AC Milan 3-1 Dinamo Zagreb: Five things we learned – bright signs and surprise packages

By Ivan Stoev -

After a 2-1 win against Sampdoria, AC Milan were more than motivated to follow up with a win in the Champions League against Dinamo Zagreb in the second round of the group stages. 

The Rossoneri started off the game well and dominated possession, but that failed to materialise that until the 45th minute when Rafael Leao won a penalty which Olivier Giroud managed to convert to give his side the lead.

Leao continued to be a protagonist in the second half as he picked up an assist for Alexis Saelemaekers’s goal after some individual brilliance to beat his man and cross.

Dinamo Zagreb did get one back through Orsic, but Milan had no intentions of letting the game slip and in the 77th minute it was Tommaso Pobega who scored his first goal for the club to seal the win and move the Rossoneri top of Group E. Here are five things we learned…

1. Lights, camera, action

Rafael Leao continues to dazzle and led his team to victory after winning the penalty and assisting the second goal, and it will be a shame that Pioli won’t be able to rely on him for the upcoming game against Napoli.

The Portuguese will need to keep up the level he himself has set since his brilliance is also a weakness for Milan because of the reliance they have on him. Hopefully that will change with the new signings finding their form, but for now Leao is the main threat.

That being said, Saelemaekers has been working hard on that right hand side and especially in Europe.

2. Sally (still) the surprise 

Speaking of Saelemaekers, the Belgian picked up the man of the match award against Red Bull Salzburg in the first fixture of the group stages and continued his good form with another goal against Dinamo Zagreb. He had the same rating as Rafael Leao, who won our MOTM Match award this time around.

Saelemaekers also had the same amount of dribbles as Leao and has managed to be a pivotal part of the attack for his team. He has great stamina that allows him to help his team-mates in defence too, covering plenty of ground.

The only negative to his game seems to be that on some occasions he lacks the precision to finish the attack whether or not that is a shot or a pass. However, since he has managed two goals we won’t be harsh on him as he clearly is working hard to improve on that part.

3. Areas to improve

Despite winning the game, Milan did concede a goal at a very bad time after just having gone 2-0 up, and we could argue it was a bit sloppy resulting from the lack of concentration at the back.

A lot of people could be to blame since there was around six players in red and black and just two from the opposition, but somehow that resulted in a goal for them.

The blame is mostly on Tomori since he was marking Petkovic, but the striker managed to go and receive the ball at which point Kalulu was marking him, however Tomori did not stay in his central position and decided to double down on Petkovic who elegantly found Oršić in the middle and with Tomori gone from his position it was relatively easy for the Croat to find the back of the net.

Such over-aggression and lack of concentration is relatively normal for young players and players that have zero to no experience on the highest levels, but Milan needs to learn from those mistakes and try not to repeat them if they want to go far in the tournament, because better sides will punish errors more.

4. A dominant midfield

Ismael Bennacer was the engine for his side as he was involved in virtually every attack on the night. The Algerian has finally found consistency after a rather up and down 2021-22 campaign and he seems motivated as every to prove exactly how good he is.

Sandro Tonali also did well, but unlike the game against Sampdoria he gave way to Bennacer to be the protagonist in the middle whilst he did more of the dirty work with a lot of running and ground covered.

5. Pobega’s growth continues 

The Italian continues to improve with each game. This time around he was on the bench, but impressed after coming on as he worked hard and helped his team to seal the victory after a wonderful strike, marking his first goal for Milan.

The Italian had a shaky start in the first couple of appearances this season, but then got better and better and doesn’t seem to have any intentions of stopping and it’s wonderful for Pioli that the decision to keep Pobega is paying off.

Tags AC Milan Milan Dinamo Zagreb


  1. Leao didn’t had that great performance but he’s young given that he also had assist so it’s good but he has to improve in decision making like he takes shots at wrong time some time just some improvement to his game. Tonali has different role and Pioli is trying to apply him there I think we should see Vranckx guy seemed promising and positioning was good. Defenders go forward a lot we need Kjaer to replace on probably Kalulu no offence to his great display. Hopefully Sal can grow from his performance

  2. 5 things we learned:

    1) Should have bought Dybala for free
    2) Should have bought Belotti for free
    3) Should have reinforced with Kvaratshkelia like Kaladze told us to
    4) This team has an awesome mentality as our attack has huge holes in it yet we somehow get the job done thanks to the inconsistent but amazing talent of Leao and the class of Giroud.
    5) Zaniolo is better than CDK right now, CDK needs to take more chances, be more direct, and be more aggressive. Too soft, but you can see the very high potential is there.

    Bonus #6) MilanLab medical staff is legitimately the worst in all the world.

    1. 1. If we purchased Dybala we wouldn’t have also purchased CDK – so no TY
      2. Wouldn’t have minded us signing Belotti as the 3rd choice striker esp since Ibra was out half of year. Depth is everything in this WC year…
      3. Agreed. He looks like the real deal and for only 10M – steal
      4. Agreed but Disagree that Leao is inconsistent.
      5. Agreed re Zaniolo – but give CDK time – unfair to judge such a young player this early.
      6. Agreed 100% lol

    2. I could agree with you for Kvaratshkelia because he would have been a real deal for us but the left side already has Leao. I don’t see anything special about Beloti that would make Milan go for him now. He is not as good as people try to make him look like. He has no brain as a real striker. Dybala would’ve been a good addition for us but knowing how expensive he would have been with his salary, it wasn’t obvious Elliott and Gazidis would want that

      1. Belotti is reliable, always gets 10+ goals a season, is a lifelong milanista, helps the italian numbers, and was free…. we went with an unknown in origi over a known in Belotti because we simply hate italians. Awful choice. If we were only going to get 1, it should have been Belotti. Personally I would have brought in both Belotti and Origi but strange why Origi was the top choice of the 2. He is far more unknown as he has never started, never led the line on his own, while Belotti has. Look Belotti isn’t some top notch striker but he was the obvious choice. I’m legitimately baffled why we didn’t sign him.

  3. I’d argue that the Zagreb goal wasn’t really a defensive mistake.

    Trying to pin the blame on someone is a bit futile, when sometimes you have to give the attacker the credit for managing something very unlikely. Pressure, and getting numbers quickly to close down people, was a large part of Milan’s defending last year that was so effective.

    It’s like when someone scores a screamer from 30 metres out; if you give the attacker a shot with an xG of less than 0.1 then you’ve really done your jobs. Petkovic doing so well with the ball here falls into that category IMO; 9 times out of 10 he doesn’t make that perfect move, just this was the tenth time.

  4. Leao just had few moments of getting it right every other thing was awful to watch. The penalty was nothing spectacular, the assist could easily be over hit or not getting past the first defender as usual. He needs to be told to keep his head in the game, assist on the pressing, he can’t just be strolling off the ball. The media hype and all even when he has a bad game is just sickening every time. With all the media hype maybe when next they sit-down to discuss contract he’ll ask for 10mill.

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