It might be Christmas, but for the Rossoneri it was UEFA handing out the presents this week in the Europa League draw. Whilst the Milanese smiled as the unwanted gifts of trips to Marseille, Lyon and more importantly Borussia Dortmund were avoided, this didn’t mean they got the present they hoped for. A trip to Bulgaria to face Ludogorets is something they may not choose to return, but it has to be said, it’s not something they wanted either.
For Milan, the Europa League may well be their best way of satisfying the huge ambition of their fanbase this term. The season hasn’t gone as planned and from the outset it looked like they had spent much, but not gained what they needed. Vincenzo Montella was replaced by fan favourite Gennaro Gattuso, but with the Scudetto already out of reach, an assault on the Europa League would certainly give the Rossoneri that warm and familiar feel of European success again.
Ludogorets may not spread fear into the hearts of the European giants, but they certainly do domestically. The club formed in 2001 known as Ludogorie FC were renamed Razgrad 2000 after a merger and still could not manage to get the finances in place to lead an assault on Bulgaria’s top division. Things changed in 2010, as businessman Kiril Domuschiev bought the club and rights to the name of Ludogorets Razgrad, a team formed in 1945 and folded in 2006.
The team gained promotion to the top flight after winning the second division in 2011 and they haven’t looked back. They have won six back-to-back titles and two Bulgarian Cups. This absolute dominance has also seen them make their first forays into Europe and for such a new team in one of Europe’s ‘lesser leagues’, they have had a huge impact making the Champions League in 2014-15 and 2016-17, and the Europa League in 2013-14, 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Their home ground the Ludogorets Arena saw European Football for the first time this year (it has a seating capacity of 9,000) and will hardly strike fear in to those who play at San Siro.
Since 2012 however, they have taken on and beaten the likes of Partisan Belgrade, PSV, Dinamo Zagreb, Lazio (in the Olimpico), Basel, Braga and Hoffenheim. They have also got credible draws against PSG, Liverpool, Lazio and FC Copenhagen, and these are just the ones worth noting. When Milan face the Bulgarians, they will not be allowed to take them lightly, as they only lost once this in the group stages to İstanbul Başakşehir, eventually finishing second in the group.
There is no doubt that if Milan start to go on an upward run and play like the side their team-sheet threatens they should, then this will be a tough but winnable game. If the Rossoneri’s form is still wavering, then this could be difficult as the fixtures are played in February. The first leg comes in between games against an away game at SPAL and then Sampdoria (home) with the second leg following the next week before a tough tie against Roma in the Olimpico.
It is known how the season will progress for Milan but if they take the Europa League seriously, then they should have enough in their arsenal get past the tough and talented Bulgarian champions. To dismiss them would be at their peril, as they have a track record of giant-killing and will smell blood if they are not ready. Milan have had their 'Alberto Brignoli moment' already this year and they will not want another in Bulgaria.