Friday September 25 2020
More to Milan than Ibrahimovic

Milan entered the Europa League match against Bodo/Glimt severely under-strength, but proved they can win even without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, writes Vijay Rahaman.

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.

Have your say...
@R.G i'd love to see more u21 players get a run but the reality is managers don't have time, you have to win every game or your job is at risk. You have to choose proven players and take less risks as 5-6 teams are going for top 4. Loan young players out to lower teams and if they do well recall them like with Gabbia - still think he would have benefited going out on 1 more load this season. Buying 3-4 squad players & 1 right attacking midfielder is a must given the number of games we have
on the 27th September, 2020 at 12:56pm
@pauly: that's what reserve team (U-21 team) used for. Italian coach need to trust more on their academy players. No need to spend money to buy some back up. That way, Italian clubs can save a lot of money and a very good plan to increase value of young players.
on the 27th September, 2020 at 6:57am
@ACM Northern voice actually everything I have said is based on facts. We need a squad. Everyone knows we are in the market for a CB. We currently have no reserve CB. Castilleo in RM is weak. Since Suso left we haven't replaced him. Reserve CM is Tonali. Bakayoko is a better fit that Krunic and has played at Milan. Players may get Corona too. If Ibrahimovic gets injured we will be in serious trouble. Calabria is doing ok just about. You don't agree we need a reserve CB, CM, RM and Striker?
on the 26th September, 2020 at 5:47pm
Sounds like Mirabelli`s vision - more signings = more quality.
on the 26th September, 2020 at 10:13am
There was a time when we had 3-4 world class strikers. Yes times are different but Milan desperately need 5 signings as current players can't play every 3 days. The spine needs reinforcement - a CB, a CM, a CF, plus a RB and RW. Reasonable players are Nastasic/Nacho, Bakayoko, Jovic. I'm not convinced on chiesa, price is too high, Hauge played well against us and showed he can go past players, a similiar investment is needed on the right. If we want to make top 4 we need to boost the squad.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 7:57pm
To win a game like this after Calabria and Gabbia abysmal displays, says a lot of what Calhanoglu is doing at the moment. We need a right back PRONTO! And another CB to rotate Romagnoli and Kjaer. None of the current backup CBs are trustful
on the 25th September, 2020 at 3:15pm
@Chris, yes starting RW is a weak spot right now. But given our budget and other needs (CB depth) I'm not sure it will be address in this window. I think between Saelemaekers and Samu there is just enough for 4th and EL. But if we make it into the CL then next summer for sure there needs to be an upgrade. I have a feeling we'll get Chiesa then, and finally at a fair price, because his contract will be up in 2022. I also have a feeling Belotti will arrive for CF, as his contract is up in 22 also.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 2:58pm
Saelemakers and Samu dont convince me at all. With Rebic back the left side wont be a problem as we saw against Bologna but the right side is non existing. Samu was not visible so far this season except for some mistakes.
In my opinion Calabria improved alot in recent games and thats why we shouldnt focus on that position for the reminder of the transter window but we should try for chiesa at all costs.
Especially as Fiorentina tries to sell him.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 2:53pm
I liked Alexis’s contributions. Tonali seems a bit nervous/unsure when he plays but he probably just needs time to settle. The MOTM was definitely Hakan as he is finally playing consistently. I was always critical of the Turk as while talented he would disappear from games and not contribute consistently but since the start of the year he’s been on another level. Good for him and good for Milan. Milan management needs to address the gaping hole that Zlatan leaves sooner than later though.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 2:23pm
Samu isn’t playing well enough to be a regular starter - he starting to malaise like Suso used to. Throughout the match I was wanting to see Diaz play on the left with Alexis on the right. Milan was shaky at the start but responded well. But after scoring 3 relaxed a bit too much and allowed the Norwegians back into the game, especially after their second goal. They need to remain mentally sharp throughout games especially now that Rebic is out another EL game and Ibra is out for two weeks.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 2:20pm

You seem clueless.

You mentioned 2 out of 10 players, excluding Donnarumma.

We missed 1/5 starters or 20% of our starters, and the 2 most important ones. Yeah that is a severely under strength.

Pioli is UNBEATEN in 16 games, appreciate that instead.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 1:40pm
I think Saelemakers is at his best when he's feeding players overlapping him, other than that I think he's a really weak player - Physically and mentally - but that will improve over time. Samu has no excuse, the amount of times he fails to make a simple pass to an overlapping player is shocking because it takes all of the potency out of an attack and then leaves us exposed at RB when we lose the ball. I don't think he's playing well enough to hold that RW spot at the moment.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 11:38am
@anon2020 Not under strength you say? Missing "just" Ibra and Rebic and some CBs? One of the darnedest things I've ever read. Milan wqs Missing "only" their top 2 top scorers and Captain. I'd love to see Liverpool play without Salah and Mane and Van dijk
on the 25th September, 2020 at 11:00am
the field. That was always the key. Milan never got together as a team for an extended period. Numerous transfers arrived late in preseason and had to learn on the go. I’ve been critical of some of the transfers overall I think we’ve come through the transfer window relatively unscathed. Still weak on the right but we’ll see what Saelemaekers can do. All in all. There’s a lot to be happy about. For now.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 9:56am
Of course there’s more to it than Ibra. Ibra has definitely brought swagger and confidence, and lethal finishing, and incredible hold up play, but it’s the tightness of the team that has made the difference. Players playing in the same team, in the same position, with the same team mates, in the same system, doing the same thing, every 3 days for months - that is what Milan needed. This level of football is automatic. There’s no room for learning. The lockdown gave them the chance to learn off.
on the 25th September, 2020 at 9:53am
what severely under strength lol?

Was just missing CBs Rebic and Ibra, need a better showing than that

Pioli also barely rotates, players are gonna get tired at this rate
on the 25th September, 2020 at 9:41am

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