AEKACM Preview: AEK seek Group D ascendency against Milan
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - GROUP D (MATCHDAY 4)
|AEK||2:00 PM (EST)||AC Milan|
AGONAsport's Pete Katsiris brings you a full preview for AEK's UEFA Europa League Matchday 4 fixture against AC Milan.
AEK will look to continue their unbeaten campaign in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday night when the Athenians host Adriatic rivals AC Milan at OAKA as part of Matchday 4’s slate of fixtures. An entertaining 0-0 draw at the San Siro nearly a fortnight ago has Thursday’s clash in Athens well-poised as Group D’s top two clubs look to take one step closer to the knockout rounds.
AEK will look to return to their winning ways in the competition after back-to-back draws, but the Enosi will be encouraged by their unbeaten start to the group stage. A gritty 1-0 win against Panionios at the weekend boosted AEK’s title hopes, but the result came costly as Petros Mantalos suffered a devastating injury.
Milan, meanwhile, arrive in Athens on the back of a derby loss to Juventus as the Rossoneri continue to struggle to live up to the expectations that came with a summer of heavy spending in the transfer market. Manager Vincenzo Montella finds himself on the hot seat in Milan, and certainly will be keen to take a big step towards securing a berth in the Round of 32.
AEK will need to start getting used to life without Mantalos as the Greek international was diagnosed with an ACL injury and is expected to be sidelined for the next six months. Astrit Ajdarevic is expected to fill-in for Mantalos, while center-back Uros Cosic will make an impressive comeback to be reinserted back into the starting lineup. Long-term injuries to Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Panagiotis Kone will continue to side-line the duo.
Lucas Biglia will be rested on Thursday and was left off the official Milan roster for the trip to Athens. Riccardo Montolivo and Franck Kessie are expected to be return to action on Thursday night, but Suso is expected to be limited as the Spaniard deals with a nagging injury.
AEK: Anestis, Bakakis, Tzanetopoulos, Vranjes, Galo, Johansson, Simoes, Lopes, Ajdarevic, Christodoulopoulos, Livaja
AC Milan: Donnarumma, Musacchio, Bonucci, Romagnoli, Borini, Montolivo, Locatelli, Rodriguez, Calhanoglu, Cutrone, Silva.
29/10/17 Panionios-AEK 1-0 (Greek Super League)
26/10/17 Apollon Larissa-AEK 0-7 (Greek Cup)
23/10/17 AEK-Atromitos 0-1 (Greek Super League)
19/10/17 AC Milan-AEK 0-0 (UEFA Europa League)
15/10/17 Xanthi-AEK 1-1 (Greek Super League)
28/10/17 AC Milan-Juventus 0-2 (Serie A)
25/10/17 Chievo Verona-AC Milan 1-4 (Serie A)
22/10/17 AC Milan-Genoa 0-0 (Serie A)
19/10/17 AC Milan-AEK 0-0 (UEFA Europa League)
15/10/17 Inter Milan-AC Milan 3-2 (Serie A)
Thursday night will mark the sixth meeting between the two sides with Milan holding a slight advantage (W2 D2 L1) in previous encounters between the two clubs in European group stage fixtures. Despite their slight edge in all-time meetings, 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 nine times and the Rossoneri sport a winning record of W4 D4 L1 over their Adriatic neighbours. Milan’s last five encounters with Greek opposition have come against AEK.
Meanwhile, AEK have faced Italian opposition a total of 18 times (W2 D7 L9) and for the most part the Athenians’ Italian encounters haven’t ended favourably. AEK, however, have drawn five of their last seven Italian encounters with the latest meeting against a side other than Milan coming in the form of a 1-1 draw with Fiorentina in the now-renamed UEFA Cup.
AEK certainly had chances to pull off an upset when these sides met at the San Siro two weeks ago. The Enosi attackers certainly had their fair share of chances before ‘keeper Giannis Anestis was called into action with several big saves in the second half.
Thursday’s clash at OAKA represents another chance for AEK to further secure their fate in Group D as the Athenians look to reach the knockout round of a major European competition for the first time since reaching the Round of 32 in the UEFA Cup during the 2007/2008 season.
Jimenez will certainly be conflicted as he looks to steer his side to success on all fronts; and with a derby clash against PAOK in the horizon, the Spanish bench-boss will look to do his best to manage the game in preparation of Sunday’s clash with their Thessaloniki rivals.
For Milan, the Europa League was previously a welcome distraction as the Rossoneri’s struggles in Serie A. An uncomfortable win over Rijeka, followed by Matchday 3’s unimpressive performance against AEK, has altered the view of the competition in Milan.
The Italian giants have forever been synonymous with the UEFA Champions League, but recent campaigns in the Italian top flight haven’t warranted a return to the prestigious competition. A summer of heavy spending hasn’t quite panned out either, with Milan sitting around mid-table. To further compound problems for the red side of Milan, derby clashes against Juventus, and local rivals Inter Milan haven’t yielded favourable results either.
Now, speculation in the Italian press suggests that Montella’s tenure as Milan bench-boss is at risk should the Rossoneri’s struggles continue. Certainly Milan will be keen on a result in Greece, knowing that anything short of a draw could further complicate Milan’s path to the knockout round.