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Written by Arjit

OFellow Milanisti ! Let’s Discuss Milan ! Let’s Talk Some Red & Black !

Back In The Big Game

AC Milan are back with a bang. The Rossoneri are finally back where they belong, their spiritual home, the UEFA Champions League. After a hiatus of long 8 years, the Italian giants have returned to the grandest stage of European football via a second place finish in 2020/21 season of Serie A. It’s been a long time coming for the Rossoneri fanbase around the world, which has patiently waited to see their beloved team back to competing at the highest level of European football, just like the old times. It’s fair to say we all have missed AC Milan in the Champions League and it’s nice to see the red and black side back among the big boys. The club’s owners Elliott Management, CEO Ivan Gazidis, the dynamic duo of Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara, manager Stefano Pioli and his coaching staff, and last but not the least, the players deserve massive credit for the amazing turnaround. Milan’s young stars will now be hoping to replicate the same quality of performances against the ‘best of the best’ in the Champions League. The road is long and the journey has only just begun, let’s all hope it’s a successful one with fewer bumps along the way.

Thrown Into The Deep End

AC Milan were expected to be handed a tough group during the draw due to the club’s long absence from the Champions League. Although Stefano Pioli’s side has made great strides over the past couple of seasons, which has improved the club’s UEFA coefficient ranking from 60th to 39th place, the Rossoneri would enter the draw from pot 4. As expected, or shall we say feared by the fans, the draw wouldn’t be kind to the returning Italian giants as they would be drawn in the ‘group of death’ along with the likes of Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, and FC Porto. A daunting challenge indeed for Pioli’s young squad, but a challenge they must relish as they continue to improve and evolve as a team. Needless to say, the team has matured by leaps and bounds under Pioli’s reign, and the fans can only hope these players can replicate their impressive league form and performances on the biggest club stage, the Champions League. Just a reminder, majority of the squad, including manager Stefano Pioli will be making their debut in the competition, one can only hope that they are allowed to play their natural game, make a few mistakes, and learn from them. The fans must remain patient as excessive pressure or expectations won’t do the squad any good. A club of the stature of AC Milan must always strive for success, though that will take time. For now, the Rossoneri fans can only hope Pioli’s young stars represent the club with pride and play with quality as well as courage.

Tricky Trip To Anfield

On UCL matchday 1, Milan would travel to England to face a familiar foe in Liverpool at a fully packed Anfield. Interestingly, Milan recorded their last Champions League triumph against Liverpool in 2007. Playing a team like Liverpool in the opening round was always going to be a very difficult task. Klopp’s men are serial winners having won the Premier League and Champions League in the last few years, entering this year’s competition as one of the early favorites to go all the way. Not to mention, Liverpool boast the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, Virgil Van Dijk, Alisson, Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold amongst others. In contrast, Milan’s a young side with no household names apart from Zlatan Ibrahimović who didn’t make the squad due to an issue with his Achilles tendon. The match started as one would expect, with Liverpool taking charge and scoring an early goal via Fikayo Tomori’s attempted block, an unlucky own goal. The Reds had many chances to extend the lead, especially when they were awarded a penalty, though Mike Maignan came to Milan’s rescue. As the game wore on, the Rossoneri started to come into their own, keeping possession and moving the ball with more precision. Just before half time, Milan scored two beautiful team goals via Ante Rebić and Brahim Díaz, and the Anfield crowd stood silent. Liverpool eventually scored twice in the second half, with Milan not able to muster anything of significance. The match ended in Liverpool’s favor although Pioli’s young players gave a decent account of themselves, showing resilience to survive the early storm and quality to score two fantastic goals away at a fortress such as Anfield. A defeat’s a defeat in the end, yet Milan fans can take several positives from the match, and pride in the team’s spirited display.

Tough Luck At San Siro

On UCL matchday 2, Milan played host to a stubborn Atletico Madrid side at the stunning San Siro. Interestingly, Milan played their last Champions League game against Atletico back in 2014. There was great anticipation among the crowd for the Rossoneri’s first Champions League home game after 8 years. Pumped by the stadium’s energy, Milan came out the gates absolutely swinging, playing with intensity and creating several chances. The San Siro crowd was sent into raptures when Rafael Leão struck a low drive past Jan Oblak to open the scoring. Pioli’s men continued to search for a second goal to extend their lead but an unfortunate incident meant the balance of the game would shift in Atletico’s favor. On the half hour mark, Franck Kessié was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Marcus Llorente. Upon watching replays, one could clearly see that the referee, in this case Cuneyt Cakir had made a huge mistake as Kessié’s foul didn’t warrant a second yellow card. As expected, Milan were forced to regroup and adopt a more cautious approach, with Atletico able to have more of the ball as tried to capitalize on their numerical advantage. Even with a man down, Milan hung on quite comfortably as Atletico lacked creativity despite Simeone’s best efforts, throwing João Félix, Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, and Rodrigo De Paul on the pitch in the second half. Pioli and his men seemed destined for a narrow home win but their resistance was broken in the 84th minute when Griezmann equalized with a superbly struck volley that flew past Maignan in the Milan goal. Atletico continued to search for the winner, and in the 97th minute, they were thrown a big lifeline, once again by the Turkish referee Cakir as he awarded a penalty against Milan. Pierre Kalulu was penalized for a handball inside the area, even though the replays clearly showed the ball struck Lemar’s arm first. The VAR didn’t feel the need to intervene for ‘unknown reasons’ and the referee’s penalty call stood. Luis Suárez converted the penalty and Milan suffered a very controversial defeat. Besides the two obvious calls which changed the course of the match, Cakir also managed to ignore two legit penalty shouts (handball by Atletico players inside penalty area) in favor of Milan. Overall, a shocker from the referee and VAR team. Milan played brilliant football until the red card and seemed on course for more goals and a dominant win, and even after Kessié’s dismissal, showed great character and discipline. This should give Pioli and the players plenty of belief for the critical ‘double-header’ against Porto.

Tiny Window For Knockout Qualification

AC Milan’s chances of qualifying for the UCL knockout round seem rather improbable, but not impossible yet. The next two matches against Porto will be like ‘finals’ for the Rossoneri as that will most probably determine if the Rossoneri stand any chance of making it past the group stages this Champions League campaign. Anything except 6 points will make Milan’s task much harder against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. Although, Pioli’s men can’t afford to take Porto lightly as the Portuguese giants have been a Champions League staple for many years, even eliminating the likes of Roma and Juventus in recent years. Sérgio Conceição’s men relish facing big teams and upsetting the apple cart. Pioli and Co. can’t afford to look past Porto as that would be a massive mistake. Moreover, Mike Maignan’s recent wrist injury has thrown spanner in the works. The Frenchman has been sensational this season, especially in the Champions League, a huge blow for the Rossoneri to lose him at such critical moment of the season. On a positive note, Milan have given a good account of themselves in the Champions League thus far, showing quality and resilience. Stefano Pioli has instilled an identity with fast, intense, and aggressive football where the team always tries to play pro-active football. The Champions League can be a beautiful yet rough ride where small details can make a massive difference. There will be jubilations and heartaches, Milan’s young stars must be allowed to express themselves without pressure, enjoy the ride, and learn from playing against the best teams around Europe. As of now, Milan’s chances to make it to the ‘round of 16’ remain slim, although two back-to-back victories against Porto may increase the odds. The club has returned to the big stage after 8 years, the next natural step must be to qualify consistently and become a Champions League regular, which will mean increased revenues and the ability to attract top players at the club. The time for winning will come, for now, all we can do as Milan fans is support Pioli and the players, after all, they have earned it by now.

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One comment on “Milan’s UCL Return

  1. Arpit Shah says:

    very nice article! I agree. let’s give Pioli and Milan time. i think they’ve given a very good account of themselves so far. Against Porto home and away, despite everything, I expect and am confident of a win.

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