AC Milan’s Champions League hangover leaves top four hopes in balance

Spezia secured a first win in nine matches as they stunned AC Milan in Serie A, denting their hopes of securing a top four finish ahead of a Champions League semi-final vs Inter.

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AC Milan were left stunned by relegation-threatened Spezia at the Stadio Alberto Picco in Serie A, with a 2-0 defeat adding to the sense of their season slipping away after a costly Champions League loss to Inter in midweek.

A chastening 2-0 defeat to their bitter rivals in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie saw Milan come into the match against Spezia with their confidence bruised, and a uninspired performance did little to brighten their mood.

Whilst coach Stefano Pioli chose to rest some of his key names, Milan‘s lack of options in the squad saw them fail to test the home defence, whilst late goals from Przemysław Wiśniewski and Salvatore Esposito condemned the Rossoneri to a shock defeat.

As for Spezia, a first win in nine matches boosts their survival hopes and moves them to within a point of climbing out of the relegation zone.

Champions League hopes in the balance

Barring a comeback against Inter on Tuesday, Milan look likely to be dumped out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage, but their league form could see the Rossoneri fail to qualify for the competition entirely next season.

Pioli had rotated his team to rest players ahead of the Champions League second leg, but the loss in Liguria without their stars could prove costly in the long run, as AS Roma breathe down their neck in the final stretch.

Milan have only picked up 23 points since the midway point of the campaign and their second half collapse this term has seen last season’s champions reliant on success in Europe.

With Inter looking comfortable in their semi-final tie, the Rossoneri’s domestic collapse may well come back to bite them in their efforts to return to the Champions League, particularly with a clash against Juventus to come.

AC Milan’s Rafael Leao celebrates. [@acmilan]

Rossoneri reliant on Leao

A blunt attack did little to truly trouble Spezia‘s defence, and Milan were crying out for the dynamism and brilliance of Rafael Leao, who sat out the match following an injury against Lazio last weekend.

The Portugal international has been integral to the Rossoneri’s play over the past two seasons and his absence was keenly felt against Inter, though Pioli hopes to have him available for the second leg.

With Divock Origi making little to no impact since signing from Liverpool last summer, and Olivier Giroud being rested for Inter, Milan‘s attack lacked spark and creativity.

Indeed, the Diavolo have a 64% win rate and average 2.2 points per game when Leao starts. Without the former Lille star, these figures drop dramatically to an astonishing 11%, and just 0.8 points per game.

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