AC Milan 3-0 Sparta Praha: Brahim Diaz, Leao and Dalot shine as Rossoneri move top of group

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan made it two wins from two games in the Europa League and moved top of Group H after a comfortable 3-0 victory over Sparta Praha.

In truth the Rossoneri were never in danger as soon as they got the opening goal, and it was the loanee Brahim Diaz who was the architect as he won the ball back before dashing 40 yards and finishing from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s feed.

The Swede then missed a penalty before the break, but it wouldn’t matter in the end as substitute Rafael Leao and another loanee in Diogo Dalot both scored in the second half to round off the scoring.

The result – thanks to Celtic’s draw with Ligue 1 leaders Lille away from home – means Milan are now top of the group and clear by two points, with the French side set to visit next week.

Stefano Pioli made five changes to the starting XI that drew with Roma on Monday as Diogo Dalot, Sandro Tonali, Samu Castillejo, Rade Krunic and Brahim Diaz came in, with the likes of Theo Hernandez and Franck Kessie getting some much-needed rest.

Milan began the game on the front foot as was expected, and had the first half chance of the game inside four minutes. A ball over the top found Bennacer who made a deep run, and the Algerian pulled the ball back to Krunic who fired well over from the edge of the box with a first time shot.

The Rossoneri continued to probe for an early opener, and Ibrahimovic became the latest to send the ball goalwards – this time with a towering header – but he couldn’t direct Calabria’s floated cross on target.

The Swede once again got his head to the ball as he rose highest to meet a corner from Tonali, however again he could not get his header on target instead glancing the ball across goal when he really should have scored.

After a lull in proceedings it was Milan who took the lead inside the 24th minute, and it was a typical devastating counter-attack. The ball was knocked in behind towards Ibrahimovic who had drifted wide to the right, and he found the onrushing Brahim Diaz with a ball across the edge of the box; the Spaniard settling himself before stroking the ball home with his right foot.

To say the game became an interesting tactical battle after the opening goal might be generous, but what we did see was Sparta revert to a back five when out of possession and Ibrahimovic began to move closer and closer to goal.

Ultimately, it would almost cost the away side dearly as Milan were awarded a penalty when Ibrahimovic was hauled down inside the area as a cross was floated towards his head. However, remarkably the striker would fail to repeat Monday’s spot kick, instead drilling his effort onto the bar and over as the score remained 1-0.

Sparta at times played some nice football in the first half, but for them it was best summarised by getting the ball into the final third several times but seeing crosses blocked or cleared, with the absence of Adam Hlozek clearly being felt.

Pioli elected to make a change at the break as Ibrahimovic was spared after 45 minutes of action, with Rafael Leao coming on after his two-assist performance against Roma.

The Portuguese forward was involved after just 90 seconds of the second half too, with Calabria whipping a delightful cross from the right side that Leao met with his head but could not keep down when he arguably should have done better.

Milan had a big chance to double their advantage just a couple of minutes later and again Leao was at the centre of it. The 21-year-old was put through on goal by Tonali but maybe took a touch too many as his low effort was saved by the goalkeeper Heca, and the ball then fell to Tonali on the rebound who saw his first time attempt saved.

The Diavolo continues to pile on the pressure, and Castillejo will have wanted to test Heca when he cut onto his left foot though he hit a fierce shot wide at the near post.

On the hour mark however, Leao would get his goal and it would be the combination of the two Portuguese youngsters. A gorgeous ball from Diogo Dalot with the outside of his boot around the back of two defenders found Leao in space, and the former Lille man had the easy job of tapping into a virtually empty net.

In the 66th minute it was 3-0, and this time it was Dalot who got his name on the scoresheet for the first time since joining. A beautiful pass in behind from Bennacer found the Manchester United loanee who had made a smart run, and he steadied himself before firing in at the near post.

Moments after the third goal, Pioli decided to introduce Andrea Conti for his return from injury, the right-back coming on for Calabria.

There was also a return for Leo Duarte, who came on inside the final 10 minutes in place of Romagnoli. He in turn handed the armband to Franck Kessie who came on for the industrious Bennacer.

The final change with just a couple of minutes to go as Daniel Maldini came on for Rade Krunic, and ultimately the latter part of the game would consist almost exclusively of Milan’s counter-attacks breaking down after Sparta had given the ball away following a spell of pressure.

Ultimately a job well done for Pioli’s side and some important rest in the legs ahead of Sunday’s trip south to Udine for the lunchtime kick-off against Udinese.

Tags AC Milan Milan Sparta Praha
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