Zlatan Ibrahimovic can cope with AC Milan’s quick turnaround in matches but Rossoneri head coach Stefano Pioli is unsure how long his side will be without fellow key player Hakan Calhanoglu.
Pioli has resisted the urge to rest his big hitters and insists they can cope with the demands of a packed fixture list, with four more matches to come in the space of 10 days.
“Zlatan is fine and so are his team-mates,” Pioli told Sky Sport Italia . “I think the team is fine, because it’s more the head that commands the legs.
“The derby has taken away a lot of mental energy more than physical, as always happens in this period. We will have a block of three weeks where we will play seven times and they will be close and very competitive matches, but I will certainly field the best side on Thursday.”
Calhanoglu will play no part at Celtic Park, however, after spraining his ankle in the narrow win over Inter last weekend as Milan stretched their winning run to nine matches.
He has thrived post-lockdown, scoring and assisting a combined 15 goals in Serie A since June – a tally matched by Ibrahimovic and bettered only by Cristiano Ronaldo (16) and Francesco Caputo (17).
Asked for an update on Calhanoglu’s fitness, Pioli said: “Unfortunately, we don’t know if it is a minor one or a more serious thing. It is a situation that we will have to analyse together with the physios day after day.”
Milan made tough work of overcoming Rio Ave in their qualifying play-off tie, requiring a last-gasp goal from Calhanoglu to salvage an epic penalty shoot-out that they edged 9-8.
The seven-time European champions have won just one of their last four matches in the Europa League, conceding two or more goals in three of those fixtures.
However, they enter the competition as the favourites of many to go all the way and Pioli acknowledges his side have to cope with the pressure that comes with that tag.
“We worked hard to get back into Europe and now we want to stay there,” he told Milan TV. “The Europa League is an important competition, we have a very balanced and competitive group, so we are eager to start strong.
“It’s natural that there are high expectations around us, and that’s only right, as we are wearing a prestigious jersey of a club that is accustomed to winning.
“It’s a privilege for us to have this kind of pressure, as it means we are doing well and there are many more tests we must pass.
Source : goal.com