STADIO SAN SIRO (Milan): For the first time since 2013/14, the Champions League knockout rounds will feature AC Milan after they beat RB Salzburg in Northern Italy on Wednesday night to progress through as runners-up to Chelsea in Champions League Group E. Milan claimed a 4-0 win on the night.
Stefano Pioli had promised in the build-up to the game that a very different AC Milan would be on show to the side that lost 2-1 at Torino in Serie A over the weekend, and he was right. The Rossoneri came into the game knowing that a draw would be enough to see them through, with Salzburg third, and that they were unable to finish bottom of the group so post-Christmas European football was guaranteed.
But Milan made sure that they would be playing in Europe’s elite club competition and made their intent clear from the off. Theo Hernandez, the Rossoneri’s best player on the night, struck the post inside three minutes.
After a quarter of an hour Olivier Giroud opened the scoring with a towering header on the end of a fine Sandro Tonali corner, and although Salzburg looked good for much of the first half, Milan made it 2-0 after the break as Rade Krunic headed in to all but confirm their progression and Giroud grabbed a third shortly after. Junior Messias grabbed their fourth in stoppage time.
AC Milan join Inter and Napoli in the Champions League Round of 16 draw. Juventus were the only Serie A side to fail to progress.
Rafael Leao needs a goal
Despite having a goal and four assists in the Champions League already this season, Rafael Leao had another night to forget for AC Milan against RB Salzburg. He was never able to show more than brief flashes of what he’s capable of.
His performance in the loss to Torino was a long way shy of what has come to be expected of him, so much so that he was replaced at half time at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. Even though he had scored and assisted that same week against Dinamo Zagreb and netter against Monza too, that game in Piemonte looked to be at the very front of his mind on Wednesday.
In his 68 minutes on the pitch, we showed flashes. Milan prioritised attacking down the left with the Portuguese and Theo Hernandez, but the former struggled when in on goal.
He hesitated when one-on-one to allow for a shot to be blocked when he look destined to score, he took too long and had too many touches on another couple of occasions – including one where he ignored two better-placed teammates. Then, just before his substitution, he crashed one off the crossbar from close range.
It was apparent that Leao was growing frustrated with himself, even laying in the six-yard box for a number of seconds after his final miss as play went on in midfield. On his withdrawal, the Curva Sud serenaded and applauded him loudly, and Pioli had a few – presumably reassuring – words in his ear.
It’s only been two goalless games for Leao, but Wednesday showed the standards he holds himself to. The goals will come again soon, and he’ll be attracting attention for his shining performances again in no time at all.