AC Milan 3-0 Rennes: Loftus-Cheek double and Leao stunner secure first leg win

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan put themselves in a very commanding position in their Europa League play-off round tie against Stade Rennais by beating them 3-0 in the first leg at San Siro.

The headlines on the night will rightly go to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season either side of half-time, with both being headers.

Rafael Leao however was the one who scored the goal of the evening as he thumped home a cut-back from Theo Hernandez after he had found the full-back initially with a brilliant cut-back.

The result obviously means that Milan have one foot in the next round, but Rennes did have plenty of dangerous moments which means maximum attention will still be needed for the return game in France next week.

Stefano Pioli made three changes to the starting line-up that beat Napoli on Sunday. Alessandro Florenzi came in for the injured Davide Calabria and a double alteration in midfield, while Yunus Musah and Tijjani Reijnders came into midfield for Ismael Bennacer and Yacine Adli.

The smoke-filled San Siro saw frantic early exchanges in which the away side ventured forward and had Milan back-peddling a bit, and there were some rough challenges that came in as the referee allowed things to flow.

Milan were very close to taking the lead inside the opening few minutes when Rafael Leao found space to shoot on the left side of the box, though his effort was blocked and deflected up onto the crossbar with Mandanda flapping at it. From the resulting corner, a routine ended with Theo Hernandez sidewinding a volley over.

The home side continued to create the more dangerous opportunities, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek did excellently to drive to the byline before cutting back to the corner of the six-yard box where Olivier Giroud somehow missed the target.

Midway through the first half Rennes had the hearts of the Milan faithful in their mouths when Bourigeaud picked up possession in a central area on the edge of the box and curled a shot that might have had Mike Maignan beaten, yet it drifted wide of the far post.

As Rennes began to sit a bit deeper into a block, Milan made them pay for a moment of hesitancy. A nice passing move down the right flank saw Florenzi have acres of space to whip in a gorgeous ball, which was met by an even more exquisite glancing header from Loftus-Cheek which landed inside the far post.

With ten minutes to go before the break Giroud had his first sight at goal after Pulisic fed him on the edge of the area, but the Frenchman never really connected properly with his shot and dragged a weak effort at Mandanda.

Rennes kept showing glimpses of the talent they had going forward, such as when Desire Doué cut in from the left and tried a right-footed shot that was thankfully central and straight at Maignan.

It took Milan just two minutes of the second half to double their advantage with Loftus-Cheek again scoring, and again with a header. A corner from the right side was aimed at Kjaer who occupied the near post and he flicked it goal-bound with Mandanda saving well, but the English midfielder reacted fastest to head into a virtually unoccupied net.

In the 53rd minute the game on the night was pretty much put to bed, and it was thanks to that familiar combination on the left between Theo Hernandez and Leao. The winger played a lovely backheel to the full-back, who then played a perfect cut-back to him which was met by a powerful first-time finish not dissimilar to the one against Atalanta in the Coppa Italia.

Milan could have had a fourth before the hour mark when Pulisic drifted infield with a run, playing off a couple of team-mates before being found in behind by Leao, though Mandanda saved the American’s low drive.

A double change came a few minutes later with Simon Kjaer and Leao making way for the returning Malick Thiaw and Noah Okafor.

Gouiri came off the bench for the away side and very quickly had a chance to make a dent in the deficit when he found space to shoot just outside the area, dragging his shot just wide in the end when he should have hit the target.

Entering the final 20 minutes, Milan seemed to decide to accept the game being wide open rather than controlling the lead, as Gouiri and Santamaria both forced saves from Maignan. At the other end, Pulisic bore down on goal and drew a save from Mandanda, then Okafor’s follow-up effort was blocked.

Pioli then made two more substitutions as Ismael Bennacer replaced the goalscorer Loftus-Cheek, with Filippo Terracciano taking the spot for Florenzi.

Gouiri was again the centre of Rennes’ danger when he headed a cross wide at the far post, and then Santamaria’s powerful shot from around 20 yards whistled over the bar. Just after, Yacine Adli came on for Pulisic.

The Rossoneri did manage to achieve some control on the closing stages with both teams looking exhausted, and the full-time whistle blew to mark a convincing first leg victory.


Tags AC Milan Milan Rennes


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