18:00 GMT, Thursday 15th Feb, Ludogorets Arena (Rezgrad, Bulgaria), BT Sport
On Thursday, AC Milan travel to Bulgaria to take on Ludogorets in a Round of 32 fixture.
The Bulgarian champions have not been in competitive action for a while, despite playing several friendlies so far in 2018 to stay sharp and match fit. Winning three and drawing one of those friendlies, they will hope their domestic winter break hasn't held them back too much.
Dimitar Dimitrov’s men lead the way in Bulgaria holding a one-point lead over CSKA Sofia as they prepare to resume domestic action on Sunday.
Milan, however, have carried on with the same vigour they have shown in the tail of 2018 as they are still yet to lose in the new year.
Having failed to score in their last two away European games, they have, in fact, not won a European game under the new manager Genero Gattuso.
Coming first in their group, the Rossoneri will hope to come out on top as they look to carry-on their impressive record of never losing to any side from the country.
Last Time Out
Arsenal Tula 0-1 Ludogorets (club friendly)
Prior to the series of friendlies they’ve played, Ludogorets’ last competitive fixture was a 2-0 domestic victory away to Prin Blagoevgrad back in December.
Their last friendly in Russia ended up in a 1-0 victory against Arsenal Tula via Jakub Swierczek's solitary strike in the 28th minute.
They’ve also won other friendlies against Irtysh Pavlodar, Baltika and a 2-2 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk.
SPAL 0-4 Milan (Serie A)
Patrick Cutrone’s brace helped Milan cruise on a 4-0 victory over Serie A new boys – SPAL.
Lucas Biglia picked up a goal sandwiched between Cutrone’s double before Fabio Borini grabbed his first Serie A goal of the season.
Genero Gattuso’s last two substitutes Riccardo Montolivo and Borini combined well for Milan’s fourth goal as they put the game beyond SPAL. The duo may well be starters in the coming European fixture.
Natanael Pimeta is absent through suspension and so expect to see Aleksandar Vasilev covering at left back. In addition, Claudiu Keseru is suspended and goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov has been a long-term absentee.
AC Milan Lineup
AC Milan are without any major injury concern apart from Andrea Conti and Manuel Locatelli, who carries a one-match suspension for this fixture.
Gennaro Gattuso may have a positive selection problem up front though with a fully fit Nikola Kalinic, in-form Patrick Cutrone and Europa League top-scorer Andre Silva.
Other changes from the previous game may see Ricardo Rodriguez rested for Luca Antonelli, while Riccardo Montolivo and Fabio Borini could have the nod after their impressive cameos in the weekend with one eye on the Sampdoria game.
Key Battle: Cicinho (Ludogorets) vs Patrick Cutrone (AC Milan)
As much as this may not be a like-for-like battle, Ludogorets’ impressive defensive showing has to be credited to the entire backline and especially the dynamism of Cicinho.
The veteran Brazilian has put in one, if not the, best overall performances for the team so far, playing in all of Ludogorets’ six matches in the competition in his default right fullback role. He even appeared in right midfield - effectively it must be said - against SC Braga.
As for the away side, Patrick Cutrone has carried on with his impressive display in front of goal both domestically and in Europe with three goals in his last three Serie A outings and three in five in Europe.
The youngster is in a rich vein of form at the moment and will surely cause troubles for both the home defence and the home fans.
- Ludogorets Razgrad have only lost three of their last 25 matches (in all competitions), with those three defeats falling on their last eight outings. Incidentally, Milan are unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions, winning three consecutive games for the first time since March 2017.
- Ludogorets have two players (Natanael & Kaseru) on suspension for the first leg, while Milan have had four of their players sent off in their last seven away games, so both sides should take caution with their discipline.
Prediction: Ludogorets 0-1 AC Milan
Despite remarkably coming out of a group that had Hoffenheim, SC Braga and Istanbul Basaksehir, this is yet the biggest test for Ludogorets so far in front of their own fans.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side may be a bit cautious with this one with Sampdoria coming up next in Serie A so it should be close.