AC Milan will be aiming to take a step towards qualification for the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League when they face off against Celtic on Thursday.

Matchday 5 of the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League kicks off on Thursday evening, with one of the most high-profile encounters of the round coming our way from San Siro, where Serie A leaders AC Milan play hosts to Scottish champions Celtic in Group H.

Having started the Europa League campaign with back-to-back wins, Milan have failed to win their last two (D1 L1) and are currently second in the group with seven points – one less than leaders Lille. Their domestic form, though, has been top-notch and Stefano Pioli’s men head into Thursday’s game on the back of a strong 2-0 win over Fiorentina.

Celtic, meanwhile, are rooted to the bottom of the group, with just one point from four games. They have not been performing up to expectations on the domestic front either, leading to mounting pressure on manager Neil Lennon. The Hoops are without a win in their last three in all competitions, with their latest game ending in a 2-0 defeat to Ross County in the League Cup.

The reverse fixture at Parkhead saw the Rossoneri win 3-1, with Rade Krunic, Brahim Diaz and Jens Petter Hauge finding the back of the net. Ahead of their latest meeting on Thursday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

AC Milan

Stefano Pioli will be back on the touchline on Thursday after testing negative for coronavirus (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Stefano Pioli will be back on the touchline on Thursday after testing negative for coronavirus (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains sidelined for the home team which is a huge blow. Apart from the towering Swede, Milan will also be without the services of fellow forward Rafael Leao, while centre-back Mateo Musacchio is also unavailable. Ismael Bennacer is back in training after missing the weekend clash due to muscle fatigue.

There will be changes made to the side that started in the win over Fiorentina at the weekend. However, Stefano Piolo is unlikely to rotate his goalkeepers, meaning Gianluigi Donnarumma is a certain starter between the sticks for the Rossoneri. The team will set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of the Italian international.

Diogo Dalot, who has done fairly well each time he has been given a chance, should come in at right-back while Theo Hernandez ought to continue on the left. Simon Kjaer could be given a breather, with Matteo Gabbia replacing him to start alongside Alessio Romagnoli at the heart of the Milan defence.

Even though Bennacer is back, he is unlikely to be risked from the start here. Sandro Tonali, who has been a regular in Europa League, is expected to start again. He could be in for a change of partners, though, as Franck Kessie is in line for a rest. The Ivorian should make way for Rade Krunic. Brahim Diaz ought to continue in the No. 10 slot for the hosts.

Samu Castillejo, who scored in Milan’s last Europa League game against Lille missed the weekend game due to a knee problem and might not be involved on Thursday, with Alexis Saelemaekers starting again. Jens Petter Hauge should replace Hakan Calhanoglu on the left flank while Ante Rebic starts as the lone striker again.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Dalot, Gabbia, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Krunic, Tonali; Saelemaekers, Diaz, Hauge; Rebic

Celtic

The Hoops are likely to be without the services of wingers James Forrest and Mohamed Elyounoussi, while Shane Duffy is also a major doubt. Apart from that, Neil Lennon has a fully fit squad at his disposal. And, having used a three-man backline in the cup tie against Ross County, he could stick with the same setup on Thursday.

With things not going well for summer signing Vasilis Barkas, Scott Bain will be the man guarding the goal for Celtic. He will seek all the protection he can get from the centre-back trio of Nir Bitton, Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer, who has been linked with a move to Milan, while Jeremie Frimpong and Diego Laxalt slot in as the wing-backs on the right and left sides, respectively.

Captain Scott Brown will take up one of the two pivot positions in the middle of the park. He will be key to Celtic breaking up play in the centre. The Scotsman will have support from compatriot Callum McGregor, although the latter will have the license to push forward when in possession.

Ryan Christie should start in the No. 10 role ahead of Tom Rogic, although Olivier Ntcham is also an option. Odsonne Edouard, who has had a slow start to the season compared to the standards he has set over the past couple of seasons, should spearhead the Celtic attack, with Albian Ajeti supporting him at the top.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Bain; Bitton, Jullien, Ajer; Frimpong, Brown, McGregor, Laxalt; Christie; Edouard, Ajeti

Key Stats

  • AC Milan have lost just one of their 11 previous meetings with Celtic. The Rossoneri have won each of their last four matches against the Scottish giants, since a 1-2 loss in 2007 in the UEFA Champions League.
  • Celtic have failed to win any of their last five away games against AC Milan (D1 L4). They have found the back of the net on just one occasion during this run.
  • AC Milan have lost two of their last four home matches in the UEFA Europa League (W2), including their last such game against Lille. They have never lost back-to-back fixtures on their home turf in the competition.
  • Since the start of the 2019/20 season, no Celtic player has been directly involved in more goals than Mohamed Elyounoussi (6), with four of those coming in the ongoing campaign (3 goals, 1 assist) – one of the goals came against AC Milan in the reverse fixture.
  • The Rossoneri have scored at least two goals in their last three meetings with Celtic across all competitions.

Player to Watch

Odsonne Edouard

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After having established himself as a prolific scorer for Celtic over the past couple of seasons, which saw him get linked with the likes of Arsenal, the Frenchman has endured a bit of a dip in the current campaign. In 16 games across all competitions, Edouard has scored eight times, but has netted just thrice in his eleven appearances.

The 22-year-old’s mini-drought has coincided with a poor run of results for the Scottish champions. So, it is imperative that the French Under-21 international finds his goalscoring boots as Celtic look to bounce back and alleviate some pressure on the manager.

Prediction

AC Milan 2-0 Celtic

AC Milan may have failed to win their last two games in the Europa League, but have generally been in very good form in the ongoing campaign, having not lost any of their previous four in all competitions (W2 D2). However, the same cannot be said of Celtic, who have won just one of their last five across all competitions (D1 L3) and are under intense pressure.

Even though the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a blow, Milan have shown in recent matches that they can cope with it. Going up against a Celtic backline that boasts the joint-worst defensive record in the Europa League this term (13 goals conceded), they should be in for a rather comfortable victory at San Siro. If Lille end up defeating Sparta Prague in the other Group H clash on the night, Milan will be on their way to the Round of 32.

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