Following a great win in the derby against Inter, Milan seemed all fired up for their encounter against Salzburg on the their opening Champions League game of the season.
The Rossoneri were eager to do better than the previous season where they finished last in the group, but their opponents were not a side to underestimate given they got through into the knockout rounds last season, losing to Bayern Munich eventually.
The game started in typical Champions League fashion with a high intensity and both teams fighting it out to get the upper hand. Salzburg landed the first blow as they managed to take the lead through Okafor, who took advantage on Bennacer’s sloppiness and then managed to beat Kalulu with ease before putting the ball at the back of the net.
Alexis Saelemaekers managed to get Milan back into the game finishing off a lovely attack with Rafael Leao picking up the assist. In the second half both teams had chances but there were no further goals as a point apiece was the end result. Here are five things we learned…
1. Too much intensity
It is often you see teams press like Salzburg do, especially in Serie A. The Rossoneri came up against an organised and rabid press in action and that really affected the way they played.
Pioli’s men struggled in the build-up phase as they failed to move the ball quickly and escape from the press efficiently. Salzburg’s goal also came because of the good pressing the team demonstrated which forced Bennacer to commit an error.
Milan will need to adapt since most Champions League games will be at a higher intensity (Porto for example last season, which was meant to be the ‘easiest’ game) and they will need to improve at moving the ball with less touches.
When the team did escape the press, there were too many moments where individuals wanted to take on the whole opposing side, it seemed at times, and that ultimately resulted in giving the ball away. Maybe the players were determined to do better in the competition this time around, but they need to keep their cool and play with composure going forward.
2. A failure to produce
After the good display against Inter, Milan’s attack decided to sit this one out as they barely created anything dangerous. De Ketelaere was practically invisible on the pitch as he offered nothing and failed to involve himself into the game. Yes, he did have a nice flick in the build-up for the goal, but that was pretty much it.
Olivier Giroud also looked lost as he barely got involved. Rafael Leao tried to take on more responsibility on the left and he managed to pick up an assist but at times it looked like the Portuguese was trying a bit too hard in situations where combining with his teammates was the obvious choice.
Alexis Saelemaekers actually did well and was the stand-out performance from the bunch. He got his goal and tried to make things happened but was lacking that final touch most of the time. He did, however, demonstrate a lot of willingness to be on the ball and he often managed to beat his player so really promising from the Belgian.
3. Put to the Dest
Sergino Dest came off the bench to replace Davide Calabria for his Milan debut. His first couple of touches were a bit shaky, but then he got better as the time passed by. He offered some pace on that right hand side and didn’t seem to be afraid of taking on his man.
The Barcelona loanee demonstrated quick feet and nice dribbling that will definitely come in handy when Pioli wants his right side to be a bit more attacking and that has been a great issue.
Nevertheless, a positive outing from Dest who seems fit and ready for action, hopefully that will push Calabria to raise the bar now that there is competition in that area.
4. Not quite clicking
Divock Origi is yet to produce anything worth mentioning in red and black. He came off the bench, replacing Giroud, and that on paper was a great sub that had to inject some speed in the attack.
In reality, Origi just had a disaster of a performance as his ball control let him down on several occasions and when he did have the chance to place a shot he missed it.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s clear that the chemistry between him and his team-mates is still not there, but the forward has much to do if he wants a bigger role in the team.
5. Solid introduction
Tommaso Pobega come on the pitch in the second half and excluding a couple of not so impressive shots he did quite well. He had a physical presence and managed to retrieve the ball on several occasions, he also did commit a couple of fouls along the way, something he must work on or he will rack up yellow cards.
Nonetheless, he did well to move the ball around and there were some nice moments when he kept it simple and played with a single touch which actually beat Salzburg’s press and gave some direction to Milan’s attacks.
Whilst not spectacular, Pobega was solid against a side that barely loses on their home ground. In fact, Milan are the 36th team in a row to go to the Red Bull Arena and leave without a win.