AC Milan fell by a goal at home to Manchester United, bowing out of the Europa League Round of 16 with an aggregate score of 2-1. It’s important to acknowledge that Milan weren’t dealt an ideal hand with the tsunami of injuries that came their way over the past couple of months, but they had plenty of chances to win this match and move forward. Here are three costly mistakes AC Milan made during their Europa League clash with the Red Devils:
Three Costly Mistakes AC Milan Made Against Manchester United in the Europa League
Deploying Rade Krunic as a Winger
The first of three costly mistakes AC Milan made was playing Rade Krunic as a winger. He previously had a couple of strong outings as an attacking midfielder while filling in for the injured Hakan Calhangolu. Typically a central midfielder, it was a surprise that Krunic adapted well. In this match, however, he was deployed as a winger. Simply put, Krunic does not have the pace, dribbling ability, or creativity to make an impact in that position.
He’s a good option to have in the game when trying to maintain a lead, but he should’ve been replaced as soon as Paul Pogba netted a goal for United. Brahim Diaz struggled in the first leg but should have seen more game time when Milan needed a goal. Diaz won’t offer much in tracking back, but his natural instinct is to create and take shots at goal. Starting Krunic on the wing was questionable from the start, and the performance proved exactly why.
AC Milan Waited Too Long to Substitute Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Milan’s attacking formation entering the game was very uninspiring. In their defence, the majority of the attackers were out injured and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had just returned to training after being unavailable for an extended period. Samu Castillejo started as a ‘false nine,’ and although he wasn’t invisible during the match, plenty of chances were squandered in the first half.
Ibrahimovic should have come on as soon as the second half started as United did with Pogba. United made the right choice, as Pogba scored within three minutes of coming into the game. Ibrahimovic would have kept the pressure on United’s defence which would not have allowed them to have their way for the first 20 minutes of the second half.
The Swede also had a fantastic chance to score, but his header was blocked by an outstanding save from Dean Henderson. If given more time, Ibrahimovic would have certainly come up with another similar chance or two.
His game impact, as well as his leadership, was sorely needed as soon as halftime hit. Manager Stefano Pioli should have shifted Castillejo onto the wing over Krunic at halftime, and allowed Ibrahimovic to enter the game. The failure to do so cost his side.
Failure to Make Any Midfield Substitutions
Franck Kessie is a dominant force in the midfield for Milan and was never going to be substituted off. His partner in the midfield double pivot, Soualiho Meïté, should have been replaced. Meïté had a strong game in terms of defensive plays and being calm on the ball. With that being said, he didn’t offer much when Milan desperately needed a goal.
Two creative midfielders were on Milan’s bench – Ismael Bennacer and Sandro Tonali. Bennacer is one of the most intelligent players on Milan’s squad. He also just returned from injury, but the thought of match fitness should have been put aside in the second half for a knockout game.
If Pioli knew something fans didn’t, regarding Bennacer’s health, Tonali should have come in. The young Italian is transitioning into the squad quite nicely. His play has been picking up lately, and he could’ve whipped in several balls into the box for Ibrahimovic to finish.
Looking Ahead for AC Milan
Milan are now out of European competition. Their sole focus is on Serie A and they are currently sitting at second in the league. The race for the Scudetto, however, is seemingly over as Inter Milan are ahead of the Rossoneri by nine points.
Second place is by no means a sure thing for Milan, however. Juventus are third, behind Milan by one point, but have a game in hand. Atalanta are also a worry. They’re four points behind, but fresh off exiting the Champions League. All their focus will now go into the league to make the Champions League once again.
Milan play Fiorentina this Sunday before the international break. After that, they have Sampdoria, Parma, and Genoa as the next three matches. The Rossoneri will enter as the favourite in all of these matches, but absolutely none of these opponents are walk-overs.
Eleven matches remain on Milan’s schedule. Every single one is of the utmost importance. Champions League qualification is what Milan need to shift the tide and move back into one of Europe’s elite. They’re paving the road on that path but cannot afford any unexpected potholes. The race is not over.