AC Milan will be looking to continue their perfect start to the 2020-21 season when they face the trip to Scotland to face Celtic on Thursday night.
The Rossoneri have gone 20 games unbeaten in all competitions since football resumed after lockdown including 16 wins, and have won seven out of seven across all competitions to begin the current campaign.
Milan also make the trip having won Saturday’s Derby della Madonnina against Inter by a scoreline of 2-1, but they will have a few selection problems.
Game date: Thursday 22 October
Kick-off time: 21:00 (CEST)
Venue: Celtic Park
Referee: Matej Jug
It has been confirmed that head coach Stefano Pioli will not be able to call upon either Ante Rebic or Hakan Calhanoglu for Thursday’s game.
The former is still recovering from a dislocated elbow while the latter sprained his ankle in training on Tuesday, which will force Pioli into some changes across the forward line. Leo Duarte is unlikely to feature as he has just returned from Coronavirus, while Matteo Gabbia is still testing positive and Mateo Musacchio is still recovering from surgery.
There will not be much room for rotation though, as La Gazzetta dello Sport (via MilanNews) believe that Pioli will largely confirm the starting XI that took the field for the derby against Inter on Saturday, but there will be two changes.
It is clear that Pioli therefore sees the importance of picking up points early in the competition, as he will apparently select a back four of Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer, Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez in front of Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Sandro Tonali will partner Franck Kessie in a change, with Alexis Saelemaekers on the right, Rafael Leao on the left and Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, but Brahim will step in for Calhanoglu who should be out for 7-10 days.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Tonali; Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, Leao; Ibrahimovic.
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) October 21, 2020
Celtic had started the Scottish Premier League season in ideal fashion by winning eight of their first nine, but they come into the game in relative chaos.
According to the Daily Mail (via MilanNews), Celtic coach Neil Lennon opened a “trial” inside the dressing room after their defeat to Rangers. It is alleged that a player leaked and divulged the starting line-up ahead of their crucial game, which has caused an inquest to take place.
Meanwhile, there are also a number of selection issues for Lennon to contend with as Scotland international James Forrest and young winger Mikey Johnston will be out injured.
Midfielders Ryan Christie and Nir Bitton plus defender Hatem Abd Elhamed have all tested positive for Coronavirus, and they are unlikely to recover in time to feature, while it could well be the same for their main striker Odsonne Edouard.
Lennon is expected to stick with a 3-5-2 system though and hope that a very physical three-man back line can thwart Milan’s creativity, and that the width of the wing backs can hurt the away side on the counter.
Probable Celtic XI (3-5-2): Barkas; Jullien, Duffy, Ajer; Frimpong, Brown, Ntcham, McGregor, Laxalt; Ajeti, Leigh Griffiths.
Head to head
The two sides have met on six previous occasions and some will remember the Champions League nights. Milan have won four of those games, losing one and drawing one.
It is over seven years since the Scottish side met the Rossoneri, and goals from Kaka, Cristian Zapata and Mario Balotelli fired Clarence Seedorf’s team to a 3-0 win at Celtic Park.
The last and only time that Milan were beaten at the ground they call ‘Paradise’ was back in the 2007-08 season. Stephen McManus scored the opener before Kaka levelled with a penalty, but Celtic snatched the win as Scott McDonald netted from close range after Dida – who would later be stretchered off after a fan ran onto the pitch – had spilled a shot.
Match facts (via WhoScored):
– Milan have kept a clean sheet in 6 of their last 7 matches against Celtic in all competitions.
– Milan have won their last 3 matches against Celtic in all competitions.
Ones to watch
For Milan, all eyes will be glued to the two exciting summer additions in Brahim Diaz and Sandro Tonali who are expected to take up roles as the playmaker and deep-lying midfielder respectively.
Both have not had an abundance of game time since their arrival but with Calhanoglu injured the former looks set to get a run of outings with this being the perfect warm-up, while Tonali must establish himself as a seamless rotation option.
For Celtic, it is worth watching Ajer for a number of reasons. Firstly, Tuttosport (via MilanNews) are reporting that the 22-year-old continues to be on the radar of the Rossoneri management having been linked in recent weeks, and they could return to trying to sign him in the coming months.
Directors Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara could launch a bid in January or even wait until next summer, the paper adds.
In addition to that though, the Norwegian international will be crucial in stopping the firepower that Milan have across their forward line and if they are to keep a clean sheet and getting a positive result, the man at the heart of the Hoops’ defence will likely have been instrumental.
To expect a rollover would be dangerous given the numerous selection problems that Milan have, and the fact Celtic are also experiencing a period of difficulty by their standards means this could be a cagey affair.
However, players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez can make a difference in any game and we hope it is no different on Thursday.
Prediction: Celtic 1-2 AC Milan