Mere hours before kick-off, it was confirmed that talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic had tested positive for the Coronavirus. The Swede had heavily influenced the upturn in fortunes of the San Siro club, scoring three of their four goals this season, but now the team faced a determined Norwegian outfit looking to have their say.
To make matters worse, Ante Rebic was also suspended, so 18-year-old Lorenzo Colombo had to lead the attack. After months of dependence on Zlatan, others needed to step up for Milan...
The Norwegians had a clear idea of where they would attack, and it was down the Diavolo's right side, as the opening goal came from that tactic. In the space of 15 minutes, Gigio Donnarumma was tested and then Bodo/Glimt put the ball into his net.
A quick counter left Davide Calabria (who has improved in recent times) exposed and tucked infield, forcing Franck Kessie to chase, however the Ivorian's best efforts were futile. Kasper Junker finished off the move and Milan were behind.
How would the Rossoneri respond? Would they buckle under the weight of expectations as favourites or respond despite being short-handed?
One of the players among several that have vastly improved in recent times is Hakan Calhanoglu. The Turk joined Milan with a sterling reputation and was handed the club's much vaunted Number 10 shirt. It has taken him some time, but he has slowly started to repay the faith that has been bestowed upon him.
It was Calhanoglu who levelled matters with a lovely turn and shot just 60 seconds after his team had conceded. What was noticeable was how Hakan did not overthink or second guess himself on the play. He had full confidence in his ability to score from all of 20 yards out, even with his weaker left foot.
Milan had the equaliser and now it was time for them to assert their influence. They started putting more pressure on Bodo/Glimt backline and not allow them to just pass the ball out with any sort of comfort. The pressing on the opposition has been a staple of recent Rossoneri performances. That caused all sorts of havoc for the team in yellow, as Ismael Bennacer, Colombo and Calhanoglu again came close to giving their team the lead.
It seemed only a matter of time till Milan would make their increase in intensity and quick pass and movement play would pay dividends. It did on the half-hour mark. At just 18 years old and starting his first senior game, Colombo was given the task of replacing Ibra in the line-up and got his name on the score-sheet to mark the occasion.
A lovely move down the left involving Alexis Saelemaekers and Theo Hernandez exchanging passes, the ball was nonchalantly flicked to the far post by Calhanoglu and Colombo was there to apply the finish. His dad Angelo Colombo, who played in Arrigo Sacchi's legendary Milan team, must have been proud.
The coach Stefano Pioli has definitely devised several different methods of scoring by his team and a move straight from the training ground gave Milan a two-goal cushion. Samu Castillejo was largely mediocre on Thursday night, but he at least managed to serve a sumptuous cross to Calhanoglu, who's first time finish left the Bodo/Glimt defence bemused as it rattled the net.
The visitors would not be deterred however in their pursuit of an upset and star man Jens Petter Hauge hit a bullet of a right-footed shot that left Donnarumma with no chance. After that goal, the match became much more even and the result in doubt to the very end.
Milan seemed to be in two minds, whether to push forward guns blazing in search of a fourth goal to kill off the match or hold on to what they already had. The latter seemed to be favoured as the match progressed, as Bodo/Glimt got more and more possession of the ball. At one point, it was 70-30 in favour of Milan, but for the last 15 minutes, it was basically an even hold of the ball and that spelled potential danger for Milan.
After an exchange of chances as Saelemaekers had an effort cleared off the line and Donnarumma had to get down low to save one-handed from a header on a free-kick, the away side gave Milan an almighty scare. Hague was at the centre of all that was good about his team and he carried the ball 10 yards and set up Ulrik Saltnes inside the Milan box, who fired over. A let-off for Milan.
The victory can be viewed as a point of growth of this team, as despite missing several key players, they got the job done. More difficult tasks are on the horizon and the players may well look back at that Bodo/Glimt game as a reference point on overcoming tough hurdles. This team may well have been inspired by Ibrahimovic, but it is not entirely dependent on him.
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