Thanks to an outstanding performance of Jans Petter Hauge, the Rossoneri earned the first place of Europa Leauge’s Group H’s ranking, punishing Sparta Praha 0:1.
By Daphne Seberich
No one would have thought at the beginning of the season that the team struggling to make it into Europa League would rank first in the group stage of the tournament. The team coached by Stefano Pioli recovered a strained 2019/2020 season after the lockdown period, not losing a match until the European’s tournament match-day 3’s defeat against Lille.
Sparta Praha’s hopes of progressing to the round-of-32 were dashed by a 2-1 defeat at LOSC Lille on match-day 5. Milan clinched their place in the knockout phase by coming from 0-2 down to beat bottom-placed Celtic 4-2 at home with goals from Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Samu Castillejo, Jens Petter Hauge and Brahim Díaz.
Sandro Tonali is the player that has the most games of this season under his belt for Milan, a total of 16 matches being over 755 minutes on the pitch. That demonstrates the importance he plays for Pioli and the team’s results. The Diavolo is first in the Serie A ahead of Milan-neighbors-and-nemesis club Inter, which got eliminated from Champions League on Wednesday.
Pioli’s youngsters felt the pressure of having to deliver to earn the top spot of the group ranking. Milan needed to win. Lille had to suffer a defeat for the Diavolo to secure first place, which could aid the Italian team to play in the round-of-32 against an easier opponent, prolonging their stay in the tournament.
The economic gain the Milan-based club could inherit through the different stages of the Europa League would be of meaningful support to overcome the financial struggles Covid-19 brought to the 1899 founded football team.
The Rossoneri were in charge of setting the pace, dominating with ball possession and tactical prowess. Even though it was Stefano Pioli’s new young formation’s debut, their style of playing was just like Milan’s original starting lineup. The Diavolo’s strength not only comes from the players but also from their coach’s preparation and interpretation of the different matches.
Right after a couple of minutes, Dalot gave the Czech’s goalkeeper the first challenge, kicking the ball towards the left corner of the net. Niță defended his club’s goal with his shins, bouncing off the ball outside of the field, conceding Milan the first corner of the match.
On the 23rd minute of the game, Norwegian player Hauge scored the first and only goal of the match for Milan. The young player dribbled the Sparta Praha defenders, tunneled them, and kicked the ball into the right-bottom corner of Niță’s defended goal. A recurrent way of scoring for the 21-year-old.
Shivers came down the back of the Iron Sparta supporters at the 30th minute of the match. Colombo missed by a hair the Czech’s goal with a head strike.
The first attempt Milan had in the second half of the match was Hauge trying to surprise Niță using the same scheme and style he used for the previous successful attempt to pierce the net, subsequently advantaging his team, but the goalkeeper didn’t let the ball pass.
At the 77th minute of the match, the decisive referee decision impacted Sparta Praha, leaving them only in 10. Phlechaty aggressively tackled Leão, shunting with his cleats on the Portuguese’s shin. The German referee Daniel Siebert held the red card up without a previous yellow card warning to the Iron Sparta sportsman, sending the Czech player off the pitch.
Tătăruşanu, Gigi Donnarumma’s replacement, saved his team by blocking the last chance and effort the Czech team had saving Milan from potential despair at the 92nd minute of the match.
Jens Petter Hauge and Samu Castillejo were undoubtedly the best players on the pitch. They were the pillars of Milan from the get-go, pushing and leading the rest of the team to victory.
Now the Rossoneri have to wait until the draft in Nyon, Switzerland on Monday define their future opponent that will decide their path in Europa League, as well as the future goals of their 2020/2021 campaign.