Padraig Whelan Date:22nd October 2020 at 10:01am
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Both Celtic and AC Milan warmed up for Thursday night’s Europa League showdown at Parkhead in very similar fashion.

Last Saturday, both contested their fierce city derbies but the results could not have been starker for each when the dust settled on both.

For the Rossoneri, who have picked up more points than any other Serie A side in 2020, the Derby della Madonnina was billed as their first big test – a chance to see if they really are the real deal or if another false dawn was on the cards.

Inter are much more erratic this season than last under Antonio Conte but were still the team to beat in this fixture, having not lost a league derby since January 2016.

With their lion leading the line, Milan hit Inter early and hit them hard through an old friend turned foe (twice over) to the Nerazzurri as Zlatan Ibrahimovic did the damage with an early brace.

Although there was a response through Romelu Lukaku, it was Stefano Pioli’s side who deservedly held out for a victory, solidifying the claims that his side are very much back in business.

It is the first time since 1995 they have started a season with four successive wins and when they did on that occasion, they ended it as champions.

That may be beyond their capabilities for the current campaign but their display in that one and in previous games this season spells big trouble for the Scottish champions, even with key man Hakan Calhanoglu out injured.

The reason for that is largely because they come into this one in poor form, having failed to really hit their stride whatsoever this season in their pursuit of an unprecedented 10 successive domestic titles in a row.

But similarly to Juventus, who are aiming for the same historic feat this season, Celtic’s own pursuit of that particular goal is also under threat.

Even more similar to the Old Lady, it largely relates to complacency with their position and a risky coaching appointment (albeit made a year later) which could ultimately come back to bite the Hoops.

Neil Lennon is a man familiar with the Diavolo, having been part of the team which marginally lost out to eventual winners Milan after extra-time in the 2007 last 16 stage.

He memorably tried and failed to haul Kaka down as he drove forward for the only goal of the 210-minute tie and was then in charge of the Celts (during his first spell) as they lost convincingly home and away in the Champions League group stages seven years ago.

On Saturday, he watched his side register their poorest derby performance in a long team when, hours before the Rossoneri’s overdue triumph against Inter, they were meekly beaten 2-0 by rivals Rangers.

Nothing that Pioli and his team watched from that performance will have worried them in the slightest either and will give them even more reason to be confident about facing a side who have beaten them just once in 10 previous meetings.

Celtic, missing key player and last season’s top scorer Odsonne Edouard who is also expected to sit out on Thursday due to coronavirus recovery protocol, failed to register a single shot on target throughout a 90 minutes that lacked any urgency or attacking threat.

They will welcome Ryan Christie back, who scored against Lazio at home last season but important defender Christopher Jullien, who got the winner in that clash against the Aquile, misses out.

However, Milan loanee Diego Laxalt is permitted to play against his parent club. Whether he can kickstart his career in Scotland in style in just his second appearance for the club, remains to be seen.

There is little from their camp that would suggest there is any great reason for the visitors to worry about this trip to Glasgow and it is already arguably their second most important game of the week after Sunday’s league trip to Aberdeen.

Both teams come in with much differing morale and without the famous home atmosphere to aid the hosts, you can’t help but feel they could be in for another frustrating day at the office.