AC Milan will be looking to make it three wins from three to begin the 2020-21 season, but they face a potentially tricky encounter against Bodo/Glimt.
The Rossoneri have already seen off Shamrock Rovers in the second qualifying round and Bologna in their Serie A opener – both with 2-0 wins – though Thursday’s opponents from Norway are not a simple propisition.
Add to that the fact Stefano Pioli has a number of injury and selection headaches to overcome, and it promises to be as difficult a tie as he suggested in his pre-match press conference to reach the Play-Off round.
Game date: Thursday 24 September
Kick-off time: 20:30 (CEST)
Venue: San Siro
Referee: Fran Jovic
Pioli once again has a few situations to battle in order to reach the next round, which would then put Milan one win away from the group stages.
Ante Rebic is banned for the next two European games due to a suspension incurred while he was at Eintracht Frankfurt, while Rafael Leao is not yet ready to take his spot as he has only just resumed training after being in quarantine.
Speaking of quarantine, Milan confirmed that Leo Duarte has been withdrawn from training to isolate after testing positive for COVID-19, but all the other players have tested negative.
In terms of other injury problems, defensive trio Alessio Romangoli, Mateo Musacchio and Andrea Conti will all miss out but are expected back soon, meaning it could very well be an unchanged XI from the one in Dublin.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): G. Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Gabbia, Theo; Kessie, Bennacer; Castillejo, Calhanoglu, Saelemaekers; Ibrahimovic.
Bodo/Glimt come into this game full of confidence after what has been nothing short of an exceptional season in the Eliteserien so far.
After finishing second last year, they are set to win the title at a canter this time around as they are 16 points clear of second-placed Molde with 12 games remaining.
In many ways they are the Red Bull Salzburg or the Atalanta of Norway, having scored 65 times in 18 games – already one more than they did in all of 2019 – at a remarkable average of 3.6 goals per game.
Their head coach Kjetil Knutsen can be very proud of the run his players have enjoyed, which includes a seven-match winning streak and going undefeated in 20 games.
“It’s important to emphasise that we don’t tremble with fear at night,” Knutsen told VG.
“We are just looking forward to it. We must pump our chests up more than ever before in life. That’s how we will approach this match.
“This will be a great reference to see where we are. We are going to prepare well on how to defend and attack, but we must keep playing our way.
“Milan are an impressive side. They press high up and must be one of the best teams in the Europa League. They have top quality all over the pitch.”
According to most reports available from Norway (via Sportskeeda), Bodo/Glimt should be able to call upon a full-strength side for what should be one of the biggest games in their recent history.
Probable Bodo/Glimt XI (4-3-3): Haikin; Sampsted, Lode, Moe, Bjorkan; Brunstad Fet, Berg, Saltnes; Zinckernagel, Boniface, Hauge.
Head to head
The Rossoneri have never played Bodo/Glimt in a competitive fixture, but those who have been following the team for a while may remember that Norwegian opposition has not always been kind to Milan.
Back on December 4 1996, Vegard Heggem stamped his name in BK Rosenborg legend as he beat Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi to head in the decisive goal in a 2-1 win.
That victory has since been celebrated as the biggest achievement by a Norwegian side in European competitions, but this Bodo/Glimt side have drawn comparisons with that legendary Rosenborg team.
Glimt have already beaten two Lithuanian sides to make it to this round, scoring nine goals in the process. They have in fact scored six goals three times in their last six competitive games, and three or more in each of them.
Ones to watch
There are three players for Bodo/Glimt who have amassed over ten league goals this season: Jens Petter Hauge, Philip Zinckernagel and Kasper Junker.
It is the former who seems to be the big rising star at the moment though, to the extent that Milan should even have a look at a player like him. The 20-year-old winger has 14 goals and eight assists in 17 Eliteserien appearances, plus two in his one European start.
Centre-forward Victor Boniface Okoh is another bright young player to watch out for. The 19-year-old Nigerian has nine goal contributions in 19 games across all competitions this term, with most of his appearances coming off the bench.
For Milan, the emphasis will be on the back four. With absolutely no defensive depth, it will be up to Matteo Gabbia and Simon Kjaer to keep Glimt’s impressive forwards at bay and for Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer to eliminate the threat of a counter as much as possible.
Samu Castillejo has also come under heavy fire after his recent performances, so the Spaniard has a big chance on Thursday against a team that does let in goals.
If the Shamrock Rovers game was a routine early-season win, this will be anything but. Those who know Bodo/Glimt are rightly warning Milan supporters who are over-confident about this game.
Milan will face a side who frankly could not be in better form and – standard of league aside – having nothing to lose in the biggest game in their history. However, anything less than progression would be embarrassing for a team with top four aspirations, even with injury problems.
Prediction: AC Milan 2-1 Bodo/Glimt