Crvena Zvezda VS AC Milan, 1-1 draw

Posted Thu, 18 Feb 2021 10:14:22 GMT        

Match Time:2/19/2021 01:55 Friday  (GMT+8)

UEFA Europa League --  Crvena Zvezda   VS   AC Milan

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Two former European champions clash in the Europa League last-32 on Thursday, as Serbian title holders Red Star Belgrade host Serie A giants AC Milan at Stadion Rajko Mitic.  Dejan Stankovic's home side qualified for the knockout stage as runners-up in Group L, while Milan took top spot in a tricky section with victory over Sparta Prague on the final matchday.  

 

Match preview  

One of the favourites for ultimate victory in Gdansk, Milan came through Group H, which comprised Lille, Sparta Prague and Celtic, finally leapfrogging the French side to win the group with 13 points. All of which came after an early-season qualifying campaign, the highlight of which was ousting Rio Ave 9-8 in a marathon penalty shoot-out.  

 

Now looking to put aside some domestic troubles, which have finally seen Stefano Pioli's 'winter champions' dethroned by city rivals Inter at the top of the Serie A standings in the past week, the Rossoneri take on a Red Star side in formidable form, with a record fit to compete with their own incredible post-lockdown streak last year.  

 

Having maintained top spot for 21 rounds, they finally let first place slip due to a shock defeat against Spezia last weekend - a result which the modest Ligurian side fully merited.  In the aftermath of that humbling loss, Pioli will necessarily make some changes to his usual starting XI against Red Star - with reclaiming the Serie A summit by winning the upcoming Derby della Madonnina a natural priority.  

 

Either side of that crunch clash, the Diavolo will attempt to negotiate safe passage to the Europa League last-16 with a heavily-rotated lineup more accustomed to taking the field throughout their continental campaign, as several young talents again get an opportunity to impress.  

 

Milan most infamously met this Thursday's opponents in the second round of the 1988-89 European Cup - which the Italian club went on to win, before sealing back-to-back successes the following year. After two 1-1 draws - the second of which, in Belgrade, came a day after the initial second leg had been abandoned because of fog, with the home side leading 1-0 - Arrigo Sacchi's men scraped through on penalties.  

 

Should the weather play ball this time around in the Serbian capital, this alternative Milan selection will continue their campaign to win the club's first-ever Europa League this spring, by bringing a positive result back to San Siro.  

 

Former Inter legend Dejan Stankovic led his all-conquering team to this stage of the competition thanks to a second-placed finish in the group phase, finishing on 11 points - some five behind Group L winners Hoffenheim. Red Star's red-hot form this term has established them as a side to respect, as their last defeat in all competitions came back in late October, at the hands of the Bundesliga club. 

 

From there on, a run of 17 wins and four draws has seen Crvena Zvezda dominate domestically, as their tally of 59 points has them nine ahead of bitter foes Partizan, following the recent resumption of the league after a substantial winter break.  

 

Certainly, their Super Liga statistics should give Milan some cause for concern, given that in 21 games so far, Red Star have won 19 times, drawing only twice. With a goals tally of 55 representing Serbia's best attack and their goals conceded numbering just eight in the league, such outright supremacy can allow them to concentrate fully on the task in hand against their illustrious visitors. 

 

In the Europa League, however, a record of three wins, two draws and one defeat - in a relatively soft section also featuring Slovan Liberec and Gent - their results have been more mixed.  

 

Though their notorious hardcore ultras will be absent on this occasion - at least inside the stadium, if not outside, following UEFA's rejection of a plea to allow 15,000 supporters to attend - Red Star are owners of a fine recent record on home soil. Unbeaten in 13 European qualifying matches over the last four seasons, only Arsenal have defeated Serbia's most popular club in Belgrade in the Europa League proper during that time.  

 

The pandemic-scarred 2019-20 season brought Zvezda their 30th national title, completing a hat-trick of Super Liga successes, while they also reached the Champions League group stage for a second successive season. However, the 1990-91 European champions' bid to return to the elite competition's group stage this season, under new coach Stankovic, ended in the third qualifying round with a penalty shoot-out defeat in Cyprus against Omonia.  

 

Talents such as winger El Fardou Ben Nabouhane (aka 'Ben') and Italian striker Diego Falcinelli, on loan from Bologna, will be faced with top-level opposition again this week, albeit in Europe's secondary competition, and have a platform on which to impress and surprise fans around the continent. Red Star, though, have won only two of their 21 UEFA matches against Italian opposition, so will be up against the weight of precedent at the iconic 'Marakana'.  

 

Red Star Belgrade Europa League form: LWWWDD 

Red Star Belgrade form (all competitions): DWWWWW  

AC Milan Europa League form: WWLDWW 

AC Milan form (all competitions): WLLWWL  

 

Team News

Milan boss Stefano Pioli is expected to revert to his customary Europa League lineup, giving several players whose tank is running near empty a chance to recuperate ahead of the Milan derby.  

 

In defence, stalwart Simon Kjaer will be rested and Chelsea loanee Fikayo Tomori should come in, while full-back Davide Calabria will reportedly sit out the trip to Serbia too. The 24-year-old defender missed out against Spezia due to suspension but has also been struggling with a minor injury. Having only appeared once in the group stage, the Italian international would again be deputised for by Diogo Dalot.  

 

Forward Ante Rebic returned to group training earlier in the week and is set to be fit for Thursday after recovering from a knee injury, so will contend for a start alongside Rafael Leao and Brahim Diaz.  

 

Soualiho Meite is set for a first European appearance after being added to the squad since his January signing from Torino and could be paired with one of Franck Kessie, Sandro Tonali or Ismael Bennacer in the Rossoneri engine room. 

Samu Castillejo is expected to play in support of Mario Mandzukic in attack, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be rested ahead of the upcoming San Siro double-header with Inter and Red Star.  

 

Home coach Dejan Stankovic has utilised both a 3-5-2 and a more flexible 4-2-3-1 formation in Europe this term, but may opt for the former against high calibre opposition.  

 

Red Star winger Aleksandar Katai - the club's top Europa League scorer so far - has been out since December with an adductor injury and midfielder Veljko Nikolic suffered an ankle knock last week and may miss out too.  

 

Milan Pavkov could start up front, ahead of Diego Falcinelli, while El Fardou Ben Nabouhane will either feature on the right - with Zeljko Gavric on the left - or alternatively in a role closer to the main striker.  

 

Red Star Belgrade possible starting lineup: 

Borjan; Degenek, Milunovic, Rodic; Ivanic, Sanogo, Petrovic, Kanga, Gajic; Ben, Pavkov  

 

AC Milan possible starting lineup: 

Tatarusanu; Dalot, Tomori, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Meite, Tonali; Rebic, Castillejo, Leao; Mandzukic    

 

Red Star Belgrade 1-1 AC Milan

 

Crvena Zvezda VS AC Milan, 1-1 draw