Today’s free tip is in the UEFA Europa League game in Italy between AC Milan and Lille OSC.
Logically speaking, this match is between the two teams that should progress from the UEFA Europa League group, although Celtic still have a say in it, especially after their positive result in France. I don’t believe that AC Milan or Lille OSC should fear one another, given the weaknesses that both teams have displayed both in Europe and in their respective leagues. I think both are in a very good place with the right managers in charge, but there’s room for improvements in both camps.
The common struggles for both teams are in defence. AC Milan struggle to name the same back four with both Romagnoli and Musacchio constantly battling injuries, Conti being the forgotten man, and Dalot still learning his trade in Italy. Kjaer may have been around the block a few times, and have a very steady pair of gloves behind him, but the defensive setup of this AC Milan team is far from settled. Also, as many deep-lying midfielders as they unquestionably have, I don’t really see a ball-winner in there so there are gaps for opponents to exploit.
Lille OSC relied heavily on the combination of Gabriel and Fonte in the middle of their back four last season, enabling Bradaric and Celik can get forward to support attacks, both of which are very good at it. However, with Arsenal picking up Gabriel, and now Fonte out tonight, Lille OSC’s defence looks in real trouble to me, especially against red-hot Ibrahimovic. At the moment, they’re rely on Soumaoro to be their defensive rock, and considering they all but told him to leave last season, it’s hard to imagine that working out too well for the French club.
It may not be Lille OSC’s preference to play this game openly, knowing just how good and how confident their hosts are, not to mention the fact that their former striker Leao has now found his feet in Italy. However, I can’t see that they have an alternative here. A fairly small squad is being made to play every three years, and it’s beginning to show as slight cracks appear in the generally impenetrable Galtier tactics. I wouldn’t say that Lille OSC look tired, per se, but they are making more mistakes than usual, which has led to some surprising results of late. Doing so against AC Milan tonight would not end well for Lille OSC.
AC Milan have a big squad, and are prepared to take the UEFA Europa League seriously, it seems, far moreso than fellow countrymen AS Roma. They’re prepared to name a strong side, and their rotation under Pioli doesn’t tend to detract much from their displays, if at all. AC Milan still need to iron out their defensive situation, as I said above, but their attack is deadlier than ever, and not just because Ibrahimović insists on rolling back the years in every display. Leao, Diaz, Kessie, Calhanoglu, and now Tonali are really starting to warm to their respective tasks at AC Milan, and the end result is very positive.
I’ve not been as impressed with AC Milan in the past eight years or so as I am right now. Pioli has done a great job there, and not being sacked after a miniscule amount of time at the club certainly helped out on that front. The building blocks are now in place for AC Milan to return to being a great team. This is a very young squad, all things considered, but everybody is on the same page, and the number of passengers has severely diminished now. Things feel more positive, more confident, and they’re far more effective because of it, AC Milan.
Not perfect, though. AC Milan still make errors, and they’re going to have to play quite adventurously, and with plenty of ‘healthy’ aggression in order to deal with a very combative and capable Lille OSC side. The problem is that the visitors are deadly on the break. Ikone and Bamba ensure that the visitors stay fast and creative, whilst Yilmaz plays the role of the poacher as brilliantly as ever, already striking up a very good understanding with his fellow Turk Yazici, who sits just behind and makes things happen. With Andre, Xeka, and Sanches there to keep the ball moving fast, and Soumare sat in front of the defence, the Lille OSC attack is very slick, and very dangerous at all times. The only way to frustrate them is to park the bus, but there’s no way AC Milan are going to do that at home.
Subsequently, I’m inclined to believe that tonight’s affair at the Giuseppe Meazza will be an open one, and these two teams are deadly enough in attack to turn an open game into a high-scoring one. Therefore, I’m on over 2.5 goals at 4/5.
Verdict: Over 2.5 goals at 4/5.