AC Milan will travel to face Borussia Dortmund at the famous Signal Iduna Park on Wednesday night, hoping to get their first win in the Champions League.
Milan have recovered well following the 5-1 defeat against Inter in the league, winning 1-0 against Hellas Verona, 3-1 against Cagliari and most recently 2-0 against Lazio on Saturday at San Siro.
However, before that Verona game they opened their UCL group stage campaign with a frustrating 0-0 draw against Newcastle United, a game they dominated and should have won.
Stefano Pioli decided to have the players train at Milanello with Dortmund chants pumping over the loud speakers, and he revealed some of the reasoning for this in his pre-match press conference, as well as giving his thoughts ahead of the game.
Game date: Wednesday, October 4
Kick-off time: 21:00 (CEST)
Venue: Signal Iduna Park
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (VAR: Kwiatkowski)
As mentioned, Milan make the trip over to Germany in a good run of form having pulled themselves level at the top of the table with rivals Inter and having won six of their first seven matches in Serie A.
There are known absentees heading into the game as Ismael Bennacer, Mattia Caldara, Pierre Kalulu and Rade Krunic continue their recovery from their respective injuries, with Krunic and Kalulu expected back after the break.
However, the injury list grew during the Lazio game as Ruben Loftus-Cheek limped off in the first half. He has a mild groin strain but is also expected to miss the next two games, leaving Pioli a bit light in midfield with four players for three positions.
In terms of the team news that is being reported, Mike Maignan is expected to keep his spot in goal with Davide Calabria, Malick Thiaw, Fikayo Tomori and Theo Hernandez as the back four from right to left.
The midfield trio should be composed of Tijjani Reijnders playing in front of the defence with Yunus Musah and Tommaso Pobega as the two box-to-box players to his right and left respectively. That means Yacine Adli will get a rest.
The now obvious first choice attacking trident of Christian Pulisic on the right, Rafael Leao on the left and Olivier Giroud down the middle should be fielded.
It will be a game with a bit of added meaning for Thiaw and Pulisic. The centre-back played for Dortmund’s main rivals Schalke and made his debut against them, while Pulisic was at BVB from 2015 to 2019 and it is where he made his name in Europe.
Probable Milan XI (4-3-3): Maignan; Calabria, Thiaw, Tomori, Theo; Pobega, Musah, Reijnders; Pulisic, Giroud, Leao.
Dortmund were expected to potentially have a bit of a hangover coming into the 2023-24 campaign, given what happened in the final round of last season.
They just needed to beat a Mainz side with nothing to play for at home in order to beat Bayern Munich to the title, but they could only manage a 2-2 draw while the Bavarians won late on to steal the crown and leave BVB heartbroken.
The biggest headline during the summer transfer window was the sale of Jude Bellingham to Real Madrid for €103m, and that allowed Dortmund to fund three investments.
The first was Felix Nmecha who basically arrived to replace Bellingham from Wolfsburg for €30m. Then Marcel Sabitzer came from Bayern Munich for €19m, helping bolster the midfield.
Niclas Füllkrug joined for €13m from Werder Bremen to challenge for the starting striker role, and Ramy Bensebaini came on a free transfer from Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Die Borussen have made a solid start in the Bundesliga thus far as they look to go one better than last season and overthrow Bayern as Champions, but they did have a stutter in the first three games.
An unconvincing 1-0 win against FC Köln was followed by a 1-1 draw away at Bochum, then they let a 2-0 home lead against newly-promoted FC Heidenheim slip to draw 2-2.
Three straight wins followed that against SC Freiburg (4-2), Wolfsburg (1-0) and Hoffenheim (3-1), leaving BVB in fourth place with four wins and two draws in six games.
During his pre-match press conference, Terzic confirmed that he has no new injury concerns from the win over Hoffenheim so Niklas Süle and Emre Can will challenge for a spot, but Marcel Sabitzer remains out.
The hosts are expected to return to a four-man defence after the 3-5-2 and 3-4-2-1 experiments in the Bundesliga. Kobel should be in goal with Ryerson on the right, captain Hummels and Schlotterbeck in the centre with Bensebaini the left-back.
Özcan and Nmecha are tipped to the starting double pivot, with Donyell Malen on the right, Marco Reus in the centre and Julian Brandt on the left. Niclas Füllkrug perhaps has a slight edge over Haller to start up front.
However, surprises cannot be ruled out given Terzic has often changed formation from game to game, while he has Karim Adeyemi, Youssoufa Moukoko, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens (fresh from renewal) and Giovanni Reyna vying for a bigger role too.
Probable Dortmund XI (4-2-3-1): Kobel; Ryerson, Hummels, Schlotterbeck, Bensebaini; Nmecha, Özcan; Malen, Reus, Brandt; Füllkrug.
Head to head
Milan have played Dortmund six times in their history, with three of those resulting in wins, two being losses and one a draw, giving the Rossoneri a 50% win rate.
The first meeting between the two sides came in the 1957-58 European Cup quarter-finals, where Milan emerged comprehensive 5-2 aggregate winners thanks mainly to a 4-1 victory at San Siro.
The most recent encounters came 21 years ago in the 2002-03 Champions League group stage. The Diavolo won 1-0 at the Westfalenstadion thanks to Pippo Inzaghi’s second half goal, but the Bundesliga side triumphed 1-0 at San Siro in the return game with Jan Koller netting a late winner.
➤ This is the first meeting between Borussia Dortmund and Milan since the 2002-03 Champions League second group stage – the away side won both meetings 1-0 in that campaign, with Milan going on to lift the trophy.
➤ Milan have only ever lost two of their 14 UEFA Champions League matches against German sides (W7 D5), with those defeats coming at Hertha BSC in October 1999 (0-1) and at home to Borussia Dortmund in March 2003 (0-1).
➤ Borussia Dortmund lost 2-0 at Paris Saint-Germain on MD1 – only in 2017-18 (vs Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid) have they ever lost their first two games in a single UEFA
Champions League campaign.
➤ Milan had 25 shots (9 on target) in their goalless draw with Newcastle on MD1. It was the highest number of shots a team has had in a UEFA Champions League game without scoring since Barcelona against Lyon in February 2019 (also 25).
➤ Milan have kept a clean sheet in each of their last three UEFA Champions League group stage games. They last recorded more consecutive shutouts at this stage in the 2002-03 campaign, and in their first four second group stage matches en route to winning the trophy.
➤ Milan had the highest expected goals total of any side not to score on MD1 of this season’s UEFA Champions League (1.99). Indeed, only Man City (37) and Real Madrid (32) had more shots than Milan in the opening games (25).
➤ Across their last five UEFA Champions League campaigns between 2018-19 and 2022-23, Borussia Dortmund have only lost one home group stage match (P15 W9 D5), going down 3-1 to Ajax in November 2021.
➤ Only two teams – Galatasaray (16) and Young Boys (14) – saw their opponents force more high turnovers against them than Borussia Dortmund (13) on MD1 of this season’s UEFA Champions League, with Dortmund completing only 242 passes against PSG, their second-fewest in a group stage game on record (2011-12 onwards), ahead only of the 189 they completed versus Ajax in November 2021.
➤ If he features in this match, it will be Milan forward Christian Pulisic’s 50th appearance in the UEFA Champions League, more than twice as many as any other American player (Weston McKennie, 24).
➤ Rade Krunic created seven chances in Milan’s 0-0 draw with
Newcastle on MD1 – since we have the data available
(2003-04), only Urby Emanuelson has created more in a single UEFA Champions League match for the Italian side (9 v Anderlecht in September 2012).
Ones to watch
The threat for Milan comes from the two wingers. Leao amassed five goal contributions (three goals, two assists) in the month of September and looks back to his best, while Pulisic got his third league goal of the season against Lazio on Saturday.
However, a lot will depend on how that new-look midfield trio of Pobega-Musah-Reijnders is able to cope with a very intense pressing side, and how both Thiaw and Tomori are able to protect Maignan in goal.
The two danger men for Dortmund so far in Bundesliga action have been Donyell Malen and Marco Reus, both of whom have scored three times. Reus has actually netted in each of his last three games, occupying a more central role.
Julian Brandt’s four assists have established him as the main creative force that Edin Terzic can call upon, while Emre Can’s experience with Felix Nmecha’s talent make them an interesting midfield duo.
At the back, Mats Hummels and Nico Schlotterbeck will aim to keep Leao and Giroud quiet, though if the Portuguese winger gets in isolation with either it could be a mismatch.
While this may seem like a game that should be full of goals, both sides have been much improved defensively recently and given how big a win/defeat would be in the scheme of the group, this could well be a cagey affair where both teams risk little. That’s why a draw feels like the most likely result.
Dortmund 1-1 Milan