Five Takeaways from European Midweek: Decisive Giroud, Inspiring Zaniolo

In the final matchday of the group stages, Italian clubs came out with a mixed bag. The good news is that none of Calcio’s seven representatives was eliminated from European competitions altogether, however, two of them have been demoted to lower tournaments. So let’s recap the most interesting action from the continental competitions concerning Serie A clubs.

Vital Giroud

On Tuesday, Milan only needed to avoid a defeat when they hosted Red Bull Salzburg at the San Siro in order to book their place in the Champions League Round of 16. Yet, the Rossoneri dominated the action from start to finish, hammering their opponents with four unanswered goal.

First of all, kudos for Stefano Pioli who rightfully commanded his troops forward rather than playing for a draw. He had adopted the same approach on last season’s final Serie A round when his side only needed one point to clinch the Scudetto title in Sassuolo.

And reminiscently to that afternoon at the Mapei Stadium, Olivier Giroud cemented himself as the difference maker on yet another big occasion.

Even though Milan are blessed with a plethora of talented up-and-comers, the 36-year-old’s vast experience on the big stage remains absolutely vital for the club, especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the cusp of retirement – just don’t say it to his face!

Ibrahimovic Throws Grenades at Guardiola and Mbappé

Encouraging Signs for Juve?

While the San Siro crowds were celebrating a well-deserved qualification, Juventus supporters at the Allianz Stadium bid the Champions League farewell with a fifth defeat in six European outings.

In hindsight, the Old Lady’s home loss at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain hardly offers positive takeaways for the Italian giants. However, this is 2022, and the Bianconeri desperately need any sort of healing potion they can find.

Therefore, the team’s improved performance can be considered as an encouraging sign for Massimiliano Allegri’s men who arguably deserved better than what the final 1-2 result suggests.

At the end of the day, a decent outing against Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and company for a team ravaged by injuries is hardly a calamity for a side that suffered some humiliating losses along the way. In fact, it was undoubtedly an invaluable experience for the club’s young contingent.

Bittersweet Anfield Trip

Aside from Bayern Munich who finished the group stage with a perfect record, Napoli has easily been the most impressive side in the Champions League thus far, and their final matchday defeat in Anfield must not discourage Luciano Spalletti’s troops.

Despite the loss, the Partenopei went toe-to-toe with Liverpool before conceding two late goals, and they still managed to preserve their top spot thanks to a superior head-to-head record with the Premier League giants.

On Monday’s draw, very few would relish a battle against the Southern Italians.

Super Zaniolo

On Thursday, Roma needed a win against Ludogarets to seal their place in the Europa League knockout stages. Although the Bulgarian champions are an underrated side, one would have expected the Giallorossi to smash the revolt with a commanding display at the Stadio Olimpico.

But in a typical Roman fashion, i Lupi made matters unnecessarily complicated by conceding in the first half, with José Mourinho’s starting formation looking slightly unbalanced.

Therefore, the Special One wasted no time at all to ring changes, making three substitutions at halftime, including the introduction of Nicolò Zaniolo for the ineffective Andrea Belotti.

This change proved to be the match-winning card for Roma, with the attacking midfielder turning the result upside-down by earning two spot kicks (converted by the ice-cold Lorenzo Pellegrini) before putting the cherry on top of a memorable performance with a stunning solo effort that put the match to bed.

So with Tammy Abraham not enjoying his finest hour and Paul Dybala (expectedly) injured, Zaniolo remains Roma’s main X-factor and perennial savior.

Blessing in Disguise for Sarri?

Also on Thursday, Lazio had to escape with a draw from Rotterdam to reach the Europa League playoffs, but they lost their nerve after conceding a goal in the second half.

At the end of the day, Feyenoord secured the vital victory over the Biancolocesti, and Group F bizarrely ended with all four teams on par with 8 points!

So after resorting to goal difference, the Italians finished in third place, a position that sent them towards the next round of the Conference League.

Now surely Lazio president Claudio Lotito would struggle to see the bright side of an elimination, with Europe’s third competition generating even less revenues than the Europa League, but this might end up being a blessing in disguise for the capital side.

Truth to be told, Maurizio Sarri’s men were unlikely to win the UEL in the presence of better equipped sides like Arsenal, Manchester United, Barcelona and perhaps even a revitalized Juventus – especially in the obvious lack of squad depth.

However, the Eagles could have a genuine chance of clinching the Conference League and keeping the trophy in Rome for the second year following the inception of Europe’s newest competition.

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