GdS: Pioli relies on his leaders in Prague to prevent a potential avalanche

By Oliver Fisher -

Each time AC Milan play in the Europa League, the feeling is their season is on the line. That also applies tonight in the second leg of the Europa League round of 16 against Slavia Praha.

As this morning’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) writes that Milan’s ‘season is at stake’ because there is no longer any certainty about qualifying for the next Champions League, like was the case for Juventus a year ago.

A possible penalty could deprive Milan of its current second place, and erode the current wide margin over the red zone of the ‘non’ Champions League spots.

Winning the Europa League would give some meaning to the season, and would make it historic in its own way because the Rossoneri have never excelled in this competition nor in its predecessor UEFA Cup, with two semi-finals being the furthest they have got.

Hypothetical scenarios, it remains to be seen whether sanctions will arrive, but there is some unease about the situation despite the fact that the club, Elliott Management and RedBird Capital have moved to reassure.

The team must isolate itself, which is easy to say but harder to do. Stefano Pioli, more than ever a single man in command, cannot be enough on his own. The coach needs the team to unite behind him, and hopes that the most reliable men form a bubble.

Maignan, Calabria, Hernandez, Loftus Cheek, Pulisic, Leao and Giroud are the ones who have played the most this season, all with over two thousand minutes under their belts. Some, for example Hernandez and Maignan, have over three thousand.

They represent the strong soul of the team and tonight they will have to put even more in, to withstand the blows of Slavia and not to be influenced by external goings on. All seven of the aforementioned names should start, together with Tomori, Gabbia and Adli.

Giroud will be asked to use his experience, and the timing of his headers. The header is a key too: in three Europa League matches (the two against Rennes in the playoff and the first leg against Slavia) Milan scored nine goals, five of which were headers.  Three of the five were done by Loftus-Cheek, one by Giroud and one by Jovic.

Maignan will have to replicate the best version of himself, forgetting about the faded version of recent times. Calabria will have to divide between the flank and the centre without compromising the balance of the team, with Theo Hernandez pushing hard on the left.

Pulisic is asked to be decisive again as he has been so many times already this season. Tomori, no longer a regular due to the injury that kept him out for months, will ensure speed in recoveries.

Reijnders is expected to start from the bench, but he is likely to be one of the first changes. He will have to orchestrate things and take the sting out of the game.

In general, the players will have to keep any negative thoughts away and concentrate on his difficult match. We resume from 4-2 in the first leg, but the Czech side – strengthened by the fact that they scored two goals at San Siro, despite being a man down due to Diouf’s red card – believe in a comeback.

The game will take place at the sold out at the Eden Arena, with almost 20,000 fans expected. A small stadium, with a high level of noise, because Milan are still Milan and even in Prague they know how big this game is.

The Rossoneri absolutely need to get the final eight of the Europa League. Elimination would be another blow, it would create an avalanche effect, with unpredictable outcomes.


Tags AC Milan Slavia Praha Milan
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