SALZBURG, AUSTRIA – SEPTEMBER 06: Alexis Saelemaekers (L) of AC Milan celebrates with Rafael Leao … [+]
The last time AC Milan featured in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League dates back to the 2013/14 season, when the Rossoneri line-up starred Ricardo Kaká in the trequartista position behind striker Mario Balotelli.
Nine years later, an eternity considering the club’s successful history in international competitions, AC Milan have a real chance to return to the knock-out phase of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament.
MADRID, SPAIN – MARCH 11: Kaka of AC Milan celebrates with after scoring his team’s first goal … [+]
Two Italian teams, Napoli and Inter Milan, have already advanced to the last 16. Napoli have been dominating their group, collecting five wins in just as many games and scoring more goals (20) than any other club, while Inter Milan have managed to survive the so-called “group of death,” securing the second position in Group C ahead of Barcelona.
With arithmetic killing Juventus’s hopes to qualify in Group H, AC Milan can become the third Serie A team to access the competition’s knock-out stage, an achievement that has eluded the Rossoneri for the last nine years.
It was 2013/14 when AC Milan, at the time coached by club legend Clarence Seedorf, lost 5-1 on aggregate against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
MILAN, ITALY – OCTOBER 11: Sandro Tonali of AC Milan and Kalidou Koulibaly of Chelsea FC fight for … [+]
Following the hotly-contested home loss at the hands of English Premier League side Chelsea from three weeks ago, AC Milan seemed poised to abandon their qualification dreams.
Matchday 5, however, saw AC Milan thrash Dinamo Zagreb with a 4-0 score and Chelsea win on the road in Austria against RedBull Salzburg. The combination of results pushed the Rossoneri to second place in Group E, with RB Salzburg now trailing by a single point.
On Wednesday, the two sides will face in a sold-out Stadio San Siro in a game that will give access to the competition’s last 16, a sporting result that is awarded by UEFA with €9.6 million ($9.6m) in qualification bonus.
Milan coach Stefano Pioli talks with his players before the Serie A football match n.12 TORINO – … [+]
Manager Stefano Pioli will have the entire roster available except for goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who will be replaced by Ciprian Tatarusanu, and captain Davide Calabria, whose thigh injury will force him to sit out until after the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Pierre Kalulu will take his place as the right full-back, completing a four-man defensive line that should also feature Simon Kjaer, Fikayo Tomori and France international Theo Hernandez on the left.
Sandro Tonali and Ismaël Bennacer will perform the midfield duties, with 2021/22 Serie A MVP Rafael Leao on the left flank and either Ante Rebic or Junior Messias on the right. Centrally, Brahim Diaz will likely be deployed underneath lone striker Olivier Giroud.
All AC Milan need to progress in the tournament is a draw, which is why there are high expectations around the Rossoneri: For a club that is looking to restore its international reputation, Wednesday night’s game represents a season-defining moment.