Milan paid the price for an awful first half and woke up too late in a 2-1 home defeat to Real Betis that puts their Europa League status at risk.
The Rossoneri needed to recover from a last-gasp derby defeat to Inter at the weekend, but were top of their Europa League group on six points, followed by Betis on four. Mateo Musacchio, Ignazio Abate and Hakan Calhanoglu missed out, with Mattia Caldara only fit for the bench. The Spaniards were missing injured captain Joaquin – formerly of Fiorentina – Cristian Tello, Andres Guardado and Javi Garcia.
These sides had met only twice before, both in the opening round of the Cup Winners’ Cup in September 1977. Betis won the first leg 2-0 at home and then lost 2-1 at San Siro, securing their qualification.
A poor early Pepe Reina pass almost gifted Betis a goal, but ex-Roma striker Tonny Sanabria fired off target, while Tiemoue Bakayoko’s effort was deflected for a corner after good work from Diego Laxalt.
Barragan steered a header just wide of the far post, as did Gonzalo Higuain, but Betis broke the deadlock at San Siro after a series of errors.
Giovani Lo Celso shrugged off Cristian Zapata, rolled across and Reina went down without intercepting it, allowing Sanabria to tap in from close range in front of Alessio Romagnoli.
Betis thought they’d made it 2-0 with Sanabria, but play had been halted before that for an offside position – a call that proved to be incorrect.
Sanabria then wasted a golden opportunity on the counter, as again Lo Celso was allowed a cross from the left, but the Paraguay international shanked his volley wide.
Reina ran a massive risk as he sprinted outside the box to charge down a Lo Celso lob with his chest and perhaps a bit of arm across the torso.
On the stroke of half-time, Higuain had sprung the offside trap, but his touch was heavy, he tried to go around Pau Lopez and was blocked off by a clean Mandi tackle at the by-line. The Milan striker was furious and had to be held back from squaring up to his marker.
Gennaro Gattuso moved to 4-4-2 with Patrick Cutrone in attack, Suso and Castillejo out wide. Junior Firpo surged forward and blasted off target, but Lo Celso added the second goal for Betis with a stunning left-foot curler from 20 metres, bouncing off the inside of the far post.
Milan looked as if they had already given up, but on 73 minutes Castillejo almost opened the game again with a sudden screamer from distance that smashed against the upright.
They seemed to wake up a little after that, especially when Castillejo rolled across for substitute Cutrone to tap in from seven yards. The youngster immediately grabbed the ball and ran back to the centre-circle, urging his teammates to stage a comeback.
Milan should’ve received a penalty on 89 minutes when Castillejo was sent clear and took a touch, but Bartra’s sliding tackle barely touched the ball. The referee waved play on.
Castillejo lost his temper and received a straight red card for a stoppage-time two-footed lunge on Lo Celso.
Milan 1-2 Betis
Sanabria 30 (B), Lo Celso 55 (B), Cutrone 83 (M)
Milan: Reina; Calabria, Zapata, Romagnoli, Laxalt; Bakayoko (Cutrone 46), Biglia (Bertolacci 80), Bonaventura; Castillejo, Higuain, Borini (Suso 46)
Betis: Pau Lopez; Mandi, Bartra, Sidnei; Barragan, Lo Celso, William Carvalho (Feddal 92), Canales, Junior Firpo; Sergio Leon (Tello 66), Sanabria (Moron 79)
Ref: Nijhuis (NED)
Sent off: Castillejo 94 (M)