ACM-AEK Preview: AEK keen to keep tabs on Milan
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - GROUP D (MATCHDAY 3)
|AC Milan||3:05 PM (EST)||AEK|
AGONAsport.com’s Peter Katsiris previews AEK’s clash with Italian giants AC Milan on Matchday 3 in the UEFA Europa League.
AEK’s European journey takes centre stage yet again on Thursday night as the Athenians travel across the Adriatic to visit AC Milan at the San Siro on Matchday 3 in the UEFA Europa League.
With four points to their name after two matchdays, AEK will look to take a major step towards the knockout rounds with a strong showing in Northern Italy. Meanwhile, Milan were handed a bit of a reality check on Matchday 2 after what was supposed to be a routine win wasn’t so routine after all.
AEK will hope the occasion will be enough of an inspiration after a weekend draw against Xanthi stretched the club’s winless streak to two games domestically, and three in all competitions; displacing the Athenians of top spot in the Greek Super League.
Meanwhile, Milan were left licking their wounds after Sunday’s Milan Derby with San Siro co-tenants Inter Milan saw the latter scrape a 3-2 win with a last-gasp penalty. Having finished sixth in the Serie A last season, Milan have underperformed this term after a summer of big spending from the Rossoneri.
Milan manager Vincenzo Montella received some welcome news this week as Nikola Kalinic was deemed ready to return to action following an injury that kept the Croatian out of Sunday’s Milan Derby. Montella, however, won’t be able to call on the services of Luca Antonelli and Andrea Conti, as the pair will miss the match through injury. Ignazio Abate, Gustavo Gomez, Alessio Romagnoli, Cristian Zapata, Jose Mauri and Niccolò Zanellato are also out for Thursday’s fixture.
Ahead of AEK’s biggest road fixture of the season, manager Manolo Jiminez will be without a regular in the center of his defensive line as Uros Cosic was deemed unfit for Thursday’s tilt. Cosic joins fellow defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy, who remains sidelined since the start of the season. Arnór Ingvi Traustason will also miss out on Thursday’s visit to the San Siro after the Icelandic midfielder was granted a short time away from the club to attend his grandfather’s funeral; AEK youngster Andrea Vlachomitros was included in the squad to travel to Milan.
AC MILAN: Donnarumma, Musacchio, Bonucci, Rodriguez, Borini, Montolivo, Locatelli, Calhanoglu, Calabria, Cutrone, Silva
AEK: Anestis, Galo, Giannoutsos, Vranjes, Bakakis, Johansson, Simoes, Mantalos, Christodoulopoulos, Livaja, Araujo
15/10/17 Inter Milan-AC Milan 3-2 (Serie A)
1/10/17 AC Milan-AS Roma 0-2 (Serie A)
9/28/17 AC Milan-Rijeka 3-2 (UEFA Europa League)
9/24/17 Sampdoria-AC Milan 0-2 (Serie A)
9/20/17 AC Milan-SPAL 2-0 (Serie A)
15/10/17 Xanthi-AEK 1-1 (Greek Super League)
1/10/17 Asteras Tripolis-AEK 2-0 (Greek Super League)
9/28/17 AEK-Austria Wien 2-2 (UEFA Europa League)
9/24/17 AEK-Olympiacos 3-2 (Greek Super League)
9/20/17 AEK-Lamia 2-0 (Greek Cup)
Thursday night will mark the fifth meeting between the two sides with Milan holding a slight advantage (W2 D1 L1) in previous encounters between the two sides in the UEFA Champions League. Milan are unbeaten at home against AEK (2-1 and 3-0), but the Italian giants are winless in their trips to Athens (0-0, 0-1).
For AEK, one of the club’s most memorable European evenings is marked by the 1-0 win against Milan at OAKA in November 2006 – later that year Milan would go on to hoist the Champions League trophy in Athens.
Overall, Milan have encountered Greek opposition a total of eight times and the Rossoneri sport a winning record of W4 D3 L1 over their Adriatic neighbours. Milan’s last four encounters with Greek opposition have come against AEK.
Meanwhile, AEK have faced Italian opposition a total of 17 times (W2 D6 L9) and for the most part the Athenians’ Italian encounters haven’t ended favourably. AEK, however, have drawn four of their last six Italian encounters with the latest meeting coming in the form of a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina in the now-renamed UEFA Cup.
European football has been an early reprieve for Milan this season as the Rossoneri have struggled to find their form domestically. Having lost three consecutive league games, Milan have found comfort in the Europa League with back-to-back wins to kick-start their group stage campaign.
Milan started brightly on Matchday 1 as Montella’s men cruised to a 5-1 demolition of Austria Wien in Vienna, before a more nerve-racking 3-2 win against Rijeka on Matchday 2.
Portuguese starlet Andre Silva has been the catalyst for the Milan attack as he sits tied for most goals in the group stage with four goals after just two matches.
Silva is one of many signings to have joined the club this past summer, while the most notable addition comes in the form of Italian international Leonardo Bonucci – who anchors the Milan back-line ahead of compatriot shot-stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Milan’s success in the Europa League thus far has been aided by the side’s ability to score early. On both matchdays, Milan were able to break the deadlock within the first fifteen minutes en route to clinching a full three points on both occasions.
Incidentally, AEK find themselves in a similar position to their hosts on Thursday night. After defeating Olympiacos to take the Super League summit by storm, AEK have tumbled out of top spot after collecting just one point in their last two league outings combined.
While the club have made it known that league success is a priority this season, a bright start for AEK in the Europa League has increased expectations as AEK look to progress past the group stage for the first time since reaching the Round of 32 in the 2007/2008 UEFA Cup.
AEK’s ability to stymie Milan early could go a long way in determining the Enosi’s chances of returning to Athens with a result. AEK have scored first in both of their group stage fixtures already this season, and a quick tally at the San Siro would go a long way in settling nerves for Jimenez’s men.
Striker Marko Livaja played a crucial role for AEK on Matchday 2 as the Croatian hitman struck twice to salvage a draw against Austria Wien. AEK’s ability to use the wings against what will likely be a three-man Milan defense will determine the visitors’ ability to get a good look at goal – though any opportunity in front Donnarumma will require the utmost precision to beat the Italian netminder.
With Thursday’s contest providing the first of two meetings between the sides in the space of fortnight, AEK will look to make the most of their trip to Italy in hopes of taking one step closer to qualification for the knockout rounds.