Foot Predictions shows the Europa League clash on Thursday between Belgrade’s Red Star and AC Milan, including hunches, preview and possible lineups.
Two former European champions face off in the Europa League last 32 on Thursday, as Serbian title holders Belgrade Red Star giant Serie A hosts AC Milan at Stadion Rajko Mitic.
Dejan StankovicThe home team qualified for the knockout stage as runners-up in Group L, while Milan took first place in a complicated section with the victory over Lille in the last round.
One of the favorites for the final victory in Gdansk, Milan went through Group H, which included Lille, Sparta Praga and Celtic, finally overtaking the French to win the group with 13 points. All of this happened after a qualifying campaign at the beginning of the season, the high point of which was to bring down Rio Ave 9-8 in a penalty shootout.
Now, trying to put aside some domestic problems, which finally saw Stefano Pioli‘winter champions’ dethroned by rivals in the city Inter at the top of the Serie A standings last week, the Rossoneri face the Red Star team formidably, with a record to compete with their incredible post-lockdown streak last year.
Having kept the lead for 21 rounds, they finally let first place slip away due to a surprising defeat against Spezia last weekend – a result that the modest Ligurian team fully deserved.
In the aftermath of this humble defeat, Pioli will necessarily make some changes to his usual starting XI against the Red Star – with the recovery of the top Serie A winning the Derby della Madonnina a natural priority.
From either side of the decisive confrontation, Diavolo will try to negotiate a safe passage to the Europa League round of 16 with a highly rotating team, more accustomed to entering the field during its continental campaign, with several young talents again having an opportunity to impress.
Milan faced this Thursday’s most infamous opponent in the second round of the 1988-89 European Cup – which the Italian club won, before sealing consecutive successes the following year. After two 1-1 draws – the second of which, in Belgrade, the day after the second leg was abandoned due to fog, with the home team winning 1-0 – Arrigo SacchiThe men on the team scraped past on penalties.
If the mood plays in the Serbian capital, this alternative Milan team will continue its campaign to win the club’s first Europa League this spring, bringing a positive result to San Siro.
Former Inter legend Dejan Stankovic led his winning team to this stage of the competition thanks to second place in the group stage, finishing with 11 points – about five behind Group L winner Hoffenheim. The Red Star’s excellent form this season has made it a team to be respected, as the last defeat in all competitions occurred at the end of October, at the hands of the Bundesliga club.
Thereafter, a streak of 17 wins and four draws allowed Crvena Zvezda to dominate the domestic market, with 59 points ahead of Partizan, nine points ahead, after the recent restart of the championship after a substantial winter break.
Certainly, Super League statistics should concern Milan, as in 21 games so far Estrela Vermelha has won 19 times, drawing only twice. With a total score of 55 goals representing Serbia’s best attack and their goals conceded adding up to just eight in the league, such supremacy can allow them to fully focus on the task they have in front of their illustrious visitors.
In the Europa League, however, with a record of three wins, two draws and one defeat – in a relatively weak group also with Slovan Liberec and Gent – their results have been more mixed.
Although their notorious hardcore ultras are absent on this occasion – at least inside the stadium, if not outside, after UEFA’s rejection of an appeal to allow 15,000 fans to participate – Red Star owns a good recent home record . Unbeaten in 13 European qualifying matches in the past four seasons, only Arsenal defeated Serbia’s most popular club in Belgrade in the Europa League during that time.
The 2019-20 season, marked by the pandemic, brought Zvezda the 30th national title, completing three goals of successes in the Super League, while reaching the group stage of the Champions League for the second consecutive season. However, the 1990-91 European champions’ attempt to return to the elite group stage this season, under new coach Stankovic, ended in the third qualifying round with a defeat on penalties in Cyprus against Omonia.
Talents like winger El Fardou Ben Nabouhane (also known as ‘Ben’) and Italian striker Diego Falcinelli, loaned by Bologna, will face top-notch opponents again this week, albeit in Europe’s secondary competition, and will have a platform to impress and surprise fans across the continent. However, Red Star have won just two of UEFA’s 21 games against Italian opponents, so they will face the weight of the precedent in the iconic ‘Marakana’.
Red Star Belgrade Europa League form: LWWDD
Red Star Belgrade form (all competitions): DWWWWW
Europa League AC Milan form: WWLDWW
AC Milan form (all competitions): WLLWWL
All news from the teams
Milan coach Stefano Pioli is expected to return to his usual Europa League formation, giving several players whose tank is almost empty the chance to recover before the Milan classic.
In defense, robust Simon Kjaer will be rested and loaned to Chelsea Fikayo Tomori must enter while lateral Davide Calabria you will also be left out of the trip to Serbia. The 24-year-old defender was out of the game against Spezia due to punishment, but has also struggled with a minor injury. With only one participation in the group stage, the Italian international would be replaced by Diogo Dalot.
Advance Ante Rebic returned to group training earlier in the week and should be in shape for Thursday after recovering from a knee injury, so he will fight for the start next Rafael Leão and Brahim Diaz.
Soualiho Meite is set for a first European appearance after being added to the team since his signing in January from Torino and can be paired with one of Franck Kessie, Sandro Tonali or Ismael Bennacer in the Rossoneri engine room. Samu Castillejo expected to play in support of Mario Mandzukic in attack, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be rested before San Siro’s next double match with Inter and Red Star.
The home coach, Dejan Stankovic, used a 3-5-2 and a more flexible 4-2-3-1 in Europe this season, but can opt for the first against high caliber opponents.
Red Star Wing Aleksandar Katai – the club’s top scorer in the Europa League so far – has been out since December due to an injury to the adductor and midfielder Veljko Nikolic suffered a blow to his ankle last week and could be left out too.
Milan Pavkov can start in front, ahead of Diego Falcinelli, while El Fardou Ben Nabouhane will play on the right – with Zeljko Gavric left – or alternatively in a role closer to the main attacker.
Possible initial lineup for Red Star Belgrade:
Borjan; Degenek, Milunovic, Rodic; Ivanic, Sanogo, Petrovic, Kanga, Gajic; Ben, Pavkov
Possible initial lineup for AC Milan:
Tatarusanu; Dalot, Tomori, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Meite, Tonali; Rebic, Castillejo, Leao; Mandzukic
Probability: Red Star Belgrade 1-1 AC Milan
With at least half an eye on domestic issues at the weekend, Milan can recover against well-rested and highly confident opponents in the middle of the week.
Red Star’s resolute defense has every chance of keeping the Rossoneri’s offensive talent squad at bay, while maintaining at least a chance for progress in next week’s comeback.
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