AC Milan found out their opponents in the Europa League play-off round yesterday after the draw took place in Nyon, and it certainly could have been worse.
La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) write this morning how the bookmakers, who don’t joke about with their predictions, have made a decision: Milan are one of the three favourites to go on and win the Europa League.
The most likely winners are Liverpool and there is no question there because Jurgen Klopp’s side are second in the Premier League and appear to be back near their best. The second favorite is Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen, who lead the Bundesliga and won all six group games.
Milan got Stade Rennais in the play-offs and are the third name on the list of favourites, clearly ahead of Brighton, West Ham, Roma and all the others. It’s enough to convince Milan fans to look at Dublin hotel prices for May 22, when the final will be played.
It is no coincidence that the CEO Giorgio Furlani yesterday commented decisively: “Rennes? We were indifferent. If we want to go and win the Europa League, anyone would be fine.”
Franco Baresi, the honorary vice-president, went further: “In football you shouldn’t underestimate anyone, but Milan must think big. Serie A or the Europa League? You don’t have to choose, Milan must always play at their best to go as far forward as possible.”
Rennes, one of the three French teams that Milan could, is a good draw on paper. Two months before the matches you can never tell but it could have been worse, because Marseille and Lisbon are two fascinating cities but Pioli will gladly see them on another occasion.
Rennes, on the other hand, are 13th in Ligue 1 and begin the tie as the underdog. The idea for Milan will be to close qualification at San Siro, considering that the return leg will fall between the away game in Monza and Milan-Atalanta, which is not an easy week.
For all this we need a plan: limit injuries, find motivation, get help from the transfer market (two players or more) and maybe avoid Liverpool and Leverkusen, who are waiting with crossed arms having already qualified for the round of 16.
There are quality players in Milan’s ranks who know the Europa League well such as Pulisic, Loftus-Cheek, Reijnders, Tomori and others who have gone up and down since August. The best is needed from those players.
Next month, the simplest on paper, must be a springboard. Milan need ideally 12 points from the league games against Salernitana, Sassuolo, Cagliari and Empoli, hoping that the first days of the year bring a centre-back (Lenglet?) and a striker arrives too (Guirassy? David?).