AC Milan travel to Portugal to face Rio Ave on Thursday night knowing they are just one win away from reaching the Europa League group stages.
The Rossoneri head into their Europa League Play-Off having already seen off Shamrock Rovers and Bodo/Glimt in the previous rounds, but face another knockout game against Portuguese opposition to determine whether they will qualify for the group stages.
Stefano Pioli has already stressed the importance of achieving the ‘first target of the season‘ with a win, though he will not be able to call upon a number of players due to injury.
Game date: Thursday 1 October
Kick-off time: 21:00 (CEST)
Venue: Estadio Dos Arcos
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano
Milan are on a roll having won all four competitive fixtures to start the season, continuing on from going unbeaten post-lockdown in 2019-20.
However, Pioli has a depleted squad to choose from with defender Mateo Musacchio, Leo Duarte, Alessio Romagnoli and Andrea Conti not fit, while Ante Rebic is suspended (and injured) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has Coronavirus.
According to Sky Italia, Pioli is likely to choose the same back seven players as he has done for both Europa League games so far, while Lorenzo Colombo will be up front with Samu Castillejo, Hakan Calhanoglu and Alexis Saelemaekers supporting him from right to left.
Probable Milan XI (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Kjær, Gabbia, Theo Hernández; Kessié, Bennacer; Castillejo, Çalhanoglu, Saelemaekers; Colombo.
Rio Ave qualified for the Europa League with a fifth-placed finish in 2019-20 under then-manager Carlos Carvalhal, who moved on to join SC Braga and as a result they are now coached by Mário Silva.
They have started the season unbeaten too but have drawn both of their league fixtures, one 1-1 and the other 0-0 in what has been a bit of a stuttering initial phase of the campaign.
As per reports, Rio Ave will be unable to call upon two players for the game at the Estadio Dos Arcos in defender Junio and forward Ronan – both of whom are injured.
Probable Rio Ave XI (4-2-3-1): Kieszek; Pinto, Borevkovic, Santos, Reise de Lima; Tarantini, Filipe; Piazon, Geraldes, Carlos Mane; Moreira.
Head to head
AC Milan have never played Rio Ave in a competitive fixture, and you have to go back 12 years to the last time the Rossoneri faced an opponent from Portugal in a competitive game.
It was back in the 2008-09 season when – in the UEFA Cup group stages – Ronaldinho popped up with a 93rd minute winner to down SC Braga away from home in what was an otherwise dreadful game.
Match facts (via WhoScored):
- There have been under 2.5 goals scored in 7 of Rio Ave‘s last 8 games (Europa League).
- With the win over Crotone Milan have moved onto 17 games in a row unbeaten in all competitions (13 wins, 4 draws).
- Milan have not gone 17 unbeaten since 1996, when the team then coached by Fabio Capello got to 27.
Ones to watch
Last season’s top scorer Mehdi Taremi is now at FC Porto, so Rio Ave will have to rely on striker Bruno Moreira for goals, though he has already opened his Europa League account. Lucas Piazon is another recognisable name as a former Chelsea ‘wonderkid’.
The player with the only goal for them so far though is 22-year-old Ryotaro Meshino, a midfielder who is tipped to have big potential, while Anderllin Santos and Toni Borevkovic are the centre-back pairing who will be tasked with keeping Milan’s young attack at bay.
All eyes for Milan will be on young striker Lorenzo Colombo to see if he can follow up his goal against Bodo/Glimt last week with another, though Hakan Calhanoglu will have a job on to carry the young group through, and Matteo Gabbia will be looking to continue his development.
Milan will be motivated by the fact they are one game away from an extra €15m+ in revenue that could really help in the transfer window, but the absentees through injury and the fact they are playing a stuttering opponent should mean this anything but an incredible specticle.
We pick the Diavolo to get through to the group stages, but only just.
Prediction: Rio Ave 1-2 AC Milan