Hesitant Milan Fail to Tame Crvena Zvezda but Qualify on Away Goals

What  mattered the most was getting past Crvena Zvezda in the Europa League Round of 32 and, from that point of view, Milan’s mission was accomplished on Thursday night.

But their 1-1 tie against the Serbians – which qualifies them on away goals after last week’s 2-2 tie in Belgrade – failed to dispel all doubts about the Rossoneri‘s current state of form. 

Milan are now winless in four games and once again failed to overcome an opponent that played the last part of the game with one man less. Coach Stefano Pioli’s turnover plans abruptly changed at half time as he was forced to send in his best men – which also didn’t help much as Crvena Zvezda closed the game pushing the Rossoneri into their own half.

All in all, there is little Milan can be happy about, save for a qualification they reached without impressing at all. Their convalescence continues as they prepare to face Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday night. They will need much more than what seen tonight against a Giallorossi side that – on the contrary – is living a good moment.

Tonight’s premises seemed encouraging for the Rossoneri as Crvena Zvezda’s defense gave them a hand already on six minutes when an apparently harmless shot from Rade Krunic hit Marko Gobeljic’s hand. Referee Gil Manzano didn’t seem to notice it but the VAR pointed him to the right direction.

From the spot, Franck Kessié made no mistake and dedicated his goal to poor Willy Ta Bi – a former Atalanta youngster and fellow Ivorian countryman of his who passed away a few days ago

Another handball, this time from Radovan Pankov, frustrated El Fardou Ben’s effort when, on 18 minutes, he managed to put the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma from a corner kick. The player from The Comoros didn’t seem to have luck on his side as his next effort from a set piece hit the crossbar.

But where luck didn’t help, skills did the trick as Ben eventually found the back of the net with a sharp left-foot shot to which Donnarumma had no answer. Crvena Zvezda deservingly re-balanced the game as the white-and-reds had been attacking from the moment they conceded the first goal.

It was not until the 37th minute that Milan made themselves dangerous again, but the Serbians’ goalkeeper Milan Borjan somehow managed to push back Diogo Dalot’s challenge from a Davide Calabria cross. At half time, it was still 1-1.

Stefano Pioli needed to win the game to boost his side’s morale and revolutionized his offensive setup after the restart, sending in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ante Rebic. He eventually added additional starters Alexis Saelemaekers and Theo Hernandez.

Pioli’s moves initially seemed to spark new life into the Rossoneri as their restart was aggressive – though Borjan suffered no major threat and Milan’s pressure progressively faded away.

It was Donnarumma, on the other hand, to come up with a majorly important save that kept the Rossoneri afloat on 68 minutes. The portierone celebrated his 22nd birthday with a superb reflex to push back Sékou Sanogo’s close-range challenge from a right-side cross. Vladimir Golemjic did the rest to help Milan as, first, he missed an easy tap-in and then picked up a second yellow card that earned him an early  bath.

But, even with a one-man advantage, the home side failed to pose any serious threat to the Serbians’ area. There was one goal scored by Saelemaekers but it was invalidated as Ibra was caught offside in the build-up. Then, nothing more until stoppage time, when Kessié picked Rebic with a brilliant filtering pass, but the Croat lost the momentum and was blocked by Pavkov.

Between those two chances, Pioli saw Crvena Zvezda attacking like they had no numerical disadvantage. Dejan Stankovic made multiple changes and substitute Aleksandar Katai went close to play a nasty trick on the Rossoneri as he hit the side netting from the left side. Milan huffed and puffed to keep the Serbians away from their box and center-back Fikayo Tomori had a quite a few chances to prove that getting him on loan from Chelsea in January was a wise move.

Courageous Crvena Zvezda ended in attack and were furious at referee Gil Manzano who didn’t concede them to shoot a corner kick they gained right at the end of added time. They frankly deserved the right to do it, and perhaps even something more.


February 25, 2021 – Europa League 2020-21 Round of 32
MILAN-CRVENA ZVEZDA 1-1 (Milan advance on away goals)

SCORERS: 6′ Kessié (M, pen.), 23′ Ben (C)

MILAN (4-2-3-1): G. Donnarumma; Calabria (66′ Hernandez), Romagnoli, Tomori, Diogo Dalot; Kessié, Meité; Castillejo (66′ Saelemaekers), Krunic (46′ Rebic), Calhanoglu; Leao (46′ Ibrahimovic) (Tatarusanu, A. Donnarumma, Kalulu, Kjaer, Gabbia, Tonali, Brahim Diaz) Coach: Pioli

CRVENA ZVEZDA (3-4-2-1): Borjan; Pankov, Degenek, Sanogo; Gajic, Kanga (69′ Katai), Srnic (46′ Petrovic), Gobeljic; Ben (69′ Falco), Ivanic (84′ Nicolic); Falcinelli (69′ Pavkov) (Popovic, Copic, Gavric, Vukanovic, Krstovic) Coach: Stankovic

REFEREE: Gil Manzano (Spain)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Ibrahimovic (M), Srnic (C); Red Card: Golemjic (C); Extra Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 3′

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