AC Milan will welcome Champions League football back to the San Siro for the first time in seven years when they welcome Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night.
Milan come into the game full of confidence having won five out of their opening six matches in the league to put them behind only Napoli in second place, but they must respond in Europe after losing to Liverpool in the first group game.
Head coach Stefano Pioli highlighted in his pre-match press conference what he believes is a gap between the Rossoneri and Europe’s elite sides, while Diego Simeone fired some praise back at Milan in his.
Game date: Tuesday, 28 September
Kick-off time: 20:00 (CEST)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (VAR: Abdülkadir Bitigen)
Milan come into the game riding the crest of a wave after back-to-back league wins, their most recent being a character-testing 2-1 victory at Spezia over the weekend in which Brahim Diaz scored a late winner.
However, they come into this game with some selection doubts as Pioli is hoping that a recent injury crisis is almost over. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Rade Krunic are expected to be out of the game with respective Achilles and muscle issues.
Simon Kjaer and Alessandro Florenzi trained with the squad on Monday but the former was not called up, while Davide Calabria returned to the fold during the win in La Spezia as did Olivier Giroud, but Junior Messias is still not match fit.
According to the latest reports, Pioli is expected to field Mike Maignan in goal with Calabria and Tomori on the right side of the defence, which will be completed by Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez.
Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessie should be the double pivot with Alexis Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao making up the attacking trident behind Ante Rebic, who is anticipated as the centre-forward with Giroud not yet at 100%.
Romagnoli will play if Kjaer is not at 100%, while Rebic over Giroud is not a certainty either at the moment.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Romagnoli, Tomori, Theo Hernandez; Bennacer, Kessie; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Leao; Rebic.
As aforementioned, Atletico Madrid were the champions of LaLiga for an 11th time last season, finishing above their city rivals Real Madrid by two points after winning 26 of their 38 league games and losing just four.
They have started with a bit of a stutter so far in 2021-22 however, winning just once in their last five games across all competitions, including a 0-0 home draw to Porto in their first UCL group game. Nonetheless, this is a seasoned Champions League team that are a match for nearly everyone on their day.
Centre-back Stefan Savic continues is serving a European suspension and will not be available so Jose Gimenez is expected to step in for him in what could very well be a back four as opposed to the three-man defence seen plenty this season.
Thomas Lemar is back in the squad after being out for almost two weeks. João Félix was not injured but he was out for the last two matches for Atleti in LaLiga due to a suspension.
Probable Atletico Madrid XI (4-4-2): Oblak; Trippier, Giménez, Hermoso, Lodi; Llorente, Kondogbia, Koke, Carrasco; Correa, Suárez.
Head to head
To say these are two European heavyweights, there has not been a great deal of meetings between the sides to go off. Nonetheless, Atletico certainly have the edge over the Rossoneri as they have an impressive record against the Italians and have won both matches.
The last meeting between the two teams took place in the 2013-14 season and ended in a 4-1 victory for Atletico Madrid at their old home the Vicente Calderon. That was the second leg of a Champions League last 16 tie, with Atleti having won the first game 1-0 at San Siro through a Diego Costa goal.
That 4-1 second leg defeat was Milan’s last game in the competition prior to the loss at Anfield earlier in the month, so revenge is needed.
➤ Milan and Atlético Madrid’s only previous meetings came in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League, where the Italian side lost both legs and were eliminated in the Round of 16.
➤ This will be Atlético Madrid’s fifth away game against Italian opposition in the UEFA Champions League under Diego Simeone. Since winning the first of these (1-0 vs. Milan in February 2014), Atlético have failed to win each of the last four without scoring a goal (D2, L2).
➤ Milan have only won one of their last 17 games against Spanish opponents in European competition (D7, L9), while they’re winless in the seven games since the only victory in this run – 2-0 vs. Barcelona in February 2013.
➤ Atlético Madrid have only failed to win their opening two games of a UEFA Champions League campaign on one previous occasion under Diego Simeone – drawing 0-0 against Roma and losing 1-2 to Chelsea in the 2017-18 tournament.
➤ Milan have only kept one clean sheet in their last 10 home games in European competition (3-0 vs. Sparta Prague in October 2020), with all of those coming in the UEFA Europa League (including qualifiers). This will be their first home game in the UEFA Champions League since a 0-1 defeat to Atlético Madrid in February 2014
➤ Atlético Madrid have lost five of their last nine away games in the UEFA Champions League (W3 D1), while their previous five defeats on the road in the competition came over a run of 18 games (W6 D7).
➤ Antoine Griezmann is Atlético Madrid’s all-time top scorer in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League (21 goals), and could also become their outright top scorer in away games if he finds the net in this game (currently on five).
➤ In their defeat at Anfield on MD1, Brahim Diaz (22y 43d) became the youngest player to score on his UEFA Champions League debut for AC Milan since Yoann Gourcuff in September 2006 (20) 64d v AEK Athens).
➤ The last player to score in his first two UEFA Champions League appearances for Milan was teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who did so back in September 2010.
➤ Atlético Madrid attempted just six shots and recorded an xG total of 0.3 in their last game against FC Porto – this was their lowest xG game total in the UEFA Champions League since May 2017 against Real Madrid in a semi-final clash (0.2).
Ones to watch
If Milan are to get a positive result out of this, the defensive duo of Calabria and Kjaer will have to slot seamlessly into the back four again in order to cope with the threat that Atletico pose, while the midfield double pivot of Kessie and Tonali will have to do their job in protecting them.
The players who will draw a lot of attention are likely in attack though. Brahim Diaz and Rebic both scored at Anfield to open their Champions League accounts for the club, while Leao’s electric performance at Spezia should earn him another start.
For Simeone’s men there is no shortage of quality in each department, starting in goal where Jan Oblak stands between the posts as potentially the best in his position in world football.
The same can be said for centre-back Jose Gimenez in the centre-back role as he has been a rock for Atleti, while midfielder Marcos Llorente – who they signed from rivals Real Madrid – continues to develop into a world class player.
In the forward department the presence of Luis Suarez will cause headaches as he is a proven performer in the competition, and Joao Felix is a real talent in the attacking midfielder position.
This is a real battle of a team who are high on confidence but short on Champions League experience versus a team struggling domestically (compared to their usual high standards) but with plenty of know-how on the European stage. Could it be that they cancel each other out?
Prediction: AC Milan 1-1 Atletico Madrid