The five key battles that could win or lose the game for Milan against Rennes

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan welcome Stade Rennais to San Siro tonight for the first leg of their Europa League play-off round tie, and it is two teams in great form.

Milan come into the game having ground out a 1-0 victory against a struggling Napoli side at the weekend, and the Rennes team that they will face have been in excellent form since the moment the draw was made having won every game in 2024.

The outcome of tonight’s game and perhaps the tie overall will be heavily influenced by some key battles across the field, starting with Olivier Giroud coming up against a familiar opponent in Arthur Theate.

Theate was of course at Bologna before making the move to Rennes and he was actually linked with Milan. Meanwhile, Giroud has faced the Rouge et Noir six times in his career – winning five times – and his first ever senior goal in 2007 came against tonight’s goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. He has also been directly involved in 11 goals in 9 UEL knockout stage appearances (7 goals, 4 assists).

Arnaud Kalimuendo and Benjamin Bourigeaud have been by far and away the main attacking threats for Rennes this season. The former has 10 goals across all competitions, while the latter is on six goals two assists in the league.

Stopping them will fall above all at the hands of Matteo Gabbia – who has been outstanding since his return from Villarreal last month – and Theo Hernandez. They will occupy the left side of the defence, and Theo will hope to get forward so he can build on his goal against Napoli on Sunday too.

Moving to the midfield, in the absence of Enzo Le Fee it is Baptiste Santamaria who will be in the control room for Julien Stéphan’s side. He was reportedly a Milan target at one point, and his energy and creativity allow them to play a double pivot.

That is why Yunus Musah will have to take his chance as he is expected to make what is quite a rare start in midfield. The American is known for his dynamism and the distance that he covered, so his performance could be key in freeing Tijjani Reijnders to create and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to get forward.

While Rafael Leao will rightly be identified as the big threat out wide for Milan, we think Christian Pulisic‘s duel against Adrien Truffert could end up being more of a decisive one down the Rossoneri’s right flank.

Pulisic has made some very important contributions this season already but his output has dropped a bit recently, yet he will have to keep a close eye on Truffert who likes to get forward and overlap, as his seven goal contributions this season show.


Tags AC Milan Milan Rennes
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