Europa League Playoffs • AC Milan-Stade Rennais FC Preview: En Garde

After missing out on the knockout round of the Champions League, Milan are going into the Europa League Playoff round with high aspirations. They do so with a run of form of nine league matches unbeaten, two draws and seven wins. Their opponent, Ligue 1 side Stade Rennais FC, or Rennes, as they are more commonly known, also come to the San Siro Thursday evening with an eight win streak in all competitions. Clearly, it will be an excellent sparring match. En garde.

Ready or not, Europa League here we come.

Rennes currently sit in seventh place in Ligue 1, a full 19 points behind leaders PSG. However their current winning streak is quite impressive, including their 1-0 win on Sunday against Le Havre, which they won with their first shot on target an hour into the match in which their lower table opposition dominated chances. A big part of that success was down to their captain, veteran French national team goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who made five saves in that one. Mandanda also spoke highly of Maignan, who essentially replaced him in the national team upon his retirement. He obviously knows Milan's French contingency well.

Rennes captain and goalkeeper knows Milan's French contingency well.

Manager Julien Stéphan did not specifically reveal his choices in his press conference, but will likely line up a similar starting eleven to the one that started on Sunday vs. Le Havre: Mandanda; Guéla Doué, Omari, Theate, Truffert; Bourigeaud, Matusiwa, Santamaria, Désiré Doué; Kalimeuendo, and Terrier. Stéphan could potentially add Alidu Seidu back to the starting lineup after his return from AFCON, but he will still be missing Enzo Le Fée and Rieder to injury.

Pioli will also likely start a strong starting 11, however a new injury once again forces him to make changes from Sunday's starters. Calabria will be out for this one, adding to the list of Kalulu, Pobega, Tomori, and apparently Mirante, who are all injured. Big news this week was that Chukwueze returned from AFCON on Wednesday, but he was not called up for this one, he should be available on Sunday. Bigger news was that enigma-made-of-porcelain known as Caldara has apparently finally recovered from whatever injury he had all season, and trained with the team this week. But of course, he is not on the UEFA list, so we won't see him on Thursday.

Reijnders returns from his one match mandated rest on Sunday.

Kjaer was in doubt after coming off with a problem on Sunday, but the latest reports say the Viking defender is ready to start alongside Gabbia in defense. Florenzi will likely replace Calabria on the right, and Reijnders, who was suspended on Sunday, will be available in midfield. There are rumors that Pioli may opt out of his two French native midfielders, Bennacer and Adli, and try Musah in the midfield, but often those rumors are just as reliable as transfer rumors, so do not put money on that.

Milan fans have two minds about the Europa League: one is to bow out quickly and focus on the league, making sure we do not do anything to mess up that top four finish for next year's Champions League qualification, as the small amount of money available for competing in the UEFA competition is not worth the risk of injuries, etc. The second idea is to just try to win the whole thing, particularly as Milan have never won the Europa League. I am not sure that this is realistic, considering teams like Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen or Premier League leaders Liverpool are both still in the competition. Also considering that many of these glory hunting fans are the same who said our season is over a few weeks ago, it all just seems a little ridiculous.

Giroud is set to make his 700th career appearance in this match.

Somewhere between fantasy and practicality, reality will hit at kickoff Thursday night at San Siro. While Milan are the favorites in this match, sitting third place in Serie A, now just one point behind second place Juventus, European nights were a bit too much for this team in the first half of the season. Having replaced half of the squad in the summer, that was likely always going to be the case, but in a lesser competition, with over six months playing together, Milan have a much better chance at success now. So let the quest for the Europa League begin, I guess. En garde.

This post inspired by the music of Muse's "Knights of Cydonia"

Our next match is 
Europa League Playoffs
Milan vs. Rennes
Thursday, February 15 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)
In the U.S., you can use a VPN to access a Europa League provider elsewhere*
(*one that does not also sponsor Inter's kits)

Europa League Playoffs • AC Milan-Stade Rennais FC Preview: En Garde Europa League Playoffs • AC Milan-Stade Rennais FC Preview: En Garde Reviewed by Elaine on 5:30 AM Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.