Stefano Pioli’s AC Milan host Ligue 1 side Stade Rennais in the first bout of a two-leg showdown this Thursday, after being knocked out of the Champions League.

The Rossoneri failed to live up to the expectations many had for them going into the competition, and despite excelling against Newcastle in their final fixture, they were unable to excel in the 'group of death'.

Now, they turn their attention to a tough Europa League tie against a Rennes side who finished 4th in Ligue 1 last season.

AC Milan were one of the favourites to reach the Champions League's Round of 16 from Group F, alongside Paris Saint-Germain, but had a disappointing campaign in which they lacked tenacity in front of goal.

Shockingly, they only recorded five goals throughout their group stage campaign. This was the second lowest in this season's competition, after Red Bull Salzburg, who netted four.

  • So, how do they reignite their attacking force?

There is no doubt that Pioli has an abundance of attacking talent to choose from with the likes of Rafael Leao, Christian Pulisic, and Olivier Giroud, but how can he utilise these players to play fluently again in Europe?

The 58-year-old has favoured a 4-2-3-1 during his tenure so far and did win Serie A in 2021-22 while employing it.

However, poor form in Europe and the league this season shows that it may be time to change things around.

A formation that could be possible for Pioli would be the 4-3-3, and with this comes width as well as variation in the midfield.

A key player who is not shy of scoring is Olivier Giroud, who has been involved in 11 goals in nine Europa League knockout fixtures throughout his career.

Therefore, playing through him could also be the winning idea.

  • What can Milan expect from Julien Stephan’s side?

Rennes missed out on securing a spot in the Europa League Round of 16 by a point after losing against Villarreal in their penultimate group fixture.

Their performances up to this stage demonstrate that they can cause a problem for the Italian giants.

They conceded the fewest goals in their group with just six to prove their robust defensive foundation, and also scored the most with 13.

Stephan prefers the 4-4-2 and has used it more than any other formation this season, pairing this with an expansive style which sees possession played out from the back.

This differs from Pioli, who favours goalkeeper Mike Maignan playing direct to the starting forward, so we can expect the fixture to be open but then slowed down by Rennes at points.

  • Who to look out for from Rennes?

Like the Rossoneri, Rennes also have some promising faces that will cause trouble up front.

These include wide players Martin Terrier and Amine Gouiri, and midfielder Ludovic Blas, who combined for six goals in their group stage campaign.

So, with both sides containing talent in attack and very different playing styles, it will be exciting to see how the game flows.

Milan are clear favourites with their royalty in Europe and their edge in terms of established quality, yet that is not to say the French side cannot cause an upset in this year’s competition.