20:05 BST, 19th October 2017, San Siro (Milan, Italy), BT Sport
AC Milan go into their Group D fixture against AEK Athens having maintained a 100% record in the Europa League so far. Despite this run of form in Europe though, Vincenzo Montella’s men have not been as impressive in Serie A, losing their last two games the most recent of which was a 3-2 loss to their rivals Inter. Sitting 10th in the league after eight games, Milan have half as many points after two Europa League games as they have in the league.
Their opponents have had a much more favourable league season so far. Sitting in second place in the Greek Super League, one point behind leaders PAOK, the team from the Greek capital have only lost once so far this season in an upset against 14th-placed Asteras Tripoli. In the Europa League, they have enjoyed a similarly successful campaign so far with a win against HNK Rejka and a draw with Austria Vienna to their name. With this match the first of a double header between these two sides, AEK will be happy to take any points they can manage in a bid to go into the final two group games in the second spot in Group D.
Last Time Out
Inter Milan 3-2 AC Milan (Serie A)
Despite being played at the San Siro, the stadium that these two teams share, AC Milan were, in fact, the away team. Coming back twice after falling to goals from Mauro Icardi, the first, a sumptuous finish from Suso, the second, an unfortunate own goal from Inter keeper Samir Handanovic.
In the end though, the unstoppable force that is Mauro Icardi failed to be met with any sort of immovable object on the part of AC Milan. With defender Ricardo Rodriguez harshly adjudged to have fouled Danilo D’Ambrosio, Icardi stepped up and won the game for Inter right at the death.
AO Xanthi 1-1 AEK Athens (Super League)
Having been within touching distance of their opponents at the top of the Super League, AEK will be disappointed to have drawn against mid-table AO Xanthi. It was the hosts who went up in the game though: Portuguese forward Brito scoring a free-kick past the helpless Gianni Anestis in the Athens goal.
In the end, though, the Athens team will consider themselves fortunate to have come away with anything at all. It was only in the 88th minute that they managed to level things up with defender Ognjen Vranjes tapping in from a Petros Mantalos assist.
AC Milan Lineup
With only Nikola Kalinic, Andrea Conti and Luca Antonelli all unavailable through injury, Vincenzo Montella will be able to pick from a deep squad for this Europa League fixture.
Given their success so far in Europe, Montella is likely to rotate his squad so as to keep his key players rested for Milan’s next Serie A. Expect to see Suso rested with Ignazio Abate coming in to replace him. Manuel Locatelli may be be prefered for Lucas Biglia who has recently returned from international competition.
AEK Athens Lineup
Only Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Georgios Giakoumakis are unavailable through injury for AEK so it will be likely that they will line up in a similar manner to the way they did in their previous Europa League fixture against Austria Vienna.
Key Battle: Patrick Cutrone vs Marko Livaja
AC Milan’s 19-year-old striker, Patrick Cutrone has been making headlines this season with his goal-scoring antics for I Rossoneri. With only 3 Serie A starts under his belt – along with a substitute appearance – Cutrone already has 2 goals to his name. More worrying for AEK will be the fact that the youngster has one Europa League start to his name in which he went on to score a debut goal against HNK Rijeka. If Cutrone is fielded, the Greek side will do well to keep him quiet.
At the opposite end of the pitch, AEK have their own attacking weapon. Croatian 24-year-old Marko Livaja plays as a tradition number 10, a position that has served him well so far in European competition. With two goals to his name so far in the Europa League, AEK will be hoping that Livaja will be able to cause Milan some problems of their own.
Serie A or Europa League?
AC Milan are in the unenviable position where their impressive European form isn’t matched in their domestic league. Despite splashing the cash in the summer, they haven’t quite managed to make the same sort of start in Serie A as their stadium-sharing rivals. The question is: should Vincenzo Montella treat the Europa League as a chance to rest his players whilst blooding young talent? Or will the Europa League give his team the sort of momentum they need to kick on in the league?
Prediction: AC Milan 3-1 AEK Athens
This will be a real test for AEK Athens who, despite their success so far in the competition, have not yet faced a team of the Milan’s quality. Even if Montella fields a weakened side, it’s hard to see AEK coming away with anything at the San Siro. Milan, then, will hope to use the game as a chance to iron out problems on the field before returning to their domestic duties raring to go.
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