Lack of belief throws AC Milan’s Champions League future into doubt

AC Milan played within themselves against Chelsea in the Champions League and it could damage their chances of qualification.

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Despite missing first team defensive regulars Mike Maignan, Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer and Theo Hernandez, AC Milan headed to London as reigning Serie A champions and top of Champions League Group E, but showed little sign of either once they took to the pitch in the English capital.

Stefano Pioli’s men registered just one shot on target at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night and with a display of calamitous defending, conceded goals from Wesley Fofana, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Reece James that the 2021/22 Scudetto winners rarely gave up last term.

AC Milan were in a position of strength

Ahead of the game, the Rossoneri were three points better off than the Premier League side, with the chance to land a significant blow to a team that will have a legitimate hope of holding the famous trophy aloft when the final takes place in Istanbul in six months time, yet wasted that opportunity.

There was no major formation alteration (setting up 4-2-3-1), suggesting Milan were approaching the Matchday 3 fixture as a damage limitation exercise. With Ciprian Tatarusanu, Sergino Dest, Pierre Kalulu and Fode Ballo-Toure like-for-like replacements for their defensive absentees. Despite the obvious individual decrease in quality.

Sergino Dest in action for AC Milan against Chelsea. [@acmilan]

However, from the moment that referee Danny Makkelie started proceedings in London. It was soon obvious that this Rossoneri team lacked the belief that they could leave with all three points and gave a frustratingly passive display. When presented with a wonderful chance to take the scalp of a recent European champion on their own turf.

Within five minutes of the start of the game, Tatarusanu was tipping a Mason Mount effort around the post and 20 minutes later picking the ball out of the back of the net, after allowing Fofana to sweep the ball home after a penalty box scramble.

AC Milan’s shambolic defending

Despite having trained for weeks, if not months, in Pioli’s preferred tactical set up, Milan had little reason to look so shambolic when defending and ultimately themselves contributing to the second-half goals that gave a sense of comprehensibility about the result.

Had the defensive collapse come about from the Italian releasing the attacking shackles, Milanisti could probably forgive the performance they witness from their side, but it looked as though they failed to commit to grinding out a vital point or going all out for three points.

Travelling AC Milan fans at Stamford Bridge. [@acmilan]

The Rossoneri still had plenty to offer further upfield, but passes out to Rafael Leao on the left of attack were present but lacking any significant intent. As were the forward runs from the Portuguese international. While utilising the physical attributes of former Blues striker Olivier Giroud, or sending crosses over to make us of his aerial prowess, non-existent.

Chelsea coach Graham Potter was far too kind in suggesting that Milan made his team suffer during the match, as they did not do anywhere near enough to make his defensive line sweat. So much so that a 38-year-old Thiago Silva resembled his prime in a Rossoneri shirt winning the title over a decade ago showed that.

If Group E leaders RB Salzburg defeat bottom-placed Dinamo Zagreb on Matchday 4, and Chelsea triumph at San Siro, regardless of the penultimate set of results, it is likely that Milan will be left with a play-off (in all but name) with the Austrians to progress behind the Premier League side.

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