PARIS, Aug 16, (AFP): AC Milan’s headline signing in a summer spending spree, Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci is in line to make his debut for the club in the Europa League on Thursday.
A little over two months after playing for Juventus against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, Bonucci looks ready to feature for his new club against modest Macedonians Shkendija in their play-off first leg.
The 30-year-old has been made captain by coach Vincenzo Montella after his shock 40 million-euro ($46 million) transfer to the Chinese-owned club.
“I chose Bonucci because he is very charismatic and has international experience. He embodies the role of captain perfectly,” said Montella ahead of the game.
“Leo said he wants to win the Champions League in four years? If he does well we can make it happen even sooner.”
A spending spree that has seen the likes of Portugal striker Andre Silva, Switzerland full-back Ricardo Rodriguez and Turkey midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu arrive at the San Siro has raised optimism among supporters ahead of the start of the new Serie A season.
Seven-time European champions Milan are appearing in continental competition for the first time since 2013/14 and almost 66,000 fans attended the home leg of their third qualifying round win over Universitatea Craiova of Romania.
Thursday’s game comes just three days before Milan go to Crotone for their Serie A opener but Montella wants no slip-ups against a side from an Albanian-majority region of Macedonia.
“They have played more competitive games than us. They made it through three qualifying rounds and they have beaten the reigning champions in their domestic league,” warned Montella.
Everton are the one Premier League side in action in the play-offs and they host Croatians Hajduk Split at Goodison Park in the first leg.
The Toffees come into the game boosted by the news that Iceland star Gylfi Sigurdsson has passed a medical ahead of a £45 million ($58m, 49.4m euros) move from Swansea City.
He will not make his debut yet, while coach Ronald Koeman has admitted Everton do not have a huge amount of options for the game with Spanish striker Sandro Ramirez a doubt.
They also have a trip to Manchester City to come on Monday but Koeman said: “Playing in different competitions isn’t a problem at this stage of the season. Of course, we have a difficult 10 days coming up and it’s tough but we will go game by game.
“We won’t reserve people for Monday — Europe is important to us and we want to be in the competition.”
Other stand-out ties in the play-off round include Athletic Bilbao going to Athens to take on Panathinaikos, Marseille facing Domzale in Slovenia and last season’s runners-up Ajax hosting Rosenborg in a clash between two teams who lost in the Champions League third qualifying round.