Celtic v Milan: Serie A squad bring big names and big threat to Europa League

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Lieu: Celtic park Date: Thursday 22 October Start: 20h00 BST
Blanket: Listen live on Radio Scotland DAB / 810MW / online; text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

As Neil Lennon shifts his attention to Celtic’s Europa League group opener against AC Milan, he may recall the exasperation he felt after the club’s last two games against the famous Rossoneri.

In their first stint – a year after humiliating Barcelona – Lennon’s side faced the Italian giants in the Champions League group stage and lost both fixtures.

Unlucky, but defeated late at San Siro, before finishing relentlessly – especially by Virgil van Dijk – on the return, Lennon scratched his head as they lost 3-0 to Glasgow and left the tournament.

It was Lennon’s last European home game in his first tenure as Celtic boss, but, remarkably, it was also AC Milan’s last Champions League win. Remarkable because they have won the European Cup seven times in their illustrious history. Only Real Madrid have won it more often.

After losing to Atletico Madrid in the last 16 games of the 2013-14 season, they have failed to reach that rating since and have had to settle for the secondary tournament in the years since. Indeed, their journey this season began in the second qualifying round against League of Ireland Shamrock Rovers.

However, having been banned from European football last season due to financial irregularities, they will pose a major threat in this year’s Europa League, let alone in Celtic’s squad.

An unbeaten start to the season at home and abroad, they lead Serie A after four matches as they try to win a first Scudetto in a decade and end Juventus’ sway.

The Derby della Madonnina victory over city rivals Internazionale this weekend has them perfectly prepared for their trip to Celtic Park and their final duel with the Scottish champions.

Midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, who wears Milan’s number 10 shirt previously made famous by Gianni Rivera, Ruud Gullit, Zvonimir Boban and Clarence Seedorf, would miss the game with a sprain.

However, there is more to this Milan team than the Turkey international, who scored against Serbia, Scotland’s last opponents in the Euro 2020 play-offs, in the Nations League last week.

Players to watch

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

He still has it, after a stint in MLS, with Ibrahimovic scoring twice against Inter this weekend at the age of 39. And looking over the Parkhead pitch on Thursday, he might remember his first European games, against Martin O ‘Neill’s Celtic in 2001, as a teenager in a losing Ajax side in the playoffs. of the Champions League.

Alexis Saelemaekers

The star-studded Belgian production line shows no signs of stopping and the proof is in the 21-year-old Saelemaekers, who won his first full Belgian cap this month. Milan have not decided whether he is a midfielder or a right-back, but he has been a first choice for the Rossoneri this season on the right wing. With young Portuguese Rafael Leao on the left, he is likely to pose a serious threat.

Franck Kessie

The Ivorian international normally sits alongside Algerian Ismael Bennacer in anchor roles in the middle of the park. Kessie helped end Belgium’s recent 12-game winning streak with the equalizer in a 1-1 draw in the October international break and has become one of the most consistent players in the Serie A under coach Stefano Pioli. The 23-year-old, 42 times selected, is also quite handy from the penalty spot, although moving Ibrahimovic out of that role can prove difficult even as the veteran forward saw his weekend penalty saved against the Inter.

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