UEFA Europa League – Milan-Ludogorets – Milan v Ludogorets background
With a significant lead to protect following their 3-0 first-leg win in Razgrad, seven-time European champions AC Milan may well feel that they have one foot in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 as they entertain perennial Bulgarian champions Ludogorets in the San Siro.
• The Rossoneri, making their debut in the UEFA Europa League, topped Group D, registering 11 points and scoring 13 goals, while their Bulgarian visitors made it through to the round of 32 for the third time with a runners-up placing behind Braga in Group C.
• After taking the lead in the Ludogorets Arena just before half-time through 20-year-old striker Patrick Cutrone, Milan swept to a decisive first-leg victory with further goals from Ricardo Rodríguez (penalty) and Fabio Borini. It was the Italian club’s first away win in springtime European competition for 11 years and Ludogorets’ joint heaviest European home defeat.
• Milan have won all five of their previous European knockout ties against teams from Bulgaria, most recently 3-0 on aggregate against CSKA Sofia in the second round of the 2001/02 UEFA Cup.
• El Diablo’s overall record in 11 games against Bulgarian opponents is W8 D2 L1, with victories in each of their last six matches.
• Ludogorets’ only previous encounters with Italian opposition prior to the first leg of this tie came in the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League round of 32 when they beat Lazio 1-0 in Rome before a 3-3 draw in Sofia.
• Milan were undefeated in their first nine European matches this season, winning seven of them (including the first six), all under previous coach Vincenzo Montella. That record ended with a 2-0 loss at Rijeka on matchday six – new boss Gennaro Gattuso’s first European game at the helm.
• The Italian club have succumbed to just one defeat in their last 19 UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League matches at San Siro (W15 D3) and have won four and drawn one of their five home fixtures in this season’s competition.
• 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.
• However, the Serie A club have won only two of their last seven European home knockout games in the knockout phase, losing three.
• Ludogorets have lost only one of their ten away fixtures in the UEFA Europa League (W5 D4), qualifying included, conceding a mere three goals and never more than one in any game. They have kept three clean sheets in four away games this season.
• However, the club from Razgrad have not won any of their last six matches in the UEFA Europa League knockout phase (D2 L4) since overcoming Lazio 1-0 away in that round of 32 tie four years ago.
• Sixth in Italy last term, Milan are back in Europe after a four-year absence and making their first appearance in the UEFA Europa League. They reached the round of 32 in the last ever UEFA Cup of 2008/09, losing on away goals to eventual runners-up Werder Bremen (3-3 on aggregate).
• Bulgarian champions for the past six seasons, Ludogorets reached the round of 16 in their only previous UEFA Europa League group stage campaign (2013/14). They also played in last season’s round of 32 after transferring from the UEFA Champions League but lost 2-1 on aggregate to FC København (1-2 home, 0-0 away).
• Milan have won all but one of the 16 UEFA competition ties in which they have won the first leg away from home, the most recent instance coming at the start of this campaign when they overcame Universitatea Craiova in the third qualifying round, supplementing a 1-0 away win with a 2-0 success at home. They have never previously gone into a second leg at home with a 3-0 advantage.
• The Rossoneri’s sole aggregate defeat after an away first-leg win came against Parma in the 1994 UEFA Super Cup (1-0 away, 0-2 home).
• Ludogorets have been eliminated on each of the four occasions that they have lost the first leg of a European tie at home, most recently against FC København in last season’s round of 32 (1-2 home, 0-0 away). Their 2013/14 UEFA Europa League run ended in the round of 16 following a 0-3 first-leg loss to Valencia (0-1 away).
UEFA Europa League squad changes
Out: Gabriel Paletta, Niccolo Zanellato
In: Jakub Świerczok
Out: João Paulo, Daniel Naumov
Links and trivia
• Milan’s Nikola Kalinić was a losing UEFA Europa League finalist in 2015, his Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk side going down 3-2 to Sevilla in Warsaw.
• Gustavo Campanharo is the only Ludogorets player to have played against Milan prior to last week’s first leg. He came on as a sub for Verona on 19 October 2014 as his side lost 3-1 at home. Milan’s only survivor from that game is Giacomo Bonaventura.
• Defender Cosmin Moţi has also played in Serie A, managing four games for Siena in 2008/09.
• Moţi is one of four Ludogorets players – along with captain Svetoslav Dyakov, Marcelinho and Virgil Misidjan – who helped to defeat Lazio in the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League, although Dyakov missed the second leg after being sent off early in the second half during the 1-0 first-leg win in Rome. Milan’s Lucas Biglia played for the Italian club in both legs of that round of 32 tie.
• This is the only major UEFA competition that Milan 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 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
• Ludogorets striker Claudiu Keşerü completes a two-match ban in this game; Erol Dost is also still banned.
• Manuel Locatelli (Milan), Natanael and Tomas Tsvyatkov (Ludogorets) are available again after missing the first leg through suspension.
• Suspended for next match if booked: Mateo Musacchio (Milan); Cicinho, Jody Lukoki (Ludogorets).
• Milan’s record in UEFA penalty shoot-outs is W4 L1:
7-6 v Lokomotíva Košice, 1978/79 UEFA Cup first round
4-2 v Crvena zvezda, 1988/89 European Champion Clubs’ Cup second round
3-2 v Roda JC, 2001/02 UEFA Cup fourth round
3-2 v Juventus, 2002/03 UEFA Champions League final
2-3 v Liverpool, 2004/05 UEFA Champions League final
• Ludogorets won their only UEFA penalty shoot-out:
6-5 v Steaua, 2014/15 UEFA Champions League play-off
• Gennaro Gattuso replaced Vincenzo Montella as Milan coach on 27 November 2017, earning promotion from the club’s youth team. A legendary Rossoneri midfielder of grit and endeavour who played for the club from 1999 to 2012, racking up 468 appearances in all competitions, he won both Serie A and the UEFA Champions League twice and also lifted the FIFA World Cup with Italy in 2006.
• Hired in the summer of 2017, Ludogorets boss Dimitar Dimitrov established his coaching credentials at home-town club Neftochimik Burgas and helped land Bulgarian titles with Litex Lovech (1997/98) and Levski Sofia (1999/2000), the latter in tandem with the Bulgarian Cup after he had been lured in mid-season from the Bulgarian national team. He subsequently pursued his career in the Middle East, Russia and Kazakhstan.