Europa League Gets Underway
After an indirectly UEFA enforced absence from European competition Milan are back in Europe’s secondary competition. A changed Milan made it to Europa League after drama in the excessively long qualifying playoffs. The tournament is of relative little value but does provide some financial gain and a path back to the Champions League.
The 48 team bloated Europa League has paired Milan with Celtic, Sparta Prague and Lille in one of its 12 groups. A travel to Scotland is first on the agenda. In pandemic times any travel is courting danger and with the number of cases on a rapid rise football is not exempt. As with the general population many players across Europe and the world are in isolation and Milan currently counts Gabbia on that list. Calhanoglu sprained an ankle earlier this week. With Rebic still missing Milan will need to reach for its summer acquired offensive depth to start the 2020-2021 competition. The same can not be said for the defensive side. Gabbia’s absence along with the only recent return of the unconvincing Duarte from injury and COVID-19 isolation serve to highlight the lack of depth on the defensive side. Kjaer and Romagnoli will carry a heavy burden for the next little while while the likes of Diaz and Hauge can fill in for the up front absences. In the Milan derby Pioli brought on Krunic in place of Leao to provide some defensive blance on the left and that may remain an option when the coach decides to play it a bit safer when facing a team threatening on Milan’s left. Kessie, Bennacer and Tonali will share the load in the middle of the pitch with the first becoming more of a valuable part of the team every week. Leao can be a sometimes reliable left winger with Saelemaekers a surprising player in place of the off form Castillejo on the right. Ibra declared himself the god of the pitch and his form is a testament to his value and endurance. The fullbacks situation remains somewhat confusing with no natural back up to Theo on the left. Recently acquired Dalot has said he can play there but prefers the right side. Milan of course have all of Calabria, Conti and Kalulu for the right so it seems likely that Dalot might need to contribute on the left side and as early as this match.
Celtic have renewed their domestic rivalry with Rangers and sit in second place in the Scotland’s premiership having just lost the old firm derby this past weekend. They of course now feature Laxalt on loan from Milan.
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