AC Milan will face Real Betis in a match for first place in Europa League’s Group F. Both teams are fresh off disappointing defeats in their leagues and will look to make them up on Thursday.
Although Betis is currently struggling in league play, they have plenty of talent across the board and showed last season what they are capable of. To retain first place in the group, what are Milan’s keys to victory.
Keys to an AC Milan Victory in Europa League
Pepe Reina Must Avoid any Errors
This may seem simple at first glance, but it’s not always that easy for goalkeepers. Milan played a tough match versus Inter Milan last weekend and looked to have a draw wrapped up until Gianluigi Donnarumma misread a cross that lead to a wide open Mauro Icardi winner in the dying moments. This lost the match for Milan, and surely took some of their confidence that was beginning to build up.
Reina, however, is a veteran. He has a great track record Spain, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Napoli, he knows what it takes to win. Betis, however, have some very crafty players on their side such as Giovani Lo Celso and Antonio Sanabria.
They have a tendency to create something out of nothing, and Reina must be wary of that. If Milan’s players fail to create openings for either Patrick Cutrone or Gonzalo Higuain, Reina must be on his top game to secure a clean sheet.
A Centre Back Beside Romagnoli Must Step up
Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli has been the only consistent centre back for the Rossoneri game in and game out. So far this season, Matteo Musacchio has started alongside Romagnoli. Although he’s had decent games, he just can’t seem to form a solid partnership with Romagnoli.
With this being said, Milan still has Mattia Caldara. The Italian came to Milan through Leonardo Bonucci‘s deal to Juventus, and he has been primed to start. Caldara’s issue, however, is that he has been dealing with injury since the season started.
He looks to be fit now, fully participating in the team’s training sessions, but it remains to be seen if he can be thrown into the starting XI so quickly. Caldara is one of the most promising Italian youngsters in football and has already amassed plenty of Europa League and Serie A experience with Atalanta.
If he gets the start versus Betis, many will be expecting a lockdown performance.
Bakayoko Needs to Improve
Tiemoue Bakayoko is not Milan’s starting defensive midfielder, but will likely start this match so that Lucas Biglia can rest. Bakayoko is only two years removed from being a top midfielder in the game, which has left many wondering as to what happened. His great run at Monaco earned him a move to Chelsea. This wasn’t the case, and Bakayoko proved to be a massive flop.
Milan took advantage of the situation and opted to bring in Bakayoko on a loan deal. The French midfielder, however, has been underwhelming to say the least. His physicality remains strong, but his touch and passing abilities have suddenly disappeared.
In a press conference today, however, Bakayoko hinted that he believes he will be his former self once again.
“Serie A is different that Ligue 1,” Bakayoko said, “I am improving and I think that with time you will see the player you were used to seeing at Monaco.”
This time can’t come soon enough as Milan already struggles with depth and gambled heavily on Bakayoko returning to form by now.
The Attack Needs to Create More Chances
In what again seems simple, this is yet another thing Milan has struggled with over the years. Far too often does Milan opt for long-range shots or have wingers dribble away to the corner and deliver misplayed crosses.
Real Betis plays with three centre-backs, making it seemingly difficult to score off of crosses. Milan must play more through the middle, and the wingers and midfielders need to find either Cutrone or Higuain for open shots.
Higuain is one of the top finishers in all of football, while Cutrone has a sense of positioning beyond his years. There’s no going around this, the Rossoneri must utilize their strikers’ skill sets.
One of Fabio Borini or Samu Castillejo will start on the wings, or perhaps both to give Hakan Calhanolgu and/or Suso rest. Borini lacks inspiration and has flopped in his career after a successful stint with Roma a few years ago, but Castillejo looks to be a rising star.
With his pace, trickery, and strong left foot, Castillejo will be heavily relied upon should he get the start.
The Last Word
A draw would keep the team in first, but an AC Milan victory would give them a five-point separation from Betis. Milan needs first place in order to avoid top Europa League teams and the Champions League teams in the Round of 32 of this tournament.
Furthermore, a win is once again necessary to restore morale after the team’s derby defeat. With the match taking place at the historic San Siro, there will be no excuses from Gennaro Gattuso’s men.
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