Europa League • Celtic-Milan Preview: So It Begins...

Milan begin this season's Europa League group stage with a trip to Celtic Park in Glasgow. Both teams have some significant injuries, but Milan are coming off of the high of winning our Derby this weekend, while Celtic lost their Derby. Getting through the group stage will obviously be important to both teams, but Milan's mentality may prove more valuable than Celtic's home advantage, especially without fans. Neither team have ever won the Europa League, although both have a history in European competitions. This match will be the first of many for Milan to prove themselves worthy of getting back to the Champions League, where we have won seven titles to Celtic's singular title. So it begins...

Current mood

The last time Milan faced Celtic was in the Champions League group stage in 2013-14. Ironically, though he has coached other teams in between, Neil Lennon was manager of Celtic then, too. So he will remember well the 2-0 defeat this team took at the San Siro that September, as well as the 3-0 defeat at Celtic Park in November of 2013. But he probably doesn't have time to reminisce about those losses, as he has internal struggles to deal with. 

Lennon's current mood

On the weekend, Celtic lost 2-0 to Rangers in their Derby, after someone from the Celtic organization leaked their starting 11 to the media the day before. Lennon's starting 11 was Barkas; Welsh, Duffy, Ajer; Frimpong, Brown, Ntcham, McGregor, Laxalt; Klimala, and Elyounoussi. Yes, that is Milan's man-with-the-braids, Laxalt, who recently assured everyone he would give 100% against Milan. While that should be reassuring, the curse of the exes is not lost on me. Celtic are second in the Scottish Premier League after their Derby defeat.

The Braided Wonder impressed on his Celtic debut this weekend

As of this writing, Lennon has not found who leaked the lineup last week, but he does have a few players who will be missing. Christie, Bitton, and Abd Elhamed are all in quarantine, having tested positive for COVID-19. Edouard was also quarantined, but returned to training last Friday, so is doubtful for this match. Additionally, Lennon is missing Forrest and Johnston to injuries, with Jullien doubtful due to a longterm back issue.

Pioli has a few injuries of his own to manage. Gabbia remains the only player in quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test, with Duarte returning to training this week. However, Calhanoglu suffered a sprained ankle in training and will miss the next three matches. Rebic is still not available for this match after dislocating his elbow two and a half weeks ago. Musacchio is still not fit, although should be returning to full fitness soon.

Young players to get the start?

Milan sit at the top of Serie A, undefeated in their last 20 matches, most notably having beaten Inter 2-1 on the weekend. They have conceded one goal in four Serie A matches, but struggled more in their Europa League qualifying matches against Bødo/Glimt and Rio Ave. With injuries already impacting the starting 11 and many more games to play, as well as the ever-present threat of COVID-19, Pioli will definitely need to rotate some players for this one, while still needing to secure the win in Scotland. With the mercato closed, there will not be any incentive for Celtic players to try to sign for Milan by scoring on them, but having cursed them with a whole season of Laxalt, he or any of their players could be seeking revenge.

Has Tonali earned Pioli's trust enough to start?

Even with the Derby winning high, I am not sure Milan relish playing ahead of another important league game on Monday vs. Roma. Celtic have to dig deep, not only to figure out who in their organization would betray them, but also how to mentally get past such a tough loss. The game everyone is dreading playing is how-to-avoid-spreading-a-deadly-virus-while-traveling game. This year's Europa League is about more than a trophy or money or even sport, it's about everyone staying healthy. There is more on the line than ever before, and so it begins...

This post inspired by the music of  Lush

Europa League Group Stage
Celtic vs. AC Milan
Thursday, October 22 • 21:00 CEST (3pm EDT)
This match can be streamed LIVE on CBS All Access in the U.S.

Europa League • Celtic-Milan Preview: So It Begins... Europa League • Celtic-Milan Preview: So It Begins... Reviewed by Elaine on 1:10 AM Rating: 5
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