Celtic 1-3 AC Milan: Five things we learned – a game of firsts and an evolving mentality

By Ivan Stoev -

It was an exciting night for Milan as the team returned to European competition after a season out due to exclusion.

The game itself wasn’t played at the highest pace, but it was a good away win for Pioli’s men as he rotated the starting XI to give some key players rest ahead of the game against Roma.

Dalot, Tonali, Krunic, Castillejo and Diaz all started against Celtic with Pioli looking to change the squad a bit, but the absence of Hakan Calhanoglu also forced this.

The game was never particularly intense, but Milan managed to open the scoring around the 15th minute through a lovely cross by Samu Castillejo which was headed in by Krunic. The Bosnian scored his first ever goal in the Rossoneri shirt, repaying Pioli’s faith to start him in the game.

Moving towards half-time, a lovely combination between Ibrahimovic, Theo Hernandez and Brahim Diaz saw the Spaniard dribble past two Celtic defenders and score his second for the club and the second on the night.

Celtic pulled one back with fifteen minutes to go in the second half but Saelemaekers’ feed to Jens Petter Hauge allowed the Norwegian to score his first goal for the club.

Here are five things we learned from Milan’s return to Europe…

1. Gotta have faith

Rade Krunic was given the chance to start the game which to many was a surprise move by Pioli, but the Bosnian proved the doubters wrong by putting in a brilliant performance which included scoring his first goal for Milan.

The former Empoli man was efficient going forward as he was involved a lot in the transition from defence to attack. While Krunic is used to playing a more defensive role for Milan, it was nice to see him perform in a more advanced one as he seems to be more flexible than some thought.

He will surely be key for the team with the tight schedule that is coming up, and his ability to adapt to several roles – like he does for his country – could be a priceless asset.

2. Hauge gets his goal

Jens Petter Hauge was expected – at least by the fans – to start the game against Celtic, but Krunic got the nod leaving the Norwegian on the bench.

Hauge came in around the 80-minute mark along with Saelemaekers, and it was the latter that provided the assist for the former who netted his first goal for the club.

While we didn’t see him involved in much else other than the goal, it’s good to see him on the scoresheet which will of course give a confidence boost that will help him going forward.

3. Solid debut for Dalot

Pioli decided to rest Calabria and give Dalot his debut for the club. The Portuguese looked solid for the majority of the game, but we didn’t see a lot of individual moments from him as he was trying to play it safe.

It’s fair to say he has had limited game time the past year and will need some time to firstly be at 100% and secondly adapt to the team and the league.

That being said, the Manchester United loanee did keep his side safe and he stuck well to his task of keeping a familiar foe quiet in Diego Laxalt. Pioli will have been pleased with that.

4. Not quite there yet

Sandro Tonali also started from the first whistle, but the Italian had some troubles early on giving away possession with a few misplaced passes.

The youngster grew as the game went on as he was able to get out of tight spot and he also kept his cool later on when Celtic got a goal back, but overall it seems though that he still isn’t at 100 per cent.

That being said, the former Brescia midfielder is only 20 years of age, and while he needs to grow he doesn’t have the pressure on him because of the depth the team has and more particularly the fact that Kessie and Bennacer have been doing great.

Sandro needs to keep calm and put the hard work in as he is in the perfect environment to do so, and it must be remembered just how short a preseason he had.

5. Different mentality 

The game itself wasn’t that exciting from a neutral point of view, but for Rossoneri fans there were quite a few key moments. One in particular is when Celtic got one back and the score was 2-1 with quarter of an hour to go.

Milan used to crumble mentally every time they conceded a goal, even if they were in the lead, but that capitulation was nowhere to be found against Celtic. It has been like that for quite a while now, but it’s worth mentioning the mental transformation since Pioli, Zlatan and Kjaer came.

Last night they kept their cool and even managed to seal the win with another goal. Why is that so important? Well, this Milan team is the youngest in the top five leagues in Europe, they are 21 games unbeaten and have won all eight games across all competitions to begin the season.

A squad with that average age and that mentality is surely giving some assurance to the fans and to the management that the team is on the right track with the future looking bright.

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