UEL preview: AC Milan vs. Slavia Praha – Team news, opposition insight, stats and more

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan are back in Europa League action on Thursday night as they welcome Slavia Praha to San Siro for the first leg of their last 16 tie.

Milan beat Stade Rennais 5-3 on aggregate in the play-off round to qualify for this phase, while Slavia on the other hand won their Europa League group – one that included Roma – to secure an automatic passage.

The Rossoneri come into the game off the back of a win they had to grind out away against Lazio, but head coach Stefano Pioli admitted in his pre-match press conference that Slavia are a team to watch out for.

Game date: Thursday, March 7
Kick-off time: 21:00 (CET)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Halil Meler (VAR: Ulusoy)

Team news 

Given some of the potential opponents that were on the big screen in Nyon at the time of the draw, it would be fair to say there was some relief when Slavia came out of the hat, with all respect to them given the difficulties they have caused other sides.

As mentioned above, Milan come into the game having beaten Lazio 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico on Friday night, a game that saw three red cards for the home team and ended a three-game winless run for Pioli’s men.

Speaking of the head coach, fate could well rest on how far his side get in the Europa League and he seems to recognise this as reports suggest that he will pick a strong side against the side from the Czech capital.

According to various sources, there will be only one change from the side that won against Lazio. Simon Kjaer remains in the defensive line alongside Matteo Gabbia with Alessandro Florenzi and Theo Hernandez as the full-backs, completing the four in front of Mike Maignan.

Yacine Adli and Tijjani Reijnders are currently in line to start in the double pivot, but Ismael Bennacer remains in a battle with the Dutchman, who would be the only alteration to the side if he were picked over the Algerian.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek is expected to be in the attacking midfield role behind the centre-forward Olivier Giroud, with Christian Pulisic wide on the right and Rafael Leao out on the left.

Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Florenzi, Kjaer, Gabbia, Theo; Reijnders, Adli; Pulisic, Loftus-Cheek, Leao; Giroud.

The opponents

While we normally do the deep diving for this particular section, we decided to ask Czech football writer Jan Pikous – who has covered Slavia for several years now – to give us some insight.

What kind of a season did Slavia Praha have last season (2022-23), compared to the expectation?

“Well they didn’t win a title for the second year in a row after winning it three times in 2019 through to 2021, so maybe a little disappointment. On top of that, some of the lost or drawn games were just unnecessary and unforced.

“Some fans would say that last year Slavia lost the title by themselves, through their own mistakes. However, they still won the Czech cup, so not a terrible season.”

What summer transfer business did they do, and were you impressed/surprised by it?

“I definitely must say Mojmír Chytil. He’s one of the many centre-forwards Slavia have, but definitely the best one. He’s a great finisher, but also he’s very strong, physical and great in playing with his back to goal. He can hold the ball in difficult situations, he’s an unpleasant opponent for centre-backs.

“Not a summer transfer, because he came in January, but I must say David Zima too. He was sold from Slavia to Torino years ago and now they bought him back for circa €4.5m, which is really enormous money for a Czech league transfer, and for a defensive player.

“Some fans are little sceptical about it. They are not sure if its sensible transfer from Slavia and they also are afraid it could mean less minutes for Tomáš Vlček, who is a big talent at CB.”

How has this season gone so far for Slavia, and what were the expectations?

“Overall, I would say good. They won the group stage in Europa League finishing above Roma, and in the league they have 17-5-1 stats [in wins, losses and draws].

“Unfortunately for them, their main rivals Sparta are doing even better (they have four more points) and they are playing really well. They even eliminated Slavia in the domestic cup quarter-finals. So you really cannot say it is a bad season, but some of the draws were unnecessary – and there is a rival who doesnt loses points so often.

“If you want ratings: 10/10 in Europe, and I would say 7/10 in the league. It is still a great team that could (especially at home) beat some of their opponents 5-0 for fun.

“But in general, I think this team is not THAT strong like for example the Slavia from 2019 (when they were playing against Inter in the Champions League) was. They can be vulnerable in some moments.”

Are there any injuries or suspensions for Trpišovský to worry about?

“Midfielders Christos Zafeiris and Petr Ševčík are missing, at least for the first game. Its unpleasant, because they are two of maybe three/four most creative players of the team. Other midfielders are different mould.”

How should the team line up against Milan? Are there any selection dilemmas?

“Dilemmas? Well they are many of them, and its also unpredictable because coach Trpišovský is well known for unexpected line-up decisions or playing players in different positions. And even in the big matches, sometimes he surprises even the Czech fans and media.”

How are the Slavia/Czech media presenting this tie? Do they think they have a real chance or is it David versus Goliath?

“Media perspective: I would say both – its David vs Goliath, but Slavia have a chance.

“Some media in Czech Republic use phrases like: ‘We played against Roma in the group stage, so it would be similar’. I really do not agree with this opinion, because Mourinho’s Roma and Milan are two totally different teams. Milan is better but also playing a totally different style.

“In my own preview for the game I wrote that some Czech fans and pundits maybe do not realise that this is not a ‘typical Italian team’ – they maybe expect some good but lazy technical players who you can wreck easily when you play physical football full of pressing, running etc. But they don’t realise this Milan side is very physical too.

“My personal view: I think there are two possible scenarios. The first: Milan has a sufficient individual quality to beat Slavia like 3-0 in the first leg and it’s over. I have to say, I’m really afraid for players like Tomáš Holeš or David Douděra to keep up with Theo, Rafa Leao, Pulisic.

“However, if the first leg result were not bad (draw or loss by one goal), it could be a very dramatic second match in Prague as Slavia are really strong at home and the fans will go crazy, the atmosphere at Slavia is amazing, so they will really push their players for best possible performance.”

Probable Slavia XI (3-4-3): Staněk; Holeš, Ogbu, Zima; Vlček, Oscar, Masopust, Provod; Schranz, Chytil, Jurečka.

Head to head

Milan have never faced Slavia Praha in a competitive game, yet this is rather remarkably going to be the 16th time that they have taken on a side from the Czech Republic. In the previous 15 meetings, Milan have been victorious on nine occasions, with three draws and two losses.

Incredibly, eight of these matches have come against Sparta Praha, the team that Liverpool will be taking on in one of the other last 16 ties. The most recent meetings were in the 2020-21 UEL group stages, when the Diavolo won 3-0 at home and 1-0 away.

Milan have beaten Sparta six times and drawn the other two. The other teams that Milan have faced from the Czech Republic are Slovan Liberec, Viktoria Plzen and Vitkovice.

Match facts…

➤ This will be Milan’s first ever meeting with Slavia Prague in any European competition. Including qualifiers, Slavia will be the fourth Czech side Milan have faced in Europe, along with Sparta Prague (eight games), Viktoria Plzen (two) and Slovan Liberec (two).

➤ In all European competition, Slavia Prague have never won an away game in Italy in eight attempts (D1 L7), facing seven different teams in that run (Roma x2, Bologna, Udinese, Palermo, Fiorentina, Genoa and Internazionale).

➤ This is Milan’s third UEFA Europa League appearance at the UEFA Europa League last 16 stage and they failed to win a leg in either of their first two attempts, against Arsenal in 2017-18 (L2) and Manchester United in 2020-21 (D1 L1).

➤ Slavia Prague have only lost the first leg of one of their last 10 major European knockout ties (W2 D7), losing 1-0 at home to Chelsea in the 2018-19 UEFA Europa League quarter-final.

➤ Rafael Leão has scored three goals in his last four major European appearances for Milan, netting in both legs of this season’s UEFA Europa League play-offs against Rennes. He had only scored three times in his first 25 European games for Milan.

Ones to watch

Leao has three goals in Europe this season and will obviously be the key man for Milan, especially after scoring twice against Rennes, while Loftus-Cheek scored a brace in the last round as well.

Reijnders coming back into the midfield should give some added dynamism, while at the back Gabbia has been very consistent since his return.

We threw the question over to Jan to pick out who could cause Milan some damage for Slavia.

“Definitely Chytil, as I said. Goalkeeper Jindřich Staněk could be the key for the good result, he’s a probable Czech number 1 at the Euros. Oscar Dorley is a great midfielder – energetic, versatile, very good all around player.”


Like the Stade Rennais tie, the plan must be for Milan to build a nice lead at home and make the second leg more manageable, though this is very much a free hit for the Czech side and they could be a bigger challenge for it. And over to Jan…

“I would say 2-0 for Milan at San Siro and 1-1 draw in Prague. The overall quality is speaking for Milan, definitely. And now its the only chance for Milan to win a trophy, so they won’t underestimate it. However, if I can have a bold statement: I still think that Jindřich Trpišovský is a better tactician than Stefano Pioli!”

Milan 3-1 Slavia Praha


Tags AC Milan Milan Slavia Praha


  1. “However, if I can have a bold statement: I still think that Jindřich Trpišovský is a better tactician than Stefano Pioli!”

    Well, to be honest… Even a half empty trashcan is a better tactician than Pioli.

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