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Serie A

4 key questions that will determine who wins Euro 2020 final

With the Euro 2020 final between Italy and England on the horizon, we’re examining the key factors that will help determine whether football is heading home on Sunday, or if it’s going back to Rome.

Can Italy handle Kane’s movement?

One of the most intriguing tactical wrinkles from Italy’s semifinal victory over Spain was Luis Enrique’s surprise usage of Dani Olmo in a false nine role; Spain using a non-traditional center forward isn’t new, but few expected to see it against the Azzurri, especially after the manager’s staunch defense of Alvaro Morata all tournament long. It was interesting, primarily, because of the way Italy’s veteran defenders struggled to react to it. Olmo was able to drag Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci out of position and create big gaps for his fellow forwards to run into. It didn’t result in a goal, but it’s a tactic that could serve England well in the final.

English fulcrum Harry Kane is by no means a false nine, but he’s proven countless times – for both club and country – that he’s extremely comfortable dropping deep and facilitating the attack with his outstanding passing range. Chiellini is well aware, too, dubbing the matchup with the Tottenham star “extremely tough.”

Shaun Botterill – UEFA / UEFA / Getty

“I have always liked (Kane) a lot. I still remember one of his first matches with England, when we played against them in Turin,” the Italian captain said. “Even then he made a huge impression on me. … He knows how to play deep and how to play a defense-splitting pass for a teammate.”

If Kane can find pockets of space behind Italy’s midfield and in front of the defense, then he could do some serious damage setting up chances for Raheem Sterling, who has been the Three Lions’ most consistent scoring threat throughout the competition.

Who will dominate the midfield?

The vaunted Italian midfield trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti, and Nicolo Barella will be looking to dictate the tempo on Sunday after chasing shadows for much of the semifinal win over Spain. In theory, they should have more time on the ball in the showpiece match at Wembley; England will likely be content to sit in its solid defensive structure and allow the Azzurri to exchange short passes in unthreatening areas.

Claudio Villa / Getty Images Sport / Getty

For Italy to avoid simply having sterile possession, Barella’s darting runs into the penalty area – a trademark of his game – will be of the utmost importance. That’s the type of movement that can unsettle a sturdy English backline that hasn’t conceded a goal from open play in the tournament. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips will need to be cognizant of the Inter Milan star’s positioning at all times, and communication with the center-backs when Barella does spring forward has to be quick.

England also has the option to be more proactive and cut off progression through the midfield before it can even begin. Mason Mount may be tasked with denying supply into club teammate Jorginho to make sure England isn’t overrun in the center of the pitch. Doing so would force Bonucci and Chiellini to bypass Jorginho and force passes into tight areas, or hit long balls over the top for Ciro Immobile to chase down. If that’s how the contest plays out, England will be extremely content.

How adventurous will Southgate be?

This is one of the most critical questions heading into every England match. Gareth Southgate has found the perfect balance at every turn thus far, making the necessary tactical tweaks to outplay and outwit the opposition. His base system always remains intact – a mid-to-low defensive block that relies primarily on Kane and the wide forwards to create chances in transition – but he’s been able to make slight, decisive adjustments along the way. What does he have in store for Roberto Mancini and Italy?

Catherine Ivill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Reverting to three central defenders and utilizing wing-backs – as he did against Germany – seems unlikely for the final, mainly because it would only heighten the numerical advantage that Italy is already likely to enjoy in midfield. Some version of the 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 hybrid that England used against Denmark figures to be the approach on Sunday, with Mount being a vital defensive contributor, as outlined above.

The other key question, as always, is who plays on the right wing. Bukayo Saka has done nothing to warrant being dropped from the lineup, but without having to track and worry about the injured Leonardo Spinazzola down that flank, maybe Southgate can afford to be a little more adventurous and start one of Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, or Phil Foden. At the very least, he has game-changing options on the bench, and at the end of a long tournament when everyone is a little weary, that could make all the difference.

Can Immobile offer … anything?

Reaching the final of any major tournament is an accomplishment in its own right. Doing so in spite of your primary goalscorer is even more impressive. Immobile, so prolific at club level with Lazio, has always had detractors when it comes to the national team, and they may feel vindicated following a pair of shocking performances against Belgium and Spain. His showing in the quarterfinals was particularly woeful.

Insidefoto / LightRocket / Getty

Despite what his name suggests, Immobile always works hard, constantly hassling and harrying defenders; his willingness to run into the channels and chase down long balls played a key role in creating Federico Chiesa’s goal against Spain. But, after scoring twice in the group stage, that one sequence has been the extent of his impact in the knockout matches. His most notable involvement from Italy’s recent wins was feigning injury before immediately popping off the ground to celebrate Barella’s goal against Belgium. It was absolutely hilarious, but his lack of actual attacking involvement is a serious issue.

Immobile struggled to hold the ball up against Spain, meaning when the Azzurri did finally gain possession, it often ended with a pass that ricocheted off his foot and wound up right back with the opposition. Without Spinazzola in the lineup, Italy needs to progress the ball through the middle to make headway, and having someone who can often look like he’s wearing cinder blocks for boots is an obvious impediment. Of course, it’s absolutely possible that the 31-year-old has a career-defining moment Sunday at Wembley and silences his critics. Given the lack of suitable replacements – backup No. 9 Andrea Belotti is a gritty workhorse but not exactly a prolific threat – Mancini and Italy will be desperate for Immobile to deliver on the big stage.

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Serie A

Way-too-early predictions for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar exactly one year away, we’re looking ahead. Plenty can change in 365 days, of course, but that isn’t stopping us from offering up some predictions for world soccer’s showpiece event.

Final four

FRANCK FIFE / AFP / Getty
  • France, Brazil, England, Denmark

Three of the betting favorites going into the tournament – chalk, we know – plus one team that captured the imagination of neutral onlookers everywhere at Euro 2020. Reigning champion France and perennial title contender Brazil are arguably the two most talented teams in the world. Gareth Southgate and England are making strides with each passing tournament. Denmark, so much more than a feel-good story, blasted through qualifying in dominant fashion.

At first glance, the Danes are the surprise addition here, but everything we’ve seen from Kasper Hjulmand’s team in recent months suggests that its semifinal run at Euro 2020 wasn’t a fluke or built only on emotion after Christian Eriksen’s frightening collapse. Denmark can beat anyone.

World Cup winner

Buda Mendes / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Tite’s team looks like the closest thing to a juggernaut in international football right now. Brazil steamrolled through South American qualifying, booking its World Cup berth with ease. This is the most complete version of the Selecao we’ve seen in years, with attacking firepower balanced out nicely by a solid spine.

The flair is there, of course, because this is still Brazil we’re talking about. But the likes of Fabinho and Marquinhos offer another element, ensuring that if the opposition is somehow able to slow down Neymar, Vinicius Junior, and Co., the winningest nation in World Cup history can still grind out victories.

Biggest surprise

Hector Vivas / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Don’t look now, but Canada is for real.

In what feels like the blink of an eye, the Canadians went from a relative afterthought in CONCACAF to undeniably being one of the best three teams the confederation has to offer. Maybe the best right now, full stop. An intoxicating win over Mexico in the previous international window put Canada top of the table with six qualifying matches remaining and put the world on notice: John Herdman’s team is skilled, speedy, energetic, and organized.

Crucially, it’s not just versatile star Alphonso Davies carrying the squad on his back. The Bayern Munich dynamo has plenty of support from a suddenly loaded group of attackers and a deep midfield contingent. There’s quality across the pitch with an ideal blend of youthful exuberance and veteran leadership, all led by a manager who is clearly capable of inspiring his group. As currently constructed, Canada has all the makings of an upstart side capable of catching more high-profile nations by surprise.

Biggest flop

Catherine Ivill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Even if it’s unwise to put too much stock in the official FIFA rankings, being the top-rated squad on the planet still means something. Unfortunately for Belgium, it means there’s only one direction to go. In what will serve as the final opportunity for the nation’s “golden generation” to win a title, Roberto Martinez’s side won’t be able to replicate its third-place finish from 2018.

When your expectation is to win the whole damn thing, anything less is going to be viewed as a failure. Eden Hazard’s drastic decline and Kevin De Bruyne’s increasingly worrying injury record will rob the team of a chance to hoist the trophy, despite Romelu Lukaku’s best efforts. There’s some exciting young talent coming through the pipeline, of course, but it’s not coinciding with the current crop’s peak. That highlights how important it is for all the stars to align if you’re going to capture the World Cup. Luck, as always, plays a huge role.

Unexpected absentees

Claudio Villa / Getty Images Sport / Getty

We’ve already lost some big names in qualifying, including Erling Haaland’s Norway and traditional African power Ivory Coast, and more high-profile nations are likely to join them. In particular, the new format for Europe’s qualification playoffs promises unpredictability, surprise, and – for some rabid football nations – outrage.

Italy, just months removed from being crowned European champion, looks in serious danger. An untimely injury crisis didn’t help, but even a return to fitness won’t guarantee the Azzurri a place in Qatar. There’s an unease around the team right now and the sense of deja vu from the 2018 debacle is palpable.

Meanwhile, Uruguay has lost four consecutive qualifying matches, just fired iconic manager Oscar Tabarez, and continues to rely on a core of aging stars. Sitting a lowly seventh in the CONMEBOL qualifying table, it looks like the tiny nation’s incredible era of footballing success is coming to an end.

Golden Boot winner

SILVIO AVILA / AFP / Getty

As a rule of thumb, you should always throw your support in the Golden Boot race behind someone who is likely – at least in your mind – to play the full complement of matches at a given tournament. Having picked Brazil to go all the way and hoist the trophy, Neymar is the clear choice here. The fact that he takes penalties certainly helps, too. Although it seems inconceivable, the Selecao fulcrum will be 30 when next year’s tournament rolls around. This is another prime opportunity – perhaps the last – for Neymar to deliver the defining World Cup display that every icon of the sport has on their resume.

Breakout star

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Much can and will change 365 days from now, so we’re taking a leap of faith to some degree with any young player here. We also need to find someone who, at the time of writing, has yet to truly break out. That eliminates several electrifying young stars who are making waves on a global scale.

All that said, we’re going with Kamaldeen Sulemana, the 19-year-old Ghanaian winger who’s among the most explosive dribblers in the world. The blossoming Rennes star is putting up an absurd 4.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 this season, eclipsing even Neymar in the category. Ghana still has to qualify for the tournament, but Sulemana will turn heads in Qatar if given the chance.

Honorable mentions: Yunus Musah (United States), Florian Wirtz (Germany)

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Serie A

This weekend in European soccer: Previews, predictions for 5 must-see games

Every week, theScore will pick standout matches to watch across Europe. This weekend’s slate is highlighted by a bumper Sunday schedule featuring a classic Italian rivalry and a heated London skirmish.

Serie A

Juventus vs. AC Milan

Giorgio Perottino / Getty Images Sport / Getty

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 (2:45 p.m. ET)
Where to watch: CBS Sports Network (U.S.), FuboTV (Canada)

After a miserable start to the campaign, Juventus finally got on track midweek, putting together an assured Champions League display against Malmo to pick up their first win of the new season. That 3-0 triumph will count for little if the Bianconeri don’t back it up with three points Sunday. Juve, sitting on one measly point from three Serie A matches, risk falling 11 points behind Sunday’s opposition with a loss.

It’s a long season, yes, but that’s a potentially whopping gap to try and close.

Meanwhile, AC Milan head into the enticing clash on the back of a defeat to Liverpool, but the nature of that game may actually give the Rossoneri a spring in their step. Making their long-awaited return to the Champions League, Milan recovered after a rocky start at Anfield, even stunning a raucous crowd and taking a shocking lead before ultimately succumbing to a frantic 3-2 defeat. A victory would’ve been great, of course, but the resiliency and ability to hang with one of the continent’s best sides was extremely encouraging, particularly without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who remains doubtful heading into the weekend due to an Achilles issue.

After many false dawns over the past decade, Milan now have a proper plan in place and appear well on their way to regaining lofty status.

Sunday’s game will push the proverbial narrative into overdrive. Either Juventus are truly “back” after a groggy start to Massimiliano Allegri’s second stint, or Milan have usurped the Old Lady as one of the title favorites in a season with no clear front-runner in Italy.

Prediction: An entertaining draw with some late penalty drama

Premier League

West Ham United vs. Manchester United

Ash Donelon / Manchester United / Getty

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 (9 a.m. ET)
Where to watch: NBCSN (U.S.), DAZN (Canada)

Manchester United need to bounce back. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his team have been lambasted on the back of a last-second defeat to Young Boys in the Champions League and will be looking for an immediate response.

“We know expectations are high, and we expect more of ourselves, the performance wasn’t up to our standard,” said the manager, after bemoaning what he deemed to be an overzealous response to the setback.

In a delicious twist, Jesse Lingard, whose brutal error gifted the Swiss club its famous victory Tuesday, will be desperate to atone against the team he starred on while on loan last season.

The schedule hasn’t been particularly kind to United, though, as David Moyes’ West Ham present a difficult challenge; the Hammers haven’t tasted defeat this season, racking up 10 goals over four league matches.

However, the Red Devils catch a huge break going into the contest as West Ham will be without talisman Michail Antonio. The red-hot forward, who has five goals in as many games across all competitions this season, was sent off last week against Southampton and will miss Sunday’s tilt due to suspension.

Prediction: Manchester United get back on track with slim win

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 (11:30 a.m. ET)
Where to watch: Peacock (U.S.), DAZN (Canada)

The Premier League campaign is only four matches old, but Nuno Espirito Santo already faces his first conundrum: Does his Tottenham Hotspur side have the personnel to defend astutely and furnish chances for Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, and their other attackers?

Kane worryingly ended last weekend’s 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace without a single shot or touch in the opposition’s box.

Despite being on home turf, Nuno’s gut instinct should be to protect his defense from Chelsea’s rich array of attacking talent. Oliver Skipp has improved exponentially from a season-long loan with Norwich City. Either Skipp or Harry Winks could start alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, but that means there is only one spot left for someone to complement Kane and Son.

The safest option would be Dele Alli, who only played around 15 minutes Thursday against Rennes as a shuttling box-to-box midfielder. But Nuno’s side could be less predictable and more dangerous with the elusive dribbling and vision of Giovani Lo Celso or Tanguy Ndombele, or the raw pace and agility of Bryan Gil. Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn are both injured.

It’ll be interesting to see if Nuno has the bravery to select one of his more inventive players for Chelsea’s visit or whether they’re simply called off the bench to respond to Spurs falling a goal or two behind to their London rivals.

Prediction: Chelsea win their third straight away match against Tottenham

Bundesliga

Wolfsburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 (1:30 p.m. ET)
Where to watch: ESPN+ (U.S.), Sportsnet World (Canada)

It was supposed to be one step backward and two steps forward for Oliver Glasner. However, the Austrian tactician leaving fourth-place finishers Wolfsburg for Europa League-bound Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer hasn’t panned out so far.

Mark van Bommel’s Wolfsburg sit atop the Bundesliga table with a perfect record, while Glasner’s Frankfurt are just above the relegation zone with three points from four outings.

Wolfsburg has played a high-octane style under Glasner, aggressively pressing to win possession in the final third and relying on Wout Weghorst as a focal point when launching direct attacks. But Rafael Borre, who Frankfurt signed this summer to replace Andre Silva, can’t provide the same aerial ability and brawn when he’s 10 inches shorter than Weghorst, so Glasner mimicking his Wolfsburg success in Hesse could be difficult.

Meanwhile, Van Bommel has sensibly and successfully built on the defensive foundations that Glasner left behind.

“We know the coach, so we know his tactics somewhat, too,” Wolfsburg defender Maxence Lacroix told the Bundesliga website. “So we have a bit of an idea of how we can set up against them.”

Prediction: Wolfsburg make it five wins in five matches with a narrow victory

Ligue 1

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Lyon

KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP / Getty

When: Sunday, Sept. 19 (2:45 p.m. ET)
Where to watch: beIN SPORTS (U.S. and Canada), FuboTV (Canada)

After blasting through the field and picking up maximum points from their opening five league matches, Paris Saint-Germain’s roaring start hit a wall Wednesday as Club Brugge shut down Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe in a 1-1 draw. The acclaimed “MNM” trio, playing together for the first time since Messi’s celebrated arrival, looked disjointed. Time on the training ground is needed before the three stars become a cohesive unit.

An ankle injury suffered by Mbappe may delay that chemistry a touch longer. His fitness going into the weekend remains in question.

Finding a balanced tactical structure that can accommodate all three in the same lineup will be Mauricio Pochettino’s greatest challenge this season. In that sense, Mbappe’s potential absence Sunday may make his life a little easier, at least in the immediate term.

Meanwhile, after a rocky start to the season, including a 3-3 draw with Clermont Foot that prompted jeers from the home fans and a very public dressing down from manager Peter Bosz, Lyon have steadied the ship, winning each of their last three matches in all competitions.

The talented Lyon midfield will be key if Bosz and Co. are to pull off an upset and keep their mini resurgence alive, especially after watching PSG get overrun in the middle of the pitch against Brugge.

Prediction: Messi leads PSG to win with his first goal for the club

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Serie A

This weekend in European soccer: Previews, predictions for 5 must-see games

Every week, theScore will pick standout matches to watch across Europe. This weekend’s slate features Cristiano Ronaldo’s likely debut and a potential bonanza in the Bundesliga.

Premier League

Manchester United vs. Newcastle United

Martin Rickett – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

When: Saturday, Sept. 11 (10 a.m. ET)
Where to watch: USA Network (U.S.), DAZN (Canada)

Saturday’s match at Old Trafford won’t be broadcast in England, leaving anyone without a ticket unable to watch Cristiano Ronaldo make his second debut as a Manchester United player.

Viewers in North America face no such conundrum.

Fans waited two weeks for Ronaldo to turn up again in his former colors. United could be playing anyone and the match would generate the same amount of interest. Newcastle United are simply invited guests on a day that should offer at least a cameo appearance from Ronaldo. The 36-year-old arrived at United’s training base on Tuesday, cutting short his time with the Portuguese national team to reorient himself with his former stomping ground.

We’ll also get an early indication of where exactly manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will field his ex-teammate. Solskjaer said he sees Ronaldo as “more of a center-forward at the moment.” After all, it’s goals United want.

Prediction: Ronaldo scores off the bench in an easy win

Arsenal vs. Norwich City

Stuart MacFarlane / Arsenal FC / Getty

When: Saturday, Sept. 11 (10 a.m. ET)
Where to watch: Peacock (U.S.), DAZN (Canada)

Arsenal can’t afford to get this wrong. Without a single goal scored or point secured, the Gunners are off to their worst start to a league season in 67 years. Manager Mikel Arteta had every right to call Saturday’s meeting with Norwich City – another club off to a horrendous start – a “must-win” affair. They’re only ahead of Arsenal because they managed to score after three matches.

There aren’t any more excuses to make. Arteta has had a full preseason and time to study his team and make adjustments. If anything, the international break provided the 39-year-old an excellent opportunity to figure out a way to get the most out of £150 million in signings. Even with midfielder Granit Xhaka out with COVID-19, Arteta will likely have the chance to start newcomers Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu in defense, and perhaps he can establish a new system for the likes of Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka, and Emile Smith Rowe.

Because right now, Arteta isn’t getting good enough performances from his star players. Club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has only scored twice in his last 11 league appearances, and £72-million signing Nicolas Pepe continues to disappoint on the right wing. If they don’t pick up the pace soon, Arteta may have no choice but to roll with the youngsters the rest of the way.

Prediction: Arsenal come out flying to ease the pressure on Arteta

Bundesliga

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

RB Leipzig vs. Bayern Munich

When: Saturday, Sept. 11 (12:30 p.m. ET)
Where to watch: ESPN+ (U.S.), Sportsnet World (Canada)

An early battle between last season’s Bundesliga winners and the runners-up comes with the potential for an off-the-script bonanza.

A number of Bayern Munich’s players, including Niklas Sule, Leroy Sane, and Leon Goretzka, have had limited time in training before the marquee fixture. That’s because their flight from Iceland, where they were representing their country, was forced to stop suddenly in Scotland, turning a short trip back home into a 14-hour odyssey.

RB Leipzig are in no better shape, with Andre Silva struggling for form and youngsters Josko Gvardiol, Mohamed Simakan, and Ilaix Moriba all needing time to adjust to a new league.

It could be messy at Red Bull Arena. It could also be a lot of fun.

Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann will at least have an idea of what to expect from former side Leipzig. Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer – who followed Nagelsmann to Bavaria this past summer – will undoubtedly share insider info inside Bayern’s dressing room. But Leipzig have a game-changer of their own. Attacking midfielder Dani Olmo is coming off a productive summer with the Spanish national team – at both Euro 2020 and Tokyo 2020 – and he’s fully rested after sitting out the last round of international fixtures.

Prediction: Leipzig deliver Jesse Marsch’s first big win as manager

Serie A

Napoli vs. Juventus

Francesco Pecoraro / Getty Images Sport / Getty

When: Saturday, Sept. 11 (12 p.m. ET)
Where to watch: Paramount+ (U.S.), fuboTV (Canada)

Napoli will renew hostilities with Juventus the only way they know how: with fans causing an absolute ruckus inside the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. The southern Italians have beaten their northern rivals in three of the past five meetings, flexing their muscle even without an adoring crowd. But the best thing about Napoli is the fervor that devours the stadium, and with police allowing supporters entry four hours early, you can bet on them creating a killer atmosphere.

A lot has happened since the last time Napoli hosted Juventus in front of fans. That was back in January 2020, when the Partenopei scored a shocking 2-1 victory over Maurizio Sarri’s Juventus, with Gennaro Gattuso still on the bench. Luciano Spalletti now leads Napoli, and he’s got an early chance to win over a notoriously loyal fan base.

Victor Osimhen is also available to play, winning an appeal against a two-match ban for striking a player during a corner kick. The 22-year-old striker finished last season strong, scoring six goals in his final nine Serie A appearances, and entered the campaign as an outside pick to win Italy’s Golden Boot award.

Meanwhile, Juventus head into hostile territory without a win to date. Federico Chiesa and Paulo Dybala are unavailable as well.

Prediction: Osimhen scores twice in a heated affair

AC Milan vs. Lazio

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When: Sunday, Sept. 12 (12 p.m. ET)
Where to watch: Paramount+ (U.S.), fuboTV (Canada)

This is the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. AC Milan and Lazio are both perfect to begin the term, and they’re each coming off blowout victories.

Both clubs are looking to cement Champions League places this season. For Milan, it’s about continuity, but for Lazio, it’s about proving they belong. The Biancocelesti missed out on a berth after making their first appearance in the competition in 12 years last season. Milan, on the other hand, are back in the Champions League for the first time in seven years.

For so long, these two sides have run side by side, jostling for wins and position in the standings, and contests between them have followed a similar theme. A single goal decided seven of their last nine meetings, including dramatic last-minute winners that delivered crucial points in the Champions League race.

There will almost certainly be goals this time around. Only two of their last 26 encounters finished goalless, and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in line to make his return from injury at a half-capacity San Siro, Milan will look to build on their strong start.

Prediction: Milan grind out a win despite Lazio’s late comeback attempt

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