Spurs 0-0 AC Milan: Five things we learned – Pioli deserves plaudits as wall stands firm

By Ivan Stoev -

After winning 1-0 back on February 14, AC Milan travelled to London for the return leg of their Champions League round of 16 clash against Tottenham in an attempt to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2012.

The Rossoneri had managed four wins in a row and four consecutive clean sheets prior to the loss against Fiorentina on Saturday, meaning Stefano Pioli had stabilised the situation after a catastrophic January.

The defeat against La Viola at the weekend didn’t seem to have affected Milan, who looked solid from the start and did not allow Spurs to create any dangerous chances until the final few minutes. The majority of the game was in fact fairly boring from a neutral point of view, but that meant Milan did their job well.

The most interesting moment came around the 94th minute when Maignan made a brilliant save on Harry Kane’s header which launched a counter-attack for Milan that ended with Origi hitting the crossbar.

It was a frantic end to a dull game that saw Milan reach the quarter-finals of the top European club competition for the first time in 11 years. Here are five things we learned…

1. Magic by (nick)name, magic by nature

Mike Maignan had enjoyed a fairly quiet night up until the crucial moment at the end of the game in the six added minutes, but he commanded the back line throughout the whole match and was keen to involve himself when his team were trying to play out from the back.

It is great to see Magic Mike looking confident straight away, shouting and giving tips to the defenders in front of him which was perhaps lacking when he wasn’t available. A truly commanding performance, which ended with a brilliant save on Kane’s header that sealed the qualification for his team.

2. Il Muro

The reason why Maignan had a fairly quiet night is also because of the brilliant work done by the trio in front of him, namely Pierre Kalulu, Fikayo Tomori and Malick Thiaw.

Thiaw forgot all about the rather difficult display against Fiorentina and was really calm against Spurs, helping his team in particular with aerial duels and set pieces as he won pretty much everything that came his way, neutralising Kane just enough on the ground too.

Tomori also responded well after he gave away a silly penalty against La Viola and his presence as the left-sided centre-back allowed Theo Hernandez to think more about the attacking phase, which directly led to Cristian Romero’s red card that put a big dent in Spurs’ hopes.

Kalulu also played at a very high level as he he kept an out-of-form Heung-min Son quiet with ease. He also carried the ball forward on multiple occasions and seemed comfortable doing so.

All in all it was a really commanding performance by the trio who have now managed five clean sheets out of the last six games.

3. Mixed feelings

Theo Hernandez had a great game and was one of the best on the pitch, helping a lot in the attacking phase and drawing a foul from Romero that got him a red card as mentioned. He was involved in a most of the better counters Milan produced too, as he ran the length of the field and squared to Origi who hit the post.

Oddly enough, Rafael Leao wasn’t on the same level as he seemed to struggle to find his spot on the pitch. In fairness he did have some quality moments and he was an issue for Spurs as they had to resolve to fouls to stop him on multiple occasions. The times he did escape, however, he should’ve made more out of the situation and he failed to do so.

On the right, Junior Messias was the clear flop of the game as he offered little to nothing going forward and missed a big chance in front of goal. His colleague up top, Oliver Giroud, also struggled to get a foothold in the game as his hold-up play let him down, though he did put a real shift in pressing from the front.

Lastly, Brahim Diaz got to start and he had a wonderful game. The Spaniard was probably the best player on the pitch for most of the game as he was quick to beat his man and had no troubles escaping the press. He faded towards the end of the game, but it was an impressive performance, nonetheless.

4. Control required

Rade Krunic and Sandro Tonali did a great job as they covered a lot of space and helped a great deal in Maignan’s clean sheet, but they could’ve done a bit more with the ball.

When Ismael Bennacer came onto the pitch in the second half it was so obvious the difference he makes as he managed to make a couple successful dribbles and sharpen up the play despite playing just over 10 minutes.

The Algerian is pivotal when Milan want to calm the game down and hold the ball because he possesses multiple ways to progress the ball with his composure and low centre of gravity, something Tonali and Krunic sometimes lack.

5. Tactics get a tick

Stefano Pioli got the right players and tactics on the night and he also deserves praise for the achievement of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Since changing system, his team have now managed five clean sheets in the last six games and seem to be back on track from a cohesion and compactness point of view, despite the Fiorentina blip.

Reaching the last eight will also be a big moral boost and Milan need to capitalise on that domestically by gaining points and making sure the Champions League is a competition they will also enjoy being in next season.

Tags AC Milan Champions League Serie A


  1. Kalulu will become the first 100 mil defender in the world.

    Mark. My. Words.

    The way he easily dispossesses the opponent is downright unbelievable. The only player who was that good and perfect at tackling that I saw in my lifetime was Cannavaro.

    Forza Milan.

    1. Kalulu is extremely effective in a back 3 because he is so quick and can make those tackles and his weakness in positioning, etc are offset by the defender in the middle.

      At this stages he’s too shaky in a back 4 to reach the heights you’re talking about but he is still young.

      Thiaw compliments Kalulu perfectly in the back 3 because his positioning and anticipation appear to be so good (I say appear only because Malik is just starting out) playing in the more zonal role in the centre.

      It makes Tomori a much better player too because, like Kalulu, he is very quick and suited to running down quick wingers and forwards (but not so good at controlling space and anticipating play).

      The interesting things is that the balance of the ability in central defence and central midfield in the squad suits more of a 3-5-2 shape (with Theo an excellent wing back option and Florenzi, Calabria and Salamakers solid options) but it leaves Leao in a less favoured position playing as a second striker off a number 9.

      1. What a candid observation.

        Milan need to sale Leao for atleast 120mil. Then invest in a classy midfielder, a clinical finisher and a right a better wingback. A 3-5-2 will win trophies in years to come.

        1. “Milan need to sale Leao for atleast 120mil. ”

          Delusional. NO ONE will pay over 100M€ for him this summer. Not even 80M€.

      2. please who knows a team that has won ucl wth a back three in this century because this sudden love for 3-5-2 is hilarious

      3. 100% agree , you are spot on. But I don’t get Leo why he struggles as a second striker he has the technical ability and speed can shoot from distance he can also pass he has all the attributes except he likes to take his time and dribble, but you can’t do that more centrally in the field

        1. It’s not that I don’t think Leao can do it.

          I suspect he can and will at some stage but it’s not his best role, which is currently on the left of a front 3.

          1. Yes that is my point he has all the tools to do it lets just hope he can adapt his game to that position like CR7 and Messi and Mbape all did.

  2. A good defensive display Mike is a plus 3player. It worries me that Bennecer has to be the holding midfield when he is more useful as the main CM to make our midfield click.
    Like I have been saying for so long, our midfield setup is all wrong.

    1. 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 Tnx for that observation Tonali is to sit deep and allow him command well with the attackers

  3. I like how an “ineffective leao” still beats three defenders at a time. I agree it wasn’t his best game but he did just as much as Diaz, just to put things in perspective…
    I guess that’s the debate though, if he wants to be paid like the best player he has to be definitively be the best player every game. To me he’s still worth 7,5M a year but if he wants more he’s got to find his shooting boots.

  4. They need to continue pushing. Now is the most important part of the season .

    Interesting is we have some results without Giroud and Leao scoring.

  5. What a candid observation.

    Milan need to sale Leao for atleast 120mil. Then invest in a classy midfielder, a clinical finisher and a right a better wingback. A 3-5-2 will win trophies in years to come.

  6. “Thiaw forgot all about the rather difficult display against Fiorentina and was really calm against Spurs”.

    Did the writer actually watch that game? Because of him and Mike we ”only” lost by a goal. That 2nd Viola goal was not on Thiaw he was actually only center back in the right position if he cleared that cross that would have been interception of the match Tomori let way too much space for an accurate cross and Kalulu left Thiaw covering 2 players in the box, Tomori was actually atrociously bad in that game but he is off limits for critique in our fan base for some reason.

  7. I think we deserve the praise after 11 years. Be a little bit optimist if you are milanisti. You said “half injured team”…?? Only Bentancur was main team for Spurs is not on the field that night. The others is not main players…

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