What could have been a memorable night and a spark for AC Milan instead turned into a nightmare as Borussia Dortmund left San Siro with all three points and knockout stage qualification secured.
In truth the tone for the evening was set when Olivier Giroud missed a penalty in the opening few minutes. When Davide Calabria fouled Jamie Bynoe-Gittens to give the away side a spot kick of their own and Marco Reus thumped it in, it already seemed like one of those nights.
Samuel Chukwueze got his first goal for the club with a lovely solo effort not long before the break, but then the game took a turn again when Malick Thiaw went off in the 51st minute forcing Rade Krunic to play centre-back.
The lively Bynoe-Gittens got the Bundesliga giants back in front after a well-worked team goal that took advantage of Milan’s static defence. Then 10 minutes later and 20 minutes from the end substitute Karim Adeyemi sealed it after cutting inside and just about squeezing it over the line.
The result means that the Rossoneri need to beat Newcastle away to keep their hopes alive, yet they also need Dortmund to beat PSG at home. Here are five things we learned from the game…
1. A spark at last
Despite the poor result, there were still some positives coming out of the game with the biggest one being Chukwueze’s performance.
The Nigerian has struggled, to say the least, since joining Milan in the summer despite being the most expensive purchase made during a summer window that saw 10 new signings arrive.
Against Dortmund, however, finally managed to show us why the management decided to spend on him as he got his first goal to help his side equalise in a delicate situation after some lovely individual play down the right flank. The winger was also involved in winning the penalty for his team, which Giroud unfortunately missed.
In the second half he faded a bit as he still doesn’t quite seem fit enough to play explosively for 90. minutes, but this time out there were plenty of positives to pick out from his performance and he will need to do this consistently from here onwards.
2. A pair of disappointments
Unfortunately, we also must highlight the negatives and there were two particular players that really stood out in a bad way against Dortmund.
The first is captain Davide Calabria. He conceded the penalty in a very clumsy manner, which is unlike the way he has defended in most big games this season, and he kept getting beaten on his side by Bynoe-Gittens and then Adeyemi whilst providing little going forward.
The other culprit is an unusual one in the face of Mike Maignan. The keeper is usually the one to save Milan, but this time out he really wasn’t at his very best as it seemed like he could’ve done a bit more on the second goal, although the defence was beaten after a lovely passage of play by Dortmund.
On the third goal we have to put a lot of blame on him as he seemed well positioned but then ended up off balance, meaning that when he got a hand to Adeyemi’s shot – one from outside the box – he could only punch it behind him and in. He could’ve done much better in the situation given there was no deflection and the shot was close to his body.
Both have been in good form lately and of course there are the added caveats of Calabria having to start every game while Maignan had a heavy fever just a few days ago, but they did struggle.
3. When it rains, it pours
Milan would have taken a 1-1 scoreline going into the break, especially after missing a penalty and going behind then having the better of things after the leveller. Ultimately, after Thiaw’s injury and the second Dortmund goal it seemed all a bit too much for the Rossoneri.
Krunic replaced Thiaw at the back and that’s because Pierre Kalulu, Marco Pellegrino, Simon Kjaer and Mattia Caldara are all injured. Now the German is out, that makes five centre-backs injured all at once and whilst we don’t want to make up excuses this is a very serious problem to have for Pioli.
#ACMilan currently have eight senior first-team players out, with four guaranteed to miss the rest of 2023.
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) November 29, 2023
That’s an in-game change that most managers would struggle to have his side execute, and then there are the other injuries like Rafael Leao – who was the star man against PSG – and Noah Okafor in the forward department.
There are probably various factors at play for such a ridiculous crisis, but we have seen big clubs replacing a lot of their medical staff for this very reason. Milan have been having these issues for many years now without addressing the work of the medical staff – it cannot continue.
4. The elephant in the room
A lot of people have been questioning Pioli for a while now and he hasn’t really done enough to prove them wrong. In fact, the average performances in Europe (excluding the reverse fixture against PSG) have been combined with sub-par performances domestically too.
Whilst we mentioned the injury issues, most fans would agree that Milan have not played attractive football for more than half a season now. They have slipped into various crises under Pioli’s tenure, some more damaging than others.
The head coach shoulders the majority of the blame in the eyes of fans and the media because of the sheer amount of things he can control. He has had plenty of reinforcements in the summer, 10 to be exact, but his tactics still heavily rely on Leao and other individuals.
It might be time for the management to reflect on the situation, but it seems that they want to support the Italian for now so one can just hope that he turns the ship around.
Since the start of October, #ACMilan have collected 3 wins, 3 draws, 4 defeats in 10 games (all comps).
That is 1.2 points per game on average, the lowest among the seven Italian teams who qualified for European competitions in 2023-24.
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) November 29, 2023
5. Tale of two forwards
As mentioned a couple of times, Giroud missed the penalty failing to give his team the lead. Players can miss penalties and his record with Milan has actually been fantastic, yet the issue is that he then pretty much disappeared from the game, failing to have any impact whatsoever.
On the flip side, Luka Jovic had some positive moments after coming off the bench. The Serbian hit the post after a lovely header from a difficult position and also found himself in dangerous areas repeatedly, even when the team’s ‘tactics’ were chaotic.
Add that to the through ball he played for Theo Hernandez to win the penalty against Fiorentina last weekend and you have some shoots of recovery. There is some hope that he can build up momentum and because he very much is a confidence player, and Giroud needs workload management.
For the sake of balance, we must add that we’re still talking about good moments, not prolonged periods where he’s actually played well. However, after a very slow start, it’s pleasant to see at least something from the striker.