AC Milan received their Europa League draw on the 31st of September in Monaco. The team got a mixed and unpredictable group with teams that put in very strong domestic performances. Milan will have very tough away visits as they will play in a 2,500 capacity stadium in Dudelange, a daunting crowd in Athens and an intense atmosphere in Seville. The atmospheres will no doubt play a role in the performances thus the team needs to be mentally strong throughout the group stage. Here is a preview of the teams we will be facing from in the coming months:
F91 Dudelange's historic route to the Europa League Group Stage:— Kirkby (@tranmerekev) August 30, 2018
Lost 3-2 on agg to Hungarian Champs, Vidi (CL)
Beat Kosovan Champs, Drita 3-2 on agg
Beat Polish Champs, Legia Warsaw 4-3 on agg.
Beat Romanian Champs, CFR Cluj home and away#EuropaLeague#Dudelange
Milan’s first opponent will be F91 Dudelange from Luxembourg. The defending champions in the domestic league who have won the national division the past three-year consecutively and a staggering 14 times considering the club was only founded in 1991. This will be the club’s first ever appearance in a European competition and marks a major milestone for the club.
Milan will play the away at the Stade Jos Nosbaum that has a capacity of 2,558 making for a small but undoubtedly intense atmosphere. Dudelange are all-out attack team considering they netted 81 times from 22 games in their league last year whilst maintaining the best defensive record. However they have had a tumultuous start to 2018-19 as they sit at the bottom of the table with two losses in the first three games conceding 7 goals. Their star man is No.9 Danel Sinani who is a pacy creative midfielder where he opens up space racking up goals and assists he has already scored three times in the qualifying stage and will be a definite threat running at the CBs but also on the wings as he tends to switch position in game.
Milan will simply need to focus and not take their foot of the gas to beat Dudelange by keeping possession and attacking. This should be a relatively simple game for Milan but we cannot underestimate the hunger of a side that defeated 3 champions just to play in the UEL.
Man to Watch: Danel Sinani
First Game: Away - 20th September
Prediction: 1 - 4 (Milan)
Speaking of firsts, Olympiakos was the first Greek team to ever play in European competitions and did so against Milan in 1959, Milan drew away and won at home. Talk about mirroring fate. Olympiakos finished off the last season in 3rd place following Managerial changes that saw 5 managers at the helm between the end of 2016-17 and now. The team came off a nightmare Champions League season where the only got 1 point in the group stages after being drawn against Juventus, Barcelona and Sporting.
They have started off their domestic season well in two-in-two wins and are yet to concede a goal. Serie A fans might have recognised Tachtsidis from Torino but he left the club yesterday but notably Yaya Touré has secured a return to his former club after the announcement of the UEL draw. Miguel Angel Guerrero has been clinical since joining the club and his unrelenting approach will definitely badger Milan’s CB partnership but midfielder Guilherme will be a key decider with traits similar to Kessié. Guilherme is a bully and is quick to shutdown play in the centre of the field. He can form a dominating partnership with Touré requiring our midfield to step up.
Most significantly Olympiacos have one of the tidiest defences in Greece as they have kept five out of six clean sheets at home in all competitions. Milan have to dominate the midfield to beat Olympiacos and will need clinical finishing to break the deadlock. It looks like Milan will have a tough game away with the atmosphere and pressure in Athens at a very intimidating stadium but should lock it up at home.
Man to Watch: Yaya Touré
First Game: Home - 4th October
Prediction: 2 - 1 (Milan)
Real Betis (Spain)
"Many people believe that when the goalkeeper has the ball, and you're not winning, he must send it towards the opponents’ goal.— The Coaches’ Voice (@CoachesVoice) September 4, 2018
"This is not the quickest way."
@RealBetis_en manager, Quique Setien, on playing out from the back.
➡️ https://t.co/SYQQMSA37f pic.twitter.com/3xnUkGD86E
When the draw was released, Milan fans seemed most worried about Real Betis after their strong La Liga display last year finishing in 6th place guided by a prolific attacking trident of Sergio Leon, Antonio Sanabria and Cristian Tello. Betis pipped their rivals Sevilla and had a lot of high scoring games such as their 5-3 victory over Sevilla to demonstrate the ability of the squad to create chance out of nothing and made games difficult.
The squad has not changed much but there have been three significant additions that will trouble Milan in William Carvalho, Giovani Lo Celso and Sidnei to reinforce the squad. Similarly to Olympiacos the games against Betis will be midfield battles with Sergio Canales and Andres Guardado rounding up a stacked midfield. Furthermore they possess critical pace in their left-wing backs especially with Junior who is reportedly wanted by Pep Guardiola. The team is rounded out with prolific attackers in Inui and the trio as well as experienced defenders in Bartra and Feddal.
In my opinion Joaquin is one of the strongest points as they have a strong leaders whether or not he plays and can motivate the team. Real Betis play similarly to Milan starting out from the back and are devastating on the counter with their intensive build up play supported by their good dribblers up front. A critical battle in this game will be between Bartra and Higuain as if we can unlock their defence, we can rip them open. Milan will need to cut off the passing between the midfield and the attackers as well as limiting the reach of the wing backs so as to limit their options going forward. To be honest Betis will be the toughest opposition as Spanish teams tend to be quite difficult to mark and have the skill to alter games.
Man to Watch: Andres Guardado
First Game: Home - 25th October
Prediction: 2 - 0
Milan will need to get 9 points in their first three to avoid any surprises and easily can with their home advantage against Olympiacos and Real Betis. Milan has experience from the Europa League last season that all other teams lack as Dudelange and Betis did not compete in Europe last year and Olympiacos were hammered in the UCL in an awful group. It will be a tough group away from home thus Milan need to secure vital wins at home.