AC Milan will try to keep Red Bull Salzburg at bay when the clubs meet at San Siro on Wednesday, needing just a draw to advance to the Champions League knockout stage.
While the top spot in Group E is already settled, with Chelsea expected to finish first, the Rossoneri must avoid loss or risk being pushed down to second place by their opponents.
Narrowly ahead following the first half – after breaking the deadlock through stand-in centre-back Matteo Gabbia – the Scudetto holders went up through the gears in the second, and strikes from Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud, plus a calamitous own goal by the hosts, put the gloss on a 4-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb.
Milan therefore sat second in both Group E and the Italian top flight, but after making several changes to his lineup to face Torino at the weekend, coach Stefano Pioli finally came unstuck: his side lost for both the first time in 18 Serie A away matches and just the second in the league this season.
Now, Pioli’s men require only a draw against closest rivals Salzburg to seal second spot in Group E, which puts them tantalisingly close to a place in the last 16 for the first time in nine long years.
They are, ideally, seeking to register consecutive Champions League wins for the first time since October 2011, which would secure the name of the seven-time European champions in the last-16 draw on Monday.
Precedent is certainly on their side when it comes to Italo-Austrian duels from past years, as Milan have lost just one of 12 meetings with teams from the neighboring nation; going unbeaten in each of their last eight.
Indeed, no Austrian club has won a UEFA-sanctioned game at San Siro in 12 previous attempts, with Salzburg’s only other Champions League away fixture against Milan resulting in a 3-0 defeat back in the Rossoneri’s 1994 heyday.
This year, though, Die Roten Bullen are aiming to reach the knockout stages for the second successive season, having failed to progress past the group phase in any of their three previous campaigns.
The perennial Austrian champions were left in such a parlous position by losing 2-1 at Chelsea last time out, as an entertaining encounter slipped away from them due to a Kai Havertz winner midway through the second half; Junior Adamu’s fine equaliser being ultimately rendered meaningless.
Salzburg had remained unbeaten in Group E until that point, and without defeat in 16 matches all told, but they did bounce back with a Bundesliga win over Hartberg on Saturday – Swiss striker Noah Okafor netting the only goal.
Twenty-two-year-old Okafor is just one of several players aged under 23 to have scored for the club in the Champions League under Jaissle – in fact, all of their last 15 strikes were provided by such young guns.
Possible starting lineup:
|Maignan, Mike||Kohn, Philipp|
|Hernandez, Theo||Dedic, Amar|
|Tomori, Fikayo||Pavlovic, Strahinja|
|Kalulu, Pierre||Wober, Maximilian|
|Calabria, Davide||Solet, Oumar|
|Tonali, Sandro||Seiwald, Nicolas|
|Bennacer, Ismael||Kjaergaard, Maurits|
|De Ketelaere, Charles||Sucic, Luka|
|Diaz, Brahim||Capaldo, Nicolas|
|Leao, Rafael||Okafor, Noah|
|Giroud, Olivier||Sesko, Benjamin|
AC Milan = 51.3%
Draw = 25.0%
Salzburg = 23.7%
AC Milan 1-1 Salzburg
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