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Celtic’s 2-0 defeat at home in the Old Firm derby was far from ideal preparation ahead of taking on sleeping giants Milan.
It was their second defeat in a row to Rangers, with both of these games coming at Celtic Park, and it’s led to a bad atmosphere with recriminations and a dressing room inquest over a leaked team sheet.
Further, star striker Odsonne Edouard is a major doubt and highly unlikely to feature, as is Chris Jullien, while Ryan Christie is another one who looks set to miss out.
By contrast, the mood in Milan is of a very different nature. Stefano Pioli’s men are in a rich vein of form stretching back into last season, winning their own derby with Inter at the weekend, while after four games this term they lead Serie A with a perfect record to date.
In fact, they’ve won a highly impressive 15 of 20 unbeaten matches in all competitions since the restart in June, with three of the stalemates coming against Juventus, Napoli and Atalanta. 12 of those 15 victories came by at least two clear goals, while eight of the past nine have all ended in maximum points.
Milan To Beat Celtic
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why Milan start as favourites and in fact we’d have them at a shorter price given their outstanding form.
Pioli has already confirmed that Milan will be taking the Europa League seriously – something Italian outfits haven’t always done – and we wouldn’t expect him to underestimate their hosts and simply field a second-string side.
He has enough at his disposal to shuffle the pack and former Man Utd right-back Diego Dalot could come in to hand Davide Calabria a well-earned rest, the highly promising Sandro Tonali should come into midfield for one of Franck Kessie or Bennacer, while Rade Krunic could also come into the picture.
Further forwards there’s likely to be greater changes with Samu Castillejo, Brahim Diaz and Petter Hauge all vying for spots.
Hakan Calhonoglu is likely to be given a break having travelled with Turkey over the international break, Zlatan Ibrahimovic can’t play every game even if he does appear to be turning back the clock, but Rafael Leao may well keep his place with his pace likely to prove effective against Celtic’s slower backline.
Neil Lennon will hope on-loan midfield Diego Laxalt can help him get the better of the Uruguayan’s parent club, though a little bit of inside knowledge isn’t going to go very far given the form of the visitors. Celtic have often disappointed on the European stage in recent times, often flunking the chance to advance past Champions League qualifiers against some ropey opposition.
The absence of star man Edouard leaves us sceptical of their prospects, and Milan look set to continue their winning run.