Milan got the job done away at Sparta Praha this evening, narrowly securing the win and thus the first spot in the group as Celtic managed to beat Lille. Jens Petter Hauge got on the scoresheet again and Stefano Pioli was able to try out some youngsters, most of whom did well.
Having secured their spot in the knockout phase, while Sparta had no chance to climb the group, the Rossoneri fielded a makeshift eleven with several youngsters that wouldn’t normally play. The home side followed suit and it made for an interesting game, with both sets of players under pressure to do well.
The likes of Pierre Kalulu, Daniel Maldini and Lorenzo Colombo got the chance from start after playing very little this season. The same can be said for Andrea Conti and Leo Duarte although they are arguably more experience, with Milan fans pretty aware of their qualities already.
Milan started the game well and created their first chance after just three minutes. Diogo Dalot accompanied the attackers in the box and eventually got the ball, but the shot was saved by the goalkeeper. But after what was a bright start, Sparta started to take control of the game and the Rossoneri lost touch.
Fortunately, with the Portuguese full-back bursting forward and picking out Hauge, the Norwegian followed up his goal against Celtic with yet another solo run. He nutmegged the defender before calmly placing it in the bottom right corner, opening the scoring in the 23rd minute. Against the run of play, many would say.
The winger could have had a penalty just 12 minutes later, beating his opponent with another nutmeg before being pushed to the ground. The referee ignored his appeals, though, and the defender certainly got away with what very well could have been a penalty for Milan.
Samu Castillejo had a good chance to double the lead as he found himself alone with the goalkeeper, though from a narrow angle. His effort was well-saved and the scores remained 0-1 as the referee blew for half-time. Solid from Milan, considering the starting eleven, but nothing special.
The second half didn’t really offer many chances, but the home side came closest to scoring. Ciprian Tatarusanu made a good save early on, denying the Sparta attacker after making himself big on a good chance. The goalkeeper played a huge part in the win, as we will soon touch on.
Milan created a few half-chances after that but lacked composure in the final third, squandering more than one good counter-attack. In the 77th minute, they were helped by a red card for Sparta, which was the result of a dangerous tackle on Rafael Leao. The latter made his first appearance since coming back from the injury.
Pioli’s men had several chances to kill the game in the final minutes but instead, Sparta got the final chance in stoppage time. One could argue that it was the best chance of the game as well, considering David Moberg-Karlsson was left alone with Tatarusanu. The latter read the Swede and made a fantastic save to preserve the clean sheet.
And as Celtic beat Lille 3-2, the three points saw Milan leapfrog the French side. They will, therefore, be one of the seeded teams in the draw for the round of 32, which will take place on Monday.
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