AC Milan will face off against Greek heavyweights Olympiacos FC in their final UEFA Europa League Group F encounter on Thursday.
AC Milan will be aiming to seal their place in the knockout stages of the 2018-19 UEFA Europa League, when they take on Olympiacos FC at the Karaiskakis Stadium this week.
The Rossoneri currently occupy the second spot in Group F, with 10 points from five matches. They are just a solitary point below group leaders Real Betis and have a three-point advantage over the Greek outfit who sit third. Any result, barring a loss of 0-2 or worse, would see Milan progress to the next round.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side are unbeaten in their last four fixtures across all competitions (W2 D2). But, they head into Thursday’s game on the back of a goalless draw against Torino in Serie A and will be aiming to get all three points in Greece.
Olympiacos, third in the standings, have a huge task at their hands if they are to advance to the round of 32 of the UEFA Europa League. Their previous assignment in Europe ended in a 1-0 defeat to Real Betis, post which they have won and drawn a game each in their domestic competition.
Last time the two teams clashed, the Serie A giants ended up being comfortable 3-1 winners. And Olympiacos manager Pedro Martins will be hoping to avoid a repeat of that result and mastermind a big victory to take his team into the next phase of the competition.
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The Thrylos will be without the services of striker Ahmed Hassan, who has been out of action since last month with an injury. Former Barcelona and Manchester City superstar Yaya Toure has had his contract terminated earlier this week and will play no part.
Martins is expected to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation on Thursday night, with Portuguese goalkeeper Jose Sa guarding the goal. 33-year-old Vasilis Torosidis is set to start as the right-back for the Greek outfit, with Leonardo Koutris expected to hold on to his spot on the opposite side ahead of Konstantinos Tsimikas.
On-loan defender Jagos Vukovic, who scored a goal for Olympiacos in their weekend fixture against AO Xanthi, should be retained at the heart of the defence, alongside Pape Abou Cisse.
21-year-old Guinean international Mady Camara is a guaranteed starter in one of the two pivot positions in the middle of the park for the Greek side. He will most likely be partnered by summer signing Andreas Bouchalakis. Konstantinos Fourtounis will be in-charge of the playmaking duties, starting in the No. 10 role for the home team.
Matias Nahuel should get the nod out on the left flank for Olympiacos, while Omar Elabdellaoui is likely to feature on the right wing. Spearheading the attack for Martins’ side on Thursday night will be Miguel Angel Guerrero, who has six goals so far this term.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Sa; Torosidis, Cisse, Vukovic, Koutris; Bouchalakis, Camara; Elabdellaoui, Fourtounis, Nahuel; Guerrero
The Italian heavyweights have a number of injury concerns to contend with, as first-choice defensive pairing of Mateo Musacchio and Alessio Romagnoli are both sidelined, along with fellow centre-back Mattia Caldara. Midfield mainstays Lucas Biglia and Giacomo Bonaventura are also ruled out for Milan, while full-back Ivan Strinic remains absent as well.
Gattuso is expected to set his team up in a 4-4-2 formation against the Greeks, with Pepe Reina getting the nod in goal, ahead of Italian international Gianluigi Donnarumma. Davide Calabria and Ricardo Rodriguez are expected to feature as the full-backs on the right and left sides respectively, with the unusual pairing of Ignazio Abate and Cristian Zapata starting at the centre.
On-loan Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko is finally showing signs of form for Milan and should feature in the middle of the park, alongside Ivory Coast midfielder Franck Kessie. Threat from the wide areas will be provided by Spanish playmaker Suso, who is enjoying a solid season, and Turkish international Hakan Calhanoglu.
Upfront, former Real Madrid and Juventus superstar Gonzalo Higuain is set to partner up with Milan academy product Patrick Cutrone.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Reina; Calabria, Abate, Zapata, Rodriguez; Suso, Kessie, Bakayoko, Calhanoglu; Cutrone, Higuain
- Olympiacos’ only previous home match against Milan was in their first ever match in European competition – a 2-2 draw in the 1959-60 European Cup.
- Milan are unbeaten in all three of their previous meetings with Olympiacos (W2 D1), winning the reverse fixture 3-1 on Matchday 2.
- Olympiacos have won just one of their last eight home matches against Italian sides in all competitions (D2 L5), a 1-0 victory over Juventus during the 2014-15 Champions League campaign.
- AC Milan have only lost one of their last four UEFA Europa League matches away from home (W2 D1), keeping two clean sheets in those matches.
- Patrick Cutrone has netted four goals so far in the UEFA Europa League this season – of players aged under 21 after their final group stage game, only Luka Jovic (five this season) has netted more in the group stage of any Europa League campaign since the competition was rebranded in 2009-10
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The 20-year-old made a rather slow start to the season, missing a few games with an ankle injury, but has worked his way back into becoming a key member of Gattuso’s side. So far in the 2018-19 campaign, Cutrone has netted seven goals and set up one more in 17 appearances across all competitions.
The Italian forward has four goals in four Europa League appearances already this term, and is the in-form player for the visitors. Having missed a sitter in the goalless draw against Torino at the weekend, Cutrone will be out to redeem himself on Thursday night. Expect him to pose a serious threat to the Olympiacos defence.
Olympiacos 1-1 AC Milan
Olympiacos have been rock solid at home, having lost just one game all season in all competitions at the Karaiskakis Stadium. They need a 2-0 win or better if they are to make it through to the next stage of the competition.
On the other hand, a point or a defeat with one-goal margin would be enough for Milan to make it through to the knockout stages. They haven’t had the best of fortunes on the road this season, winning just thrice in nine fixtures. And the lack of an established central defensive partnership could prove to be a problem for the Rossoneri.
However, they have shown the mettle to fight back under Gattuso and while the volatile atmosphere at the stadium is likely to create some pressure, we at The Hard Tackle expect Milan to come away with a point against the Thrylos and advance to the next round.