Lazio fly the flag for Italy in the Europa League quarter-finals, but like Atalanta before them, Milan bow out to a more experienced side.
For the first time since 2014-15 Serie A had a real chance of having two representatives in the top eight of the Europa League. However, as soon as the draw was made it was clear that both Lazio and Milanwould have tough tasks ahead of them.
This was exactly the case, as Simone Inzaghi’s men needed a spirited second leg performance, which resulted in a 2-0 win in order to eliminate Dynamo Kiev, while the Rossoneri fell at the hands of Arsenal by conceding a second defeat, this time by 3-1 at the Emirates stadium.
After conceding two goals at the Stadio Olimpico, the 2-2 draw from the first leg meant that Le Aquile needed an almost perfect display to overcome the hostile atmosphere in Kiev and, oh boy, did they deliver. Lazio dominated the Ukrainians from the kick-off like no other team did so far in the competition and deservedly earned their spot amongst the top eight teams in the tournament.
The Biancocelesti were close to their absolute best throughout the majority of the game and if Ciro Immobile hadn’t forgotten to put on his scoring boots, the result could’ve been much more embarrassing for the hosts.
It really is refreshing to see Lazio play this type of football at this stage of a European competition again, as some of the Aquile’s most recent displays on the Continent were somewhat of a fiasco. Lazio failed to earn a Europa League qualification last term and were knocked out at the same stage with a humiliating 3-0 defeat at home by Sparta Prague in 2016.
Therefore, this year’s achievement in the tournament is a yet another confirmation for the amazing work of Inzaghi, which is essential for the team’s progress. Inzaghi’s Lazio are currently able to show tactical awareness, character, grit and most importantly quality under pressure against tough opponents. All this is something that the team was often lacking in previous years, but at the moment fits the club so well.
As for Milan, the Arsenal defeats will serve as a wake-up call, which show that the Rossoneri still have a long way to go before reaching their European pedigree of the past. Even not at their best, Arsenal demonstrated their superior experience and quality, as especially their first half display in the first leg at San Siro demonstrated how naive this Milan team can be at times.
Despite that however, the Diavolo supporters will probably have a bitter taste in their mouths for a while after last night’s defeat, as Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson gifted Arsenal a penalty for a more than obvious Danny Welbeck simulation. The timing of the decision was crucial, as the Rossoneri were producing more than a decent display and had taken the lead, which put Arsenal under real pressure.
The incident happened right in front of the additional assistant referee behind Milan’s goal, but the Rossoneri are probably not the only ones wondering what is the point of having a referee there, as Juventus also suffered in a similar situation just two days ago, when they were not awarded a penalty for a stonewall foul on Douglas Costa against Tottenham.
Arsenal managed to take advantage of the situation and the immaturity of the Rossoneri by scoring two more after the break, but putting the result aside, Milan showed the right attitude before, during and after the game.
“I don’t want to talk about the referee, because they can make mistakes just like players do. I am proud of my lads and we have to continue on this path.” That’s what Gennaro Gattuso said after the game, which is admirable, considering the circumstances of his side’s defeat. After all there is no shame for this young Milan side to be eliminated by a much more experienced and well-organized team, that has made the Europa League their main priority at the moment.
Similarly to Atalanta, Milan exit the competition with their heads held high, knowing that they were eliminated by more experienced and at this point probably better teams. As for Lazio, the Biancocelesti will be confident ahead of today’s draw for the quarter-finals, probably hoping to avoid Atletico Madrid or Arsenal. In any case, there is no doubt that this Lazio is ready to wave the Italian flag with dignity in the Europa League.