Despite fielding a second-string line-up packed with teenagers, Milan eased past Serie A strugglers Cagliari 4-1 in their Coppa Italia last-16 tie on Tuesday. It was a perfect way for Stefano Pioli’s side to kick things off in the new calendar year amid a stuttering Scudetto pursuit.
Milan headed into proceedings as odds-on favorites following a morale-boosting 1-0 home league win against Sassuolo at the end of 2023. Kicking off 2024 in the same vein was imperative for Rossoneri as they had tradition and quality on their side.
An impressive display at the San Saro extended Milan’s formidable unbeaten home run against Cagliari to 17 victories in 18 matches in the 21st century (D1). Buoyed by reaching the Coppa Italia quarter-finals in sterling fashion, Milan can switch their attention toward the upcoming Serie A trip to relegation-threatened Empoli.
Pioli handed veteran striker Olivier Giroud a much-needed rest, giving Luka Jovic another chance to start. And the Serbia international excelled. His first-half brace inspired Milan to a comfortable 2-0 at halftime, setting the tone for a memorable night at the San Siro.
Not long ago, Jovic seemed closer to leaving Milan in January than staying put. Bookmakers were confident the Italians would show him the door. In November, the 26-year-old’s was a near safe bet, and for bettors keen to increase their gaming experience, Betiton sport’s betting promotions offer enticing opportunities and bonuses.
However, the ex-Real Madrid flop has reignited his career. He has netted five goals in his last six appearances across all competitions, convincing Pioli that he can rely on him in Giroud’s absence. Jovic’s return to prominence could serve Milan well, especially with the Frenchman requiring careful game-time management.
Jovic’s double wasn’t the only positive from Tuesday’s fixture. Pioli handed Real Madrid loanee Alejandro Jimenez his maiden start for Milan. The youngster, who occupied Theo Hernandez’s position at left-back, enjoyed an impressive night. As did the San Siro homegrown starlet Chaka Traore.
Only ten days after celebrating his 19th birthday, the versatile forward bagged his first competitive goal for Milan. He found a pocket of space inside Cagliari’s penalty area and squeezed the ball beneath Boris Radunovic to make it 3-0 at the start of the second half, effectively putting the game to bed.
Lost for words after fulfilling his boyhood dream, Traore admitted he was desperate to open his Milan account in the aftermath.
“I wanted to score this goal for such a long time, but I am above all very happy that we won. It was a victory we needed,” Traore told Mediaset, as quoted by TMW. “I am also pleased with the performance, the coach put his faith in us. I honestly don’t know what to say! It’s such an emotional moment.“
Cagliari grabbed a consolation goal in the 87th minute through Paulo Azzi. But Milan had the last laugh. Second-half substitute Rafael Leao capped off an outstanding night with a brilliant individual goal in stoppage time. As expected, Rossoneri overcame the first hurdle, making an initial step toward lifting their first Coppa Italia trophy since 2003.