Evening European football fans. The Champions League
stages are back with a bang this week and Sports Mole
has got you covered, with live coverage of all 16 ties across the continent. Our focus here will be on an intriguing tie at the San Siro, as AC Milan
host Celtic in Group H.
Celtic made their fans sweat on a place in this season's group stages, before overcoming Shakther Karagandy in a dramatic playoff. Their reward for that success is a place in Group H alongside Milan, Ajax and Barcelona, with the odds stacked against Neil Lennon
's side once again.
The vast majority of Celtic's squad have become accustomed to these big European nights, with last season's run to the last 16 a prime example of their ability to provide stern opposition for anyone on the continent. Barcelona and Benfica were among the sides to slip up against the Hoops last season, so expect Milan to be pushed to the limit this evening.
In many ways how Celtic perform in Europe has become the measuring stick for a successful season for the Bhoys, with the SPL becoming a relative procession in the absence of bitter rivals Rangers. Lennon's side proved they can compete before falling to Juventus in the knockout stages this year, but without Victor Wanyama
and Gary Hooper are they capable of similar exploits this season? Tonight should provide a good indication.
Celtic should also take heart from Milan's tricky start to the season, which has yielded just one win from three games. Rossoneri coach Massimiliano Allegri
has also had to cope with a growing injury crisis at the San Siro, with just 13 fit players at his disposal tonight.
Allegri did make a pair of signings just before the transfer window slammed shut a fortnight ago, easing the pressure on a squad which looks alarming thin in some areas. Kaka
returned to Milan with much fanfare, but picked up a thigh problem on his debut against Torino which is expected to keep him sidelined for at least a month.
was also resigned from Juventus, primarily to take the burden off Mario Balotelli
. Allegri was heavily reliant on the forward talisman last season, but has flirted with a new 4-3-1-2 formation to provide support in the final third early in the campaign.
Milan are definitely without nine players this evening, with Kaka
joined on the treatment table by Stephan El Shaarawy
, Riccardo Montolivo
and Ignazio Abate
. M'Baye Niang also misses out tonight, after a clerical error saw him mistakenly left out of Milan's 25-man Champions League squad for the group stages.
BREAKING TEAM NEWS!
We have just received news of the starting XI's from the San Siro, with Anthony Stokes
selected ahead of Teemu Pukki
in attack for Celtic. A full look at the lineups will follow in just a few moments.
Milan: Abbiati, Mexès, Zapata, Constant, Zaccardo, Muntari, Birsa, Nocerino, de Jong, Matri, Balotelli
Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Izaguirre, Ambrose, van Dijk, Mulgrew, Lustig, Brown, Commons, Samaras, Stokes
Lennon has decided to reward Stokes for a fine start to the campaign with a start this evening. The forward gets the nod to support Georgios Samaras
in attack, while Adam Matthews
has shrugged off an twisted ankle to take his place at full-back.
The Hoops should line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Commons given license to get forward and support. Hoops skipper Scott Brown
will need a huge night in central midfield, in what looks likely to be a congested area this evening.
Milan have opted to hand Matri his first start of the season in attack alongside with Balotelli. Allegri's other important selection concerned who would play just off that duo in an advanced midfield role, with Valter Birsa getting the nod ahead of Robinho
for his full home debut.
The Rossoneri are desperately short of options at full-back right now, which should be an area Celtic aim to exploit tonight, as Milan's last opponents did so brilliantly last weekend. Kevin Constant and Cristian Zaccardo occupy those positions this evening, with Urby Emanuelson
left on the bench.
Both benches are worth a look at this evening particularly with Milan clearly depleted. Celtic's new Finnish striker Teemu Pukki
looks primed for an impact for the visitors if required late on, after doing just that against Hearts on Saturday.
Amelia, Lotti, Poli, Christante, Emanuelson, Benedicic, Robinho
Celtic subs: Załuska, Biton, Rogic, McGeouch, Boerrigter, Baldé, Pukki
Celtic do have painful memories of facing one of their opponents tonight in particular in Alessandro Matri
. The forward helped Juve dump the Hoops out of Europe with a goal in their knockout tie last season, and will surely be desperate to notch on his full debut for the Allegri's side tonight.
PREDICTION! With kickoff fast approaching there is just time for me hazard a guess at tonight's scoreline. With Milan looking very shaky at the back in recent matches I think there is genuine hope for Celtic fans this evening, particularly if they can keep things tight and frustrate early on. I'm gonna go for Matri and Stokes to score in 1-1 draw, which would certainly leave Lennon the happier manager.
The famous Champions League anthem greets the two teams as they emerge at the San Siro, with an estimated 50,000 crowd backed up by a strong contingent of travelling Celtic fans. This promises to be quite an encounter, and with Barca lurking in Group H a positive start is imperative for both sides.
Just about ready to get underway at the San Siro, with pre-match pleasantries over. Celtic have gone for a pre-match huddle that is just holding up proceedings, can the Hoops produce another memorable result away from home in Europe this evening? We are about to find out!
Celtic get the match underway, shooting from left to right in a changed yellow and green strip. The visitors win a free kick inside 20 seconds for a foul on Samaras, giving them a chance to get men forward for an early set piece.
Commons decides to shoot from all of 40 yards, shanking a speculative effort high and wide of the target. A slight surprise he didn't cross from that position, with Abbiati quick to take a short goal kick from the restart.
Balotelli get away from Lustig and flicks out wide towards Muntari, with Ambrose able to clear. Mexes steps up to reclaim possession, smashing well wide of the target from 35 yards with little else on.
SAVE! Celtic are nearly caught napping as Birsa chips an inviting cross towards Balotelli inside the penalty area. With space to shoot Balotelli volleys at goal, but the powerful effort stays central enough for Forster to parry clear.
Matri's hold-up play creates another opportunity for Milan, with Zaccardo's overlap sending a low shot tricking through to Forster's near post. Milan are just starting to dominate possession, with Celtic sitting deep as Ambrose breaks up play.
Charlie Mulgrew gets a warning from the referee after tripping Balotelli in central midfield, with another challenge like that surely carrying the risk of a caution. When play resumes Forster is once again pressed into action, shutting down Birsa after he ran forward to meet a clever pass from Matri.
Celtic win their first corner kick as Commons charges forward before being blocked. Mulgrew's delivery from the corner is huge disappointment though, swinging out of play before it reaches the penalty area. The visitors really must make more of those set-piece opportunities when the come.
Brown smashes a precise pass through to Commons as Celtic clear their lines, before is rather cynically tripped by Izaguirre. Celtic take the free kick quickly as Matthews charges down the flank, but his low cross is cut out and cleared by De Jong.
Samaras gets service in the final third for the first time out wide but just delays his pass inside, allowing Zapata to clear. At the other end Balotelli is clattered from behind by Lustig, but the defender is still a tad unfortunate to concede a free kick after getting plenty of the ball.
Celtic have been awarded a rather curious free kick inside the penalty area, with Abbiati seemingly punished for collecting a passback. That decision looks fairly ridiculous but it gives the visitors a chance to strike at goal from eight yards, with nine Milan players back to defend on the line!
Mulgrew's effort is quickly charged down by Constant as Milan's wall does the trick, a chance wasted for the visitors who have a corner kick. Mulgrew goes across to take but his swerving cross is hooked clear by Muntri, but only into touch for a throw-in, which leads to Izaguirre winning another corner kick.
Matri runs clear of his marker to meet a deep cross at the near post for Milan, sending a flick header towards the near post hat requires a save from Forster. Warning sides at both ends in a fairly open encounter.
Izaguirre does brilliantly to bear his marker and get to the byline, with his chipped cross turned behind my Mexes for a corner. One again the delivery is poor from the visitors, with Milan's attempts to hit Zaccardo just proving too strong on the counter.
Lustig's bass to Matthews down the line is too heavy, but that is definitely an area the visitors should be looking to exploit. Milan then look for Mexes as he roams into a strange position on the left, but Balotelli's diagonal pass is overhit.
OVER Nocerino drifts off Brown to meet a chipped pass inside from Mexes. The midfielder takes on a volley as the ball sits up invitingly, with his effort going a couple of yards over Forster's crossbar. Nocerino wants a corner kick, but his appeals are waved away.
Izaguirre wins a corner kick after chasing down Zaccardo out wide, great pressure from the full-back. Commnons takes the corner but once again it's a poor one, allowing Abbiati to smash clear in search of Matri.
Celtic are growing in confidence on the ball as Stokes drops deep to find Samaras out wide, before the play is switched to Lustig. His cross is deflected away by Muntari, allowing Milan to break. Balotelli then wants a foul against Mulgrew, but his protests are rightly turned away.
Stokes latches onto a stray pass and drives inside, leaving Zapata for dead. The forward cuts inside and shoots low and hard, with his drive deflected behind by a last-ditch block from Mexes. That was a huge chance for Celtic and Lennon knows it, booting the ground in frustration.
Commons thinks about pulling the trigger from 20 yards as Celtic press forward once again, but delays and eventually passes out to Matthews. The full-back has little to aim for in the penalty area and has his cross cleared, but that right flank is definitely an avenue worth exploring for the visitors.
Milan press as we head towards stoppage time, with Balotelli's deflected drive arrowing towards the far post. Luckily for Forster the deflection took much of the pace off the strike, allowing the goalkeeper to tip clear.
HALF-TIME Milan 0-0 Celtic
Goalless at the interval but Celtic will be much the happier side. The Hoops have looked threatening down the flanks and largely controlled possession, with Stokes, Commons and Matthews all enjoying bright moments in the final third.
Milan have looked uncomfortable in a new-look 4-3-1-2 formation, which looks too narrow to be effective. Celtic have looked to take advantage through Izaguirre and Matthews, but despite encouraging signs have failed to create any clear-cut opportunities, bar a deflected drive from Stokes just before the break.
Milan have looked nervy at the back, with Zapata, Constant and Zaccardo all struggling possession. Allegri's side still carry a potent threat in the final third though, with Matri and Balotelli looking for better service after the break.
Allegri will need to have stern words in the interval, particularly with a midfield trio who have all looked reluctant to take responsibility in possession. Balotelli has been starved of service and often drifted to the right flank in search of the ball, with no joy so far.
BENCH WATCH! Milan may be restricted to 13 recognised outfield players but Robinho and Poli could still come on to have an impact, while Pukki looks a strong bet to be introduced for the visitors.
Milan get the second half underway, but are quickly defending as Commons drifts in behind Mexes. The midfielder has time to weigh up his options but instead aims a speculative strike wide of the post.
Celtic have continued their positive start in the second half as Matthews wins a corner kick down the right-hand side. Mulgrew's cross is a good one and flicked into the six-yard box by Lustig at the near post, but Milan are just about able to scramble clear.
WIDE! Samaras breezes into the final third and with Mexes backing off decides to shoot from just outside the penalty area. His swerving shot whistles just beyond the far post, with Stokes berating his teammate for failing to spot a pass on inside the box. Celtic are dominant at the moment.
Balotelli sums up the hosts frustrstions by swinging well wide from distance, with the forward always off balance after pushing Constant out of the way to get a strike on goal.
Milan are finally showing signs of life as Nocerino's shot is blocked clear, with Lustig then heading behind for a corner under pressure from Muntari. Birsa's corner then finds Zapata at the far post, but under pressure from Brown his header is always going well wide.
Samaras is clattered over by De Jong but somehow the Dutch enforcer does not pick up a yellow card. Celtic do win a free kick though around 35 yards from goal, which Matthews take short.
Commons takes a strike on his right side and wins yet another corner for Celtic, with Mulgrews delivery knocked clear by Muntari. The visitors are quick to win back possession as Stokes crosses for Samaras, but Zapata does just about enough to clear in a goalmouth scramble.
MISS! Good defending from Mexes just stops Commons cutting inside after a neat piece of close control. Milan then break down the left and find Muntari completely unmarked from the far post, but approaches his header all wrong to somehow turn over from four yards. A quite incredible miss!
SUBSTITUTION: Milan make a change which should prompt a shift in formation as Emanuelson comes on for Birsa, who has endured a tough time in midfield. When play resumes Samaras has a drive deflected behind as he attempts to catch Abbiati off his line. This match could still go either way.
YELLOW CARD! Efe Ambrose
picks up a caution after bringing down Muntari just inches from the penalty area. Anxious moments here for the visitors as Balotelli lines up a strike, but the wall does its job to block!
A rapid Celtic break sees Commons slip a clever pass inside to Brown, who runs clear in the penalty area. Just as the Celtic skipper seems destined to break the deadlock across comes De Jong, who puts in a magnificent last-ditch sliding tackle and with that the chance is gone.
Zaccardo attempts to hook back across goal from close range after Matri's shot is charged down, but Celtic have plenty of bodies back and clear. The visitors are just starting to defend deep and must be careful as we head towards the final 15 minutes of an intriguing tussle at the San Siro.
SUBSTITUTIONS: Both sides decide to make changes, with Milan swapping Constanr for Robinho in a very attacking swap. Celtic have also opted for fresh legs, as Boerrigter comes on for Matthews. Just before those subs Mulgrew picked up a booking after bringing down De Jong.
Celtic finally introduce Pukki, but is it too late for the Finn to make a telling contribution. Kris Commons
is the player to make way after a very productive evening in an advanced midfield role. Pukki's impact is almost instant, winning a free kick from 20 yards after a stray tackle from De Jong.
OFF THE BAR! Desperately unlucky for Stokes as he crashes off the bar from the free kick. His effort was beautifully judged, beating Abbiati with swerve and venom but just clipping the upright. What a moment that could have been for the visitors.
GOAL! Milan 1-0 Celtic (Zapata)
Well that is just wretched luck for Celtic as Zapata's deflected strike gives Milan the lead. His strike from 20 yards was going well wide before taking a nick off Izaguirre, which diverted in past Forster and into the far corner. A cruel blow for Lennon's side just moments after hitting the bar!
GOAL! Milan 2-0 Celtic (Muntari)
All over now at the San Siro as Celtic concede for the second time in quick succession. Scott Brown
is culpable after conceding a free kick in an off-the-ball incident. From that set-piece Balotelli forced a strong save from Forster, who could only parry back towards danger. Celtic were caught flat-footed as Milan piled in for the rebound, with Muntari slamming home from close range.
Milan send on Poli as we head towards stoppage time, with Celtic scarcely able to believe they trail by two. Izaguirre brings the ball forward but cannot pick out Pukki in the penalty area, as the hosts retrieve possession.
Samaras shows willing to close down Zaccardo but he knows the game is up, with Zapata eventually clearing his lines.
FULL-TIME Milan 2-0 Celtic
A bitter pill to swallow for Celtic as they slip to a defeat in the San Siro this evening, after working so hard to compete for 80 minutes of the match. Even the most passionate of Milan fans will have to concede their side were lucky tonight, but the three points belong to Allegri's men!
Just time to report that in tonight's other match in Group H Barcelona were at their ruthless best, thrashing Ajax 4-0 thanks to a hat-trick from Lionel Messi. They top the group just behind Milan, with Celtic forced to regroup and go again in a fortnight's time.
That just about does for Sports Mole on a night full of what-ifs for Celtic, who came close but ultimately failed to end their away-day jinx at the San Siro. Thanks for your time and be sure to stay tuned for comprehensive coverage on a busy night of Champions League action. Good evening!