AC Milan remained in second place despite the narrow defeat to Malaga, but the Neroazzurri now need to win the return leg if they are to keep their qualifying hopes alive. Malaga have all but secured their place in the next stage, but los Boquerones will attempt to bring at least one point from San Siro.
Finally a morale-boosting win
Milan were always going to have problems after staying without Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, but nobody expected the two players would be so hard to replace. In all fairness, even with the two stars and few more senior players leaving in the summer, boss Max Allegri has created a high-quality squad, but numerous selection problems and hectic schedule prevented the team from showing all they’ve got. The club chiefs seem to have made the right decision in opting to stick with Max Allegri, as the Rossoneri have been showing a lot of improvement of late. After the 1-0 win over Genoa was followed by a credible draw at Palermo, Milan recorded a 5-1 triumph over Chievo at the weekend, with the big win helping the players restore some of the lost confidence. With the Rossoneri now desperate to continue the good run of results and improve their chances of reaching Champions League knockout stage, home win look a good bet here.
Kevin-Prince Boateng and Mattia De Sciglio have both returned into action, but Muntari, Strasser, Vila, Antonini and Mesbah remain sidelined.
Disappointing defeat to Rayo Vallecano
Malaga largely impressed this season, having recorded some impressive results despite the huge financial problems the club are in, but it appears the hectic schedule as well as the thin squad are starting to wear the team down. Even if los Boquerones have played two games a week since the very start of the season, coach Manuel Pellegrini rarely rotated his squad, and while such an approach helped keep the results respectable, it is expected to produce numerous problems as the season unfolds. It is already evident that the team are far from the desired form and that the busy schedule has taken the wind out of their sails. How else can be explain disappointing defeat at home to arguably the weakest team in La Liga? Given that the match against Milan comes just three days later, Malaga cannot be expected to show a considerable improvement at San Siro.
Nacho Monreal and Julio Baptista continue to miss out, but Jeremy Toulalan is back in contention following a seven-week spell on the sidelines.
Milan have finally started playing to their potential and with several starters rested in the 5-1 win over Chievo, the Rossoneri should be in good shape against Malaga. Los Boquerones go into this game on the back of the disappointing defeat to Rayo and they could struggle to match in-form Milan.
Top pick: Home win 2.20 (6/5) @ Paddy Power
Alternative pick 1: Over 2.5 goals 2.00 (1/1) @ Ladbrokes
Alternative pick 2: Milan with -1 handicap 4.33 (10/3) @ Stan James