GdS: Milan all-in for the ‘Euro-star’ – Pioli’s men have a duty to try win the Europa League

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan will resume their Europa League journey tonight as they take on Slavia Praha at San Siro in the first leg of their last 16 tie.

This morning’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) recalls, Milan have won everything, in Italy and in the world. All the trophies that, except one: the Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup and before that the Fairs Cup.

The Rossoneri have a terrible relationship with this tournament having never reached the final. The furthest they have gone is the semi-finals, in 1972 when they lost against Tottenham, and in 2002 when they were beaten by Borussia Dortmund.

Milan have raised seven European/Champions Cups and two Cup Winners’ Cups to the skies, the competition that no longer exists, abandoned in 1999, and which was reserved for the winners of the domestic cups.

In the classic and modern scheme of the three European trophies – European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, which are the Champions, Europa League and Conference today – Milan needs one title to make it ten and pin a metaphorical Euro-star on its chest.

We exclude the European Super Cups from the calculation. Milan have five on their list, but they are contested in a single match and do not have the technical value of a long-distance tournament like the other three.

Winning the Europa League would soothe the bitterness over the Scudetto which is now in Inter’s pocket. Today, in the Serie A roll of honour, Milan and Inter are on 19 league titles and Inter are about to rise to 20, which will give them the right to put a second star on their shirt.

The Europa League would partially compensate for the disappointment of a sub-par domestic campaign. It would not overshadow Inter’s progress, because the Europa League is not worth the Champions League, which in 2007 allowed the Rossoneri to mock Inter’s title.

However, it would be therapeutic and would give meaning to the contradictory season of Stefano Pioli’s team, and perhaps it would allow Pioli himself to have some chance of keeping his job as the head coach.

Slavia Praha hope to heap more misery on Milan’s trophy hunt. They are in second place, behind Sparta, in the Czech first division, not exactly a top tier league. However, Slavia can present the credentials of the 2-0 victory in Prague against Roma, in the group stage of the current Europa League.

Milan trust in Olivier Giroud, the only Rossoneri player to have faced and beaten Slavia Praha, with Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the 2018-19 Europa League when he got a goal and an assist in the 4-3 at Stamford Bridge.

An intriguing detail: Chelsea, then coached by Maurizio Sarri, went on to win the Europa League, with Giroud himself the top scorer of the tournament (11 goals). Ruben Loftus-Cheek was of course a part of that squad as well.

If Milan get through to the round of 16, from the quarter-finals onwards the business end of the tournament will begin, with Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen as the strongest opponents. Jurgen Klopp’s side should beat Sparta Praha, while Xabi Alonso’s men are expected to get past Qarabag.

Tonight, Milan’s attitude will tell us enough about their desire to get on a plane to Dublin late in May. In this sense, the return leg against Rennes in the play-off round was not comforting as the team relaxed after a 3-0 first leg win.

A strong performance is needed and a result that show us how much Milan cares about this competition, the only one left to win something this season. Given they are out of the Coppa Italia and the Scudetto race, Milan have a duty to try.


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