AC Milan got their Europa League group stage campaign off to the ideal start with a 3-1 win over Scottish side Celtic.
It looked as though the Rossoneri would coast to victory as they took a two-goal lead into the break thanks to goals from Rade Krunic and Brahim Diaz, the second coming minutes before the interval.
However, substitute Mohamed Elyounoussi made it a very nervous last few minutes for the away side as he headed home from a corner to halve the deficit, though they could not force an equaliser.
Jens Petter Hauge restored the two-goal advantage in the final moments as he scored his first for the club with a composed finish.
With Lille running out winners at Sparta Praha, Milan take second spot in the group for the time being ahead of next week’s game against the Czech side.
Head coach Stefano Pioli made five changes to his starting XI from the team that beat Inter in the derby. Diogo Dalot came in at right-back with Sandro Tonali partnering Kessie in midfield, while Samu Castillejo, Brahim Diaz and Rade Krunic formed the trident behind Ibrahimovic from right to left.
Gianluigi Donnarumma was the first of the two goalkeepers called into action as he saved a shot from Ajeti that was from just outside the area after the ball had fallen to him from a blocked Ajer shot.
It took 12 minutes for the Rossoneri to properly threaten as a bit of link up play down the left between Ibrahimovic and Theo Hernandez saw the latter square a dangerous ball into the box that was well cleared in the end.
It was arguably two of the more forgotten players who combined for the first goal though as Milan made their spell on top pay. Castillejo ended up isolated against his man on the right and whipped in a peach of a cross towards Krunic, who headed inside the far post with a deft flick to make it 1-0.
😍 Lovely header by Krunic to break the deadlock!pic.twitter.com/aqhkfr03Km
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) October 22, 2020
Milan then began to take the ascendancy in the game after settling any nerves with the early goal, but Celtic continued to try and absorb the pressure by switching to a back five and using the physicality of their centre-backs to snuff out danger.
There were a number of half opportunities where Milan should have done better, such as a free-kick around 20 yards out where Castillejo saw an attempt blocked and a chance seven minutes before the break where Theo Hernandez was found in behind with a ball over the top but he toe-poked it out for a goal kick with Tonali wide open square in the box.
Just over three minutes before the break, Milan did get the all important second goal. Some neat link-up play on the left flank resulted in Theo being played in behind the Celtic back line yet again, and this time the Frenchman pulled the ball back perfectly for his former Real Madrid team-mate Brahim Diaz who took a couple of smart touches before finishing across the keeper with a precise low shot.
🤩 The casual roll from Ibra, the pull-back from Theo, the footwork and the finish from Brahim. That’s a lovely goal.
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) October 22, 2020
Laxalt didn’t have it all his own way in the first half against his parent club, but he fired the first meaningful attempt of the second half from just inside the 18-yard box, though he ever so slightly sliced his effort and it skimmed over the bar with Donnarumma happy to let it past.
The second half was passing exactly how Stefano Pioli will have wanted it to: without major incident and in particular without danger. He chose to make a couple of changes 25 minutes before the end as Rafael Leao came on for Ibrahimovic and Kessie made way for Ismael Bennacer.
Leao was instantly involved in a chance as he picked the ball of on the edge of Celtic’s third and began driving towards goal with Brahim Diaz making a run in behind, but the Spaniard didn’t get a great pass and ended up having to backheel it towards the penalty spot where it was easily cleared before Leao could arrive and finish.
Celtic boss Neil Lennon had made a couple of changes too and one of them – Tom Rogic – could have had an assist when he set up another in Mohamed Elyounoussi, but the Norway international hooked his first time effort over the bar.
Elyounoussi did get his goal though a few minutes later. A corner whipped in from Celtic’s left side was met by a perfect glancing header that beat Donnarumma, and it was Sandro Tonali who had lost his man.
A double change followed not long after from Pioli, with Castillejo and Brahim Diaz coming off for Alexis Saelemaekers and Jens Petter Hauge.
There were a couple of half chances at each end to close out the game; the first as Milan attempted to seal the match with a break but a cross bobbled up to Leao who could only weakly divert an effort on goal, while Ntcham dragged an effort wide for the home side.
The game was sealed towards the end of extra time and it was a fantastic moment for Hauge. The Norwegian stole in behind the defence and manage to hold off pressure to slot under the onrushing Barkas and make it 3-1.