The Red and Blacks of Milan travel to Bulgaria on Thursday to face Ludogorets for Round of 32 of the Europa League. Ludogorets Arena will host the first leg, and the match is scheduled to start at 06:00 pm GMT this Thursday.
Ludogorets have won the last six Bulgarian league title in a row. They finished second in the group stage of Europa league behind Braga. The Bulgarian Champions have faced only one loss in last four home games in Europa League.
AC Milan, on the other hand, look rejuvenated under new manager Gennaro Gattuso. A Champions League spot still seems possible for the Milan-based side as they sit seventh in the league table. They finished top of Group D in Europa League with eleven points from six games.
Gattuso’s men look full of confidence, especially given they defeated SPAL last Saturday with a huge 4-0 margin on the road.
Speaking ahead of the game, Gattuso said is a press conference,
”We admire Ludogorets. In the last six years, they have played in Europe more than us. We don’t depreciate them at all.
“Sides like Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Lazio all struggled when playing here. I have studied them, and I know they can give us a lot of difficulties. They have three to four attacking players that can make the difference. We can’t give them too much space.”
“I think, on Thursday, they can go from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 system. What I fear the most from them is their attack.”
The Rossoneri are one of the favorites to win the Europa League this year and given the fierce competition in Serie A this campaign, Milan may end up outside the top 4 come may; so they might see Europa League as an opportunity to get into Champions League next year.
AC Milan vs Lodogorets has never happened in a competitive match before. So any team who wins shall make history on Thursday.
Players to Watch
The Brazilian-born naturalized Bulgarian footballer Marcelinho has been in an impressive form as of late. He has directly contributed in all of Ludogorets’ last three goals (2 goals and 1 assist). The 33-year-old midfielder has scored a total of sixty goals in his 177 appearances for the Bulgarian Champions.
Calhanoglu is the player to watch for the Milan-based side. After struggling for life at Milan initially, the Turkish midfielder has well and truly flourished under Gattuso as of late. Milan can benefit from his creativity in the midfield, as he’s been doing for some time now under Gattuso.
The 24-year-old is a proven set-piece specialist, as we saw in Bundesliga last year and it’s only a matter of time before he starts firing in long-range free-kicks for Milan.
Dimitar Dimitrov will be without the Bulgarian shot-stopper Vladislav Stoyanov. The 30-year-old goalkeeper is out with a patella injury. There is no other injury concern for the Razgrad-based side, and they will be all-out prepared for this home game.
The former defensive midfielder Gennaro Gattuso will be without the Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic who picked up a groin injury last week. Andrea Conti is still sidelined with a ligament injury and won’t be back until March.
The substitute keeper Marco Storari is struggling for fitness and will most likely stay out of this Cup fixture.
Andre Silva has not frequently played under Gennaro Gattuso, but the Portuguese will expect to play some part on Thursday.
Mateo Musacchio can be banned for a game if he is booked against the Bulgarian side on Thursday.
Ludogorets vs AC Milan Lineup (Predicted XI)
Ludogorets Lineup (3-4-2-1)
Moti (CB), Plastun (CB), Natanael (CB)
Goralski (LWB), Abel (LCM), Dyakov (RCM), Cicinho (RWB)
Wanderson (CAM), Marcelinho (CAM)
AC Milan Lineup (4-3-3)
Rodriguez (LB), Romagnoli (LCB), Bonucci (RCB), Abate (RB)
Bonaventura (RCM), Biglia (CDM), Kessie (LCM)
Ludogorets vs AC Milan Prediction
AC Milan are the clear favorites, but we simply can’t overlook the fact that the Eagles will play the first leg in front of their faithful, who will leave no stones unturned to support their team.
Over the years, Ludogorets have turned their Ludogorets Arena into a real fortress and have been in a sublime form at home. That said, Milan have regained their form and are a solid side when it comes to cup competitions, so we’re rooting for a close win for the Rossoneri.
Our Prediction: 2-1 to AC Milan