AC Milan are looking to bounce back from their draw with AS Roma when they host Sparta Praha on Thursday, in the UEFA Europa League.

AC Milan’s marvellous winning run in all competitions was put to an end when they drew with AS Roma at San Siro on Monday. It was a disappointing game for the Serie A league leaders, who conceded an agonising late goal from Marash Kumbulla, dropping their first two points of the campaign.

That said, Stefano Pioli’s men will be eager to get back to winning ways once again when they play hosts to Sparta Praha on Thursday – this time in the UEFA Europa League. The Rossoneri had kicked off their European campaign last week in a convincing manner, securing a comfortable 3-1 victory over Celtic away from home.

This week, the Scottish giants face a tricky test against LOSC Lille, which will open up an opportunity for AC Milan to pick up an ideal headstart in Group H. Sparta Praha, however, are no slouch.

Despite losing their opening Europa League game to LOSC Lille, the Czech outfit has had an excellent start to their domestic campaign, securing six wins in six matches. Although their closest competitors Slavia Prague have also done well, Vaclav Kotal’s side will surely believe that they have what it takes to down Milan in this key fixture.

And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this enticing match-up in the UEFA Europa League this midweek.

Tactics & Team News

AC Milan

AC Milan's key man. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Might have to settle for a bench. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

AC Milan had made rotations last week in their opening European game, and we can expect Stefano Pioli to do the same this midweek. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in particular, played the full ninety minutes against AS Roma and is likely to get a breather, with Rafael Leao spearheading the Milan attack in the absence of the injured Ante Rebic.

The Portuguese shifting into a central role should pave the way for Brahim Diaz to feature at left wing once again, with Samu Castillejo replacing Alexis Saelemaekers on the opposite flank. Hakan Calhanoglu could also make way for Rade Krunic, who is set to operate in a slightly more advanced midfield role.

There could also be a start for new signing Sandro Tonali, though the lack of options in midfield means Franck Kessie will once again have to operate in the double pivot.

In defence, Pioli is likely to continue missing out on the services of Matteo Gabbia and Mateo Musacchio meaning both Simon Kjaer and Alessio Romagnoli should retain their places at the heart of the four-man backline. There could be a change at right-back, however, with Diogo Dalot replacing Davide Calabria.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, meanwhile, will continue to miss out after contracting the Coronavirus. It means Ciprian Tatarusanu is once again set to occupy the role in between the sticks for Milan.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Tatarusanu, Dalot, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Tonali; Castillejo, Krunic, Diaz; Leao

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Sparta Praha

Sparta Praha are unlikely to shift away from their 4-2-3-1 formation, but coach Vaclav Kotal will be missing out on the services of holding midfielder Ladislav Krejci after he picked up a red card against LOSC Lille. In addition, the likes of Lucas Stetina, David Hancko, Dominik Plechaty and Ondrej Celustka are all said to be injured.

Krejci’s suspension, in particular, should serve as a massive blow for the away side as they are already missing out on a number of defensive options. Kotal does have another Ladislav Krejci at his disposal, but the former Bologna man, who is a left-winger, is unlikely to feature in this game.

Nevertheless, we can expect Martin Vitik to step in for Krejci and form the central defensive partnership alongside David Lischka with additional support from the two full-backs in Matej Hanousek and Michal Sacek, although the latter is a central midfielder by trade.

Moving forward, club captain Borek Dockal could be a vital asset in Sparta Praha’s second line of press. His partnership with the central midfielders in David Pavelka and Michal Travnik will be key in preventing the likes of Franck Kessie, Rade Krunic and Sandro Tonali from dominating this fixture.

The Sparta attack should be spearheaded by Lukas Julis, who is the club’s top scorer with six goals this campaign. He will look to feed off of supply from the two wide attackers in David Karlsson and Andreas Vindheim as well as Dockal.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Heca; Sacek, Vitik, Lischka, Hanousek; Pavelka, Travnik; Vindheim, Dockal, Karlsson; Julis

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Key Stats

  • This will be the seventh meeting between AC Milan and Sparta Praha, with the Italians yet to lose in this fixture.
  • Sparta Praha have lost all three of their previous away games against AC Milan, with their last visit coming in a UEFA Champions League tie in 2003/04.
  • AC Milan have lost two of their last four home games in the UEFA Europa League.
  • Including qualifying rounds, Sparta Praha have lost each of their last five away games in European competition since beating Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League in 2016/17.
  • AC Milan are looking to win on Matchday 1 and Matchday 2 for a third time in a row in the UEFA Europa League, doing so in 2017/18 and 2018/19; Milan beat Celtic 3-1 on MD1 this season.

Player to Watch

Rafael Leao

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic likely to be given a breather ahead of the important league encounter against Udinese on Sunday and Ante Rebic sidelined, Rafael Leao will be tasked with additional responsibility in the AC Milan attack this midweek.

The 21-year-old has had a productive campaign in Serie A so far, having been involved in five goals in just four matches. But, he is yet to score in the Europa League this season, despite featuring in two matches, one of which came in the qualifying stage encounter against Rio Ave.

So, the AC Milan forward will be desperate to get off the mark in this coveted European competition. But more importantly, Leao himself will be well aware of the fact that his performance could go a long way in paving his team’s fate against Sparta Praha, who are likely to defend deep.

Prediction

AC Milan 3-0 Sparta Praha

Sparta Praha might just become the whipping boys of this particular group, especially given the depleted status of their defence. And if we consider the scoring run AC Milan have had this season, a comfortable 3-0 victory for the hosts could be more than just a possibility.

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