AC Milan have their most important European night in a long time as they face RB Salzburg for the final spot in their group to qualify for the knock out stages of the UEFA Champions League. Milan have not been to the knockouts since 2013/14 and this is the next big step for the young group and Stefano Pioli to show their progression following their elimination in the group stages last year. Here are the key battles to look out for during the game tonight:
Centre back vs Striker
Brahim Diaz vs Manuel Locatelli
Fikayo Tomori vs Noah Okafor
Just like the Zagreb game, the main threat will come from the player who broke us down and scored before. Last time it was Orsic and this game expect it to be Okafor but much more direct and infinitely more threatening. Tomori’s form has been an issue especially because he lacks faith in Tatarusanu hence we need to cut out that space for Okafor and not get drawn in when he dribbles. The striker is deadly in tight spaces as he can shimmy through and get a shot off more often that not. Tomori needs to press early but ensure there is no option for the striker to turn and get past him. The game will be won or lost in our defenders ability to keep any shots at bay.
Centre back vs Striker
Simon Kjaer vs Benjamin Sesko
Sesko is already set to move to RB Leipzig and looks to be the ‘next Haaland’ in terms of progression through the Red Bull system. The Slovenian has been used largely off the bench as a result but is in top form coming off the summer and his national team performances in the Nations League. He has 6 goals and 2 assists thus far and is set to start against us and cause some issues for Kjaer with his pace and strength. Kjaer is the leader in this game but tactically offers less at centre back than Kalulu would have in that role. Kjaer needs to ensure he is not exposed on the counter and does not lose out of one-touch plays.
Central defensive midfielder vs Central attacking midfielder
Ismael Bennacer vs Luka Sucic
With every passing week, it becomes clearer that Bennacer is the glue in this team and the single most important and irreplaceable piece. We cannot transition the play without him and cannot even dream of controlling the midfield when he is not present. He will have a role to intercept and cut out Sucic as any passes making it past the midfield to the strikers open up one-on-one chances where we can get exposed. In light of the Torino loss as well, we can see that Tonali only operates well pressing up the field when Bennacer is there to sit back and distribute the ball. The effectiveness of Tonali in his box-to-box role will be underpinned by Bennacer in this game too. Our midfield will need to be a wildcard if the attack is faltering and maybe we see one of Bennacer or Tonali grab a crucial goal.