AC Milan will look to grab their first win in the 22/23 edition of the Champions League as Dinamo Zagreb will visit San Siro on Wednesday evening. However, it won’t be an easy challenge for Stefano Pioli’s men.
Milan are coming off a rather heroic 2-1 win against Sampdoria, seeing as they went down to ten men at the very start of the first half. Tomorrow, they will be hoping to use that confidence boost to grab their first UCL win of the season.
The away game against Salzburg ended 1-1 and during his press conference today, Pioli made it clear that this clash won’t be easy either. In fact, the Rossoneri cannot afford to underestimate the Croatian side.
Game date: Wednesday, 13 September
Kick-off time: 18:45 (CEST)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Gil Manzano (VAR: Martínez Munuera)
There are a few notable absences for Milan as the likes of Divock Origi and Ante Rebic will miss out. The former has travelled to Belgium where he will undergo therapy for the foreseeable future, with the Rossoneri hoping to have him back as soon as possible.
As for Rebic, he’s struggling with a herniated disc and he should be back sometime in October, but getting him back to full match fitness will take longer. Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t be back until 2023 and that leaves Olivier Giroud as the only centre-forward available currently.
Aside from the attack, though, Pioli will be able to rely on a strong squad as Rade Krunic has recovered from his injury and is now back in training. It should be noted that since it’s the Champions League, the likes of Yacine Adli, Malick Thiaw and Aster Vranckx will not take part.
Initially, it was believed that both Sergino Dest and Charles De Ketelaere would play from the first minute but the latest reports suggest they won’t. Instead, Davide Calabria and Brahim Diaz will get the nod.
Fikayo Tomori and Alexis Saelemaekers will return to the XI after getting some rest last time out. The Belgian scored the only goal against Salzburg and will be looking to continue his fine UCL form.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Theo; Tonali, Bennacer; Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, Leao; Giroud.
Dinamo Zagreb have started the season in tremendous fashion, as showcased by their journey from the qualifiers to the group stage. They have played nine games in the domestic league, winning all but just one (a 1-1 draw against the second-place team).
They managed to get past the likes of FC Shkupi, Ludogorets and Bodo/Glimt in the qualifiers and only lost one game in the process (0-1 away at Bodo). In short, they have really impressed thus far this season.
Notable names in the squad include centre-back Josip Sutalo, striker Bruno Petkovic, striker Josip Drmic and winger Mislav Orsic. The latter is the biggest threat to Milan as he’s bagged 10 goals in the 16 games played thus far, including the one against Chelsea.
The feeling is that they will come at Milan with guns blazing, just like Salzburg, as Milan tend to struggle the most against that opposition. They will get the support of around 4k travelling fans and it should make for a very exciting game.
Probable Dinamo XI (3-5-2): Livakovic; Ristovski, Sutalo, Peric; Moharammi, Ivanusec, Misic, Ademi, Ljubicic; Petkovic, Orsic.
Head to head
Milan and Dinamo have faced each other two times before, also in the Champions League. The two-legged affair took place in the third qualifying round and the Rossoneri won both games comfortable: 3-1 and 0-3 respectively.
The goalscorers for Milan were Andriy Shevchenko (four goals), Gianni Comandini and Jose Mari. A lot of time has passed since and the circumstances are very different, especially since these two games are expected to be a lot more even. ‘
➤ AC Milan and Dinamo Zagreb will meet for the fifth time in European competition, with the Italian side coming into this game with a 100% record across the previous fixtures (4/4).
➤ This will be the first meeting between the sides since the 2000-01 season, however, when AC Milan won both games during a UEFA Champions League qualifying tie (3-1 H, 3-0 A).
➤ This is the third time Dinamo Zagreb have been drawn in a UEFA Champions League group stage with an Italian side, having previously lost both games against Juventus in 2016-17 (0-4 H, 0-2 A) and winning one and losing one against Atalanta in 2019-20 (4-0 H, 0-2 A).
➤ After winning their first five games against Croatian sides in European competition, AC Milan were beaten in the most recent fixture — 0-2 v HNK Rijeka in the UEFA Europa League in December 2017. That defeat did come away from home, however, with the Italian side winning all three matches against Croatian opposition on home soil.
➤ AC Milan haven’t won any of their last six home games in the UEFA Champions League (D3 L3), their longest ever run without a home victory in the competition. Their last victory at the Giuseppe Meazza in the UEFA Champions League was against Celtic back in September 2013 (2-0).
➤ Having beaten Chelsea 1-0 on MD1, Dinamo Zagreb are looking for consecutive UEFA Champions League wins for only the second time, beating FC Porto (3-1 H) and Ajax (1-0 A) in November 1998 under Zlatko Kranjcar.
➤ Under the current group stage format (since 2003-04), the only previous season in which AC Milan failed to win either of their opening two games in a UEFA Champions League campaign was last season, under current manager Stefano Pioli (L2).
➤ Dinamo Zagreb had just 31.8% possession against Chelsea on MD1; the third-lowest of any team on MD1, and the lowest of any team who managed to avoid defeat. Indeed, only Shakhtar Donetsk (5 v RB Leipzig) had fewer shots than Dinamo Zagreb (6 v Chelsea) among teams who won their opening game in this season’s UEFA Champions League.
➤ Along with scoring AC Milan’s equaliser on MD1, Alexis Saelemaekers made five successful take-ons against RB Salzburg — only Vinicius Junior (6 v Celtic) and Ousmane Dembele (6 v Viktoria Plzen) made more than the Belgian across the first matchday in this season’s UEFA Champions League.
➤ Mislav Orsic scored Dinamo Zagreb’s winning goal in their 1-0 win over Chelsea on MD1, with Orsic netting five goals in seven UEFA Champions League appearances. He is Zagreb’s leading scorer in major European competition, scoring 18 goals in 37 appearances (in UCL and UEL).
➤ Since scoring four goals from five shots against Sevilla in December 2020 with Chelsea, Olivier Giroud has only managed one goal in 11 UEFA Champions League appearances. The Milan forward has only had eight shots and five on target across those 11 games, including six efforts in six games for his current side.
Ones to watch
Rafael Leao will be suspended for Milan’s next league game and will thus most likely play the full 90 minutes tomorrow. He will be eager to bounce back from the red card, even though it was unfortunate, and he will also be a key for the Rossoneri to unlock the game against a strong defence.
His opposite man, Alexis Saelemaekers, will also look to put in a good performance after the positive one against Salzburg. He was benched in the league this past weekend and it’s clear he must do more to convince Pioli. It’s more relevant now than ever as his rival Junior Messias broke his goal drought against Sampdoria as well.
As for the Croats, Mislav Orsic simply cannot be ignored given his fantastic stats this season both domestically and in the Champions League. He could cause a lot of issues for the Rossoneri defence, as Noah Okafor did for Salzburg.
Josip Sutalo is another player that should be monitored tomorrow, believed to be a great talent at 22 years old. He played in the heart of the defence against Chelsea and we all know how that game finished.
For all the reasons mentioned above, do not expect this to be a walk in the park for Milan. The focus has to be on getting the first goal and then keeping a clean sheet against a side who will look to sit deep and counter with speed. Given the circumstances, a win feels like a necessity.
AC Milan 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb