BEATING AC Milan, who have won all seven of their games this season, sit proudly on top of Serie A and play with the irrepressible Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, feels like rather a tall order for Celtic at the moment.

Their dire performance in the 2-0 defeat to their Glasgow rivals Rangers at Parkhead on Saturday has hardly filled their supporters with optimism.

Yet, Massimo Donati can recall how the Scottish champions were written off when they squared up to their star-studded Italian opponents in the Champions League group stages back in 2007.

A visiting team that featured Dida in goals, Alessandro Nesta in defence, Rino Gattuso, Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf in midfield and Filippo Inzaghi in attack was widely expected to triumph and triumph comfortably.

Gordon Strachan’s men ran out deserved 2-1 victors over Carlo Ancelotti’s celebrated charges – who had won European club football’s greatest prize for a seventh time five months earlier – thanks to a last-minute Scott McDonald goal.

Neil Lennon will once again be without several important players, including Odsonne Edouard, James Forrest and Christopher Jullien, because of coronavirus and injury in the Europa League group match in the East End tomorrow evening.

However, Donati, the former AC Milan and Celtic midfielder who will tune in to the encounter with interest at his home in Verona, remains confident that his old club can upset the odds once again and prevail if they back themselves to do so.

“Every game starts 0-0,” he said. “If you believe in yourself, if you believe in your team, if you run, if you battle, if you give more than 100 per cent, then anything is possible in football.

“That is what happened that night in 2007 because nobody in the Celtic team said: ‘We have no chance of beating this AC Milan side’. We really believed we could do it and we did it.”

Donati, though, acknowledges that not having any supporters inside Parkhead to roar them on due to the Covid-19 pandemic will put Scott Brown and his team mates at a distinct disadvantage to the Celtic side he was a member of.

“It will be a different game from the one I played in back in 2007 because there will be no fans in attendance,” he said.

“The atmosphere at Celtic Park on European nights is absolutely fantastic. I had played for big clubs like Milan, Parma, Sampdoria and Atalanta in Italy before I came to Scotland. But there was still something special about it. Many great players have said so over the years and they are right.

“When you play at Celtic Park you have something more. That night against Milan, we played 12 against 11 because we had the fans with us.

“It’s not nice that there will be no fans there to see a team like Milan and a player like Zlatan. But it is part of life now. We have to accept that because of the situation in the world. There is nothing we can do. It will still be an enjoyable game.”

Donati has been unsurprised to see Milan, who have gone nine years without winning Serie A and four years without so much as lifting a trophy, start the 2020/21 campaign so strongly.

He reckons manager Stefan Pioli has a potent blend of gifted youngsters and experienced older professionals and could be poised, after many seasons of on-field underachievement and off-field turmoil, to bring the glory days back to the San Siro at long last.

“In the last few years AC Milan haven’t enjoyed good results and at the end of each season they have changed everything; they have changed players, they have changed managers, they have changed staff,” he said.

“But in the second half of last season after lockdown their results were very good. They decided their squad was okay and they just needed to add a couple of players. They didn’t change much.

“They have the same manager, mostly the same players and now they are very confident as a result. They have a young team as well who are growing up and improving.”

Donati continued: “They have many talented players. Theo Hernandez is an incredible left back. I think he is one of the best left backs in the world. He is so powerful and can score goals. Last season he scored seven times.

“In the middle of the park they have Ismael Bannacer and Franck Kessie who are very strong players and are good on the ball. In goals, they have Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is a very good keeper.

“They are good from back to front. They don’t play special football, they play simple football. But it is effective. They run a lot because they are one of the youngest teams in Serie A at the moment. They are on top just now and they can improve.

“They are confident, they are getting good results and they are playing without any pressure because nobody expected them to win the title. They have nothing to lose.

“They haven’t done well in Europe for many years now, but Pioli has said he wants them to win the Europa League. It is one of their targets for the season. Because they have history in Europe they have to aim high. It won’t be easy for them, but it is an achievable ambition.”

Swedish great Ibrahimovic is the grand old age of 39 now, but he showed once again on Saturday, when he netted both of Milan’s goals in a 2-1 triumph over Inter in the Derby della Madonnina, that his powers haven’t waned in the slightest.

Donati fully expects the former Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United forward to be the main man against Celtic.

“Zlatan is like a father to the young players in the AC Milan team,” he said. “He is nearly 40 now, but he is still a superstar. His presence is so important. The side is good, but when he is on the pitch it helps his team mates a lot.

“When he receives the ball they know he is going to play a good pass, provide an assist, score a goal. He is a phenomenal footballer.”

Donati had his moments himself; his injury-time winner against Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine in their penultimate Group D match the month after the AC Milan victory would ultimately secure a place in the Champions League knockout rounds for the second year running for Celtic.

He would love to see Shane Duffy, Jeremie Frimpong or Mohamed Elyounoussi savour the same sort of elation as he experienced 13 years ago despite the difficulties the Parkhead club are currently wrestling with.

“It is a very important game for me because I played for both teams and had very good moments at both teams,” he said. “It is always nice when your former clubs play each other.

“Champions League nights are so special for every player. I was honoured to play for Celtic in that competition. I had very good moments, when we beat AC Milan and when we beat Shakhtar Donetsk. Hopefully, the current players can enjoy the same sort of feeling on Thursday night.”