UEFA Europa League – Rijeka-Milan – Rijeka v Milan background
The die is already cast for Rijeka and AC Milan as they complete their Group D programme.
• The Croatian side, with just four points to their name, can no longer qualify for the knockout phase whereas their Italian visitors, now under new coach Gennaro Gattuso, have already secured their progress as group winners.
• Matchday two brought the two teams together for the first time in UEFA competition and it proved to be a dramatic affair. Milan seized a 3-2 victory with an added-time winner from Patrick Cutrone after Rijeka had seemingly earned an unlikely point with two late goals, the second a 90th-minute Josip Elez penalty.
• Rijeka failed to score in their only previous encounter with Serie A opponents – a 2-0 aggregate loss to Juventus in the 1979/80 European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals.
• Milan have won all five of their matches against opposition from Croatia and are yet to concede on Croatian soil.
• Rijeka have lost their last three European home fixtures and have only one win in their last seven (D2 L4).
• Milan are undefeated in nine European matches this season, winning seven of them – all of those games under previous coach Vincenzo Montella.
• The Rossoneri have qualified from each of their last 13 groups in UEFA competition and have now extended their involvement into the spring in every one of their 15 European campaigns this century.
• Croatian title winners for the first time last term, Rijeka are in their third UEFA Europa League group stage campaign but have never reached the knockout phase.
• Sixth in Italy last season, Milan are back in Europe after a four-year absence and are making their first appearance in the UEFA Europa League group stage. They got to the round of 32 in the last-ever UEFA Cup campaign of 2008/09.
Links and trivia
• The journey from Milan to Rijeka is around 400km.
• André Silva scored the first hat-trick of the 2017/18 group stage on matchday one and is the competition’s joint-top scorer, alongside Zenit’s Emiliano Rigoni, with six goals.
• This is the only major UEFA competition the Rossoneri have not won. Ajax, Bayern München, Chelsea, Juventus and – as of last May – Manchester United are the only five clubs to have won the European Cup/UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
• Milan’s Nikola Kalinić was a losing UEFA Europa League finalist with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in 2015, his side going down 3-2 to Sevilla in Warsaw.
• Croatian striker Kalinić was taking his first senior steps at Hajduk Split (2005–09) while Rijeka’s Mate Maleš and Filip Bradarić were playing for the club’s youth team.
• Former team-mates:
Rijeka’s Maxwell Acosty and Milan’s Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina 2009–12);
Rijeka’s Josip Elez and Milan’s Lucas Biglia (Lazio 2013-16) – though Elez never played a senior game for the club.
• Suspended for next match if booked: Manuel Locatelli, Mateo Musacchio (Milan).
• Rijeka’s longest-serving coach, Slovenian Matjaž Kek was appointed in 2013 and steered the team to their first league championship and fourth Croatian Cup in 2016/17. A defender and coach at Maribor, where his father and son also played, he was Slovenia boss from 2007 to 2011.
• Gennaro Gattuso replaced Vincenzo Montella as Milan coach on 27 November, earning promotion from his position in charge of the club’s youth team. A legendary Rossoneri midfielder of grit and endeavour, he won the UEFA Champions League twice with the club and also lifted the FIFA World Cup with Italy in 2006.