MILAN (AFP) – AC Milan make their long-awaited return to the Champions League this week on one of the biggest stages the game has to offer, a trip to Liverpool early tomorrow (3am Brunei time) allowing them to dream of Europe’s biggest prize once again.
There will be 13 European Cups between the two teams at Anfield, but while Reds have become one of the continent’s most feared sides under Jurgen Klopp, winning their most recent Champions league in 2019, the Italian side will run out for their first group fixture in the competition since 2013.
They are in confident mood after a fast start to the new Serie A season which has earned them a perfect nine points from their opening three matches.
Stefano Pioli, who has never won a major honour as a coach, has a promising team on his hands with the progress made since his arrival in 2019 crystalised by Sunday’s 2-0 stroll against much-fancied Lazio at the San Siro.
Asked whether his side were dreaming of going big in Europe, Pioli said, “We should only be dreaming at night, in the day we need to work hard to realise those dreams.”
The last eight years have been arid for the seven-time European champions, who have not won Serie A in a decade and were last crowned the continent’s top team way back in 2007, when they beat Liverpool in Athens.
That was the last meeting between the pair and came two years after the Reds inflicted one of the most traumatic defeats in Milan’s history, coming back from three goals down at half-time against a star-studded Rossoneri line-up before eventually winning a historic final on penalties.
Since then Milan, by far Italy’s most successful team in Europe, have failed to get past the quarter-finals of the Champions League and in 2019, while recovering from major financial problems brought to the fore by a disastrous Chinese ownership, even failed to get out of a Europa League group which contained Dudelange, Olympiakos and Real Betis.
This year’s group is a much tougher proposition, with La Liga holders Atletico Madrid and Portuguese champions Porto also potentially blocking their path to the knockout stages, but legendary Milan boss Arrigo Sacchi told AFP current coach Stefano Pioli is on the right track.
“Milan have a difficult group, which will cost them a few points in the league,” Sacchi said.
“But the important thing is to win in this competition. I’ve known Pioli for a long time. He’s gone onto the next level now though, as his team has a style.”