sorts of unrest, with fan groups tearing into the players via public statements and André Villas-Boas later admitting he offered the board his resignation. OM lost the next two league games after that too, a dangerous mix at such a passionately supported club.
The seeds of the current discontent were sown in autumn, when Marseille flopped in the Champions League group stage and Villas-Boas publicly conceded that his team weren't good enough to be playing at that level. With reports this week of a huge dressing room row between creative mainstays Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin, new signing Arkadiusz Milik must wonder what he's let himself in for.
It doesn't promise to get much easier this weekend. Rennes are the visitors to the Vélodrome on Saturday and they have recovered well from their own difficulties in Europe, with last weekend's narrow defeat to title-chasing Lille their first since early December. They are defensively solid and have had a surprise creative addition to their midfield with the return from the cold of Clément Grenier, who is showing glimpses of his youthful form with Lyon.
Portugal title race affected by COVID
It's been a frenetic last week in Portuguese football, with rows over COVID safety protocol and a fiercely disputed Taça da Liga between the four leading lights in Portugal - Sporting (the eventual winners), Braga, Porto and Benfica. After the catch-up on Liga fixtures at the start of the week, Sporting are still unbeaten and have further strengthened their position at the top of the table as they chase an unlikely first title since 2002.
Benfica have been the losers over this last week, stricken by the virus and refused permission to postpone games. It heavily contributed to them losing the Taça semi against Braga and dropping two points at home to lowly Nacional with a much-changed team as big names including Jan Vertonghen, Nicolas Otamendi, Alex Grimaldo, Gian-Luca Waldschmidt and Odysseas Vlachodimos recover.
Jorge Jesus' side spent heavily last summer and were big favourites to win back the Liga, but they are now six points adrift of Sporting and it feels like they need to beat their rivals in the derby at the Alvalade on Monday night to give themselves a chance. It will be easier said than done - not just because we wait to see what sort of a team they can field but as Sporting's resolve, after winning well in challenging conditions at Boavista this week minus banned star midfielder Pedro Gonçalves, is clearer than ever.