After seven long years of waiting AC Milan made their Champions League return, facing the difficult task playing Liverpool away at Anfield in the first fixture.
From the first minute of the game it was easy to see that Liverpool would be the side dictating the tempo of the game with Milan appearing a bit nervous and understandably so, with the majority of the players making their Champions League debut on the night.
It only took Liverpool nine minutes to open the scoring, although it was a bit lucky through an own goal by Fikayo Tomori. However, the English side continued to be the ones dominating and they continued to press and create chances, whilst Milan were failing to calm themselves down and get the ball out of their own half.
It was after half an hour or so that Klopp’s men seemed to have lost a bit of focus, allowing more free space to their opponents and Milan took good advantage of that scoring through Ante Rebic in the 42nd minute, followed by a Brahim Diaz goal two minutes later to send the Rossoneri into half-time with a goal advantage.
Unfortunately for Pioli, the interval did good for Liverpool as they came back with the same intensity they started the game with and managed to steal the three points with goals from Salah and Henderson. Here are five things we learned…
1. Too much too soon
It was more than obvious even a couple of minutes into the game that the intensity with which Liverpool were playing was too much for Milan. Klopp’s style of play and the fact that Pioli’s men haven’t faced a side like that in Italy – except perhaps Atalanta on their day – left them unprepared and that was quite apparent as Kessie and Bennacer were not looking as themselves, failing to move to ball fast and escape Liverpool’s press.
The game will definitely be a valuable lesson for Milan as they will need to work on the way the face opponents that play in similar fashion and playing against more quality sides in the Champions League will bring the necessary experience that the majority of the team lacks in order to get out of situations like this.
On the plus side, even though he conceded three goals, Mike Maignan had a brilliant game in which he saved Salah’s penalty to keep his team in the game and made several other saves through the game which were quite impressive.
His contribution with his feet was on a very good level as well as his distribution continues to be a big outlet weapon, and the Frenchman seems to have settled in very well in his new team making everyone forget about Gianluigi Donnarumma’s departure in the summer.
3. Fit for the occasion
The other positive for Pioli has to be the performance of Fikayo Tomori. The Englishman got his name on the scoresheet through a nasty deflection that resulted in an own goal, but was really solid through the rest of the game. He showed off his pace and physicality on multiple occasions proving what a bargain of a transfer he is at 28 million euros.
His partner in crime Simon Kjaer also had a good game, but the midfield two and Theo Hernandez on the left were not on the needed level thus exposing both Kjaer and Tomori constantly, and the three goals conceded don’t really do them justice as they played a really good game at the back.
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) September 16, 2021
4. Strength to weakness
Before the game it was obvious that a very important battle would take place in the midfield with Kessie and Bennacer having the tough task to hold their own against Liverpool’s midfield and bring stability in Milan’s game.
Unfortunately for Pioli, the double pivot was way off their usual high level as they struggled to deal with Liverpool’s high and aggressive press, misplacing a lot of passes and feeding into the hands of Klopp’s side by giving the ball away in Milan’s half.
The Ivorian was a tad better than his Algerian team-mate but still struggled, especially in the first half and it’s easy to see after this game that Sandro Tonali is the man of the moment for Milan when it comes to superiority in the middle of the park.
Looking forward, Milan’s midfield will need to do a lot more as they have shown to be capable of in Serie A if the Rossoneri were to try and fight their way out of the Champions League group stages.
5. Weak side
Both Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao had a sloppy game especially in the defensive phase. While the two were at the centre of the two goals that got Milan leading at half time, the duo were allowing too much space to Liverpool’s attacking players in Salah and Alexander Arnold, who were making the most of it.
On the first goal Leao suddenly decided to stop chasing down Trent who was heading into Milan’s penalty area which eventually resulted in the opening goal. Going forward, the Portuguese was trying to do stuff on his own, failing for the most of it excluding the two attacks where Milan scored their goals.
Theo Hernandez also had a disaster of a night as Salah had little to no problem dealing with him. The Frenchman wasn’t as effective going forward either and it was a key duel lost that helped the home side take all three points.