AC Milan faced Sparta Praha in the second round of the Europa League group stages having won their first game 3-1 against Celtic. The Rossoneri managed to secure a relatively easy 3-0 win, moving top of the group in the process.
The game started at a slow pace but it only took 25 minutes for Milan to open the scoring as Brahim Diaz scored his second goal in the Europa League. Zlatan Ibrahimovic provided the assist for the former and earned himself a penalty a few minutes later. Unfortunately, the Swede failed to score from the spot and was subbed off after the first half in order to preserve energy.
Leao was the man replacing Zlatan and the Portuguese youngster managed to double Milan’s lead after just ten minutes on the pitch. It was his compatriot Diogo Dalot that made it 3-0, following up his assist for Leao to score his first for the club.
Here are five things we learned…
1. Getting better with time
Diogo Dalot was given another Europa League start but this time he took the spot Theo Hernandez on the left rather than Davide Calabria on the right.
After a positive display against Celtic, the Portuguese was even more impressive managing a goal and assist to his name combined with solid defensive work at the back.
While Dalot is still most likely not in top shape after a long absence due to injury, he is getting better with every minute he plays as he is on the path of proving why Maldini believed in him and brought him to San Siro after United seemingly didn’t.
2. Brahim doing the business
A second start for Brahim Diaz in the Europa League and an even more satisfying performance by the Spaniard. He managed to open the scoring with a well-taken goal, but that wasn’t all.
The Real Madrid loanee showed off his impressive flair and dribbling, creating a lot of problems for Sparta and for Pioli himself it seems as the manager is set to have more and more difficulty in choosing his starting XI, with Diaz among those knocking on the door.
It’s worth mentioning too that the 21-year-old was running all over the pitch for 90 minutes as he was even pressing in stoppage time, which shows great desire by the youngster and also excellent fitness levels.
3. Dominant by Bennacer
We’ve talked about the Algerian’s abilities on multiple occasions but in this game in particular it was so pleasant to watch Bennacer play.
His finesse and elegance was simply too much for the opposition, as were the lovely long balls that the midfielder was playing throughout the game – almost the kind of thing you expected from Tonali.
After a few games in which Kessie was the one to shine, it was turn for Bennacer to pull off a masterclass and he did so quite well, being the dominant force in the middle of the park.
4. Moving in the right direction
Tonali is another player that arrived at the San Siro during the summer and after a shaky start and a period of adaptation the youngster is working toward being at full fitness.
With the increased playing time he has had in recent weeks, his game is improving accordingly as he gets used to his team-mates while playing in advantageous game situations in order to get up to speed.
While Tonali himself stated that he is still not in the form he wants to be, Milan fans can sleep well as the Italy international looked solid against Sparta as it is only a matter of time until the Italian is fighting for that starting spot.
Rafael Leao was one of the few Milan players that didn’t quite manage to improve their game last season under coach Pioli, but the Portuguese forward has put some work in during the summer as he looks to be more and more determined to prove himself.
Coming on at half time, Leao managed to get his name on the scoresheet in just over ten minutes and was a threat for the opposition until the end. His runs were timed well and he brought some flair to Milan’s attack.
The former Lille man seems to be working on his work rate problems as we saw him push hard to help the defence in Serie A and we saw him pressing and tracking back against Sparta too. A transformation that was long awaited, and one that we are glad is here.