Celtic 1, Milan 3: Proving Grounds

Going into this match, Milan had some injury concerns. We knew we were missing Rebic and Calhanoglu, for example, two important pieces in our starting lineup. We also knew that we had exciting young players on the bench who were looking for some playing time. But would they be enough in an important match? Is young talent enough? Could they stay focused and mentally strong in a European match? Tonight, our young players were at the heart of a deserved victory, a match won with both talent and mentality as Milan made Celtic Park their proving grounds.


Ahead of the match, @OptaPaolo tweeted that Milan have played the youngest average squad in the top five European Leagues this season. In this match specifically, we had four 21 year-olds starting, with the already veteran Gigio Donnarumma, as well as Brahim Diaz, Sandro Tonali, and with his Milan debut, Diogo Dalot. While their performances varied, this was an important move for Pioli. Not only for the lack of availability of other, more experienced players, but to allow some players to rest for Monday's match and to test the overall mentality of the squad.

In recent years, barring our undeniable first keeper, this would have been a recipe for disaster. And while some people, masquerading as Milan fans, decided to put Tonali's head on the chopping block for a performance that was less than their perfect scenario, Pioli wisely paired him with the indomitable Kessie as the younger player was schooled by a hungry Celtic squad. Bennacer replaced Kessie with 25 minutes left, but that was a fantastic learning opportunity for the young Italian to learn from both of them, while allowing each of them a little rest, too.

Laxalt shoving his replacement, but the wrath of Ibrahimovic lurks in the background

Dalot had some big shoes to fill with Calabria turning in some fantastic performances lately, even leading Serie A in tackles won per match. Dalot had the annoying task of trying to stop some little Uruguayan with braids, a player fallen from grace, who seemed to think he had something to prove against the club who owns him. My favorite part of that matchup was when Dalot had both Laxalt's shirt and shorts in his hands to try to stop him, gratefully receiving only a warning from the Slovenian referee. I felt like this was a good way for Dalot to prove himself, so he can be prepared when he faces real players.

The deadlock was broken, however, by Milan's 27 year-old Krunic, in the 14th minute, from a Castillejo cross. 1-0 Milan. Krunic was a bit of a surprise start ahead of players who fans deemed more talented or deserving, but his brilliant header, beating two defenders, shut all of us up. Well, except for the part where we were jumping up and down and screaming at the fantastic opening goal. 

Proving why Pioli both kept him and started him tonight

The lead was doubled just before the half, when Brahim Diaz, one of our other young players being tested, took a perfectly placed, perfectly paced little cross from fellow former Real Madrid player, Theo Hernandez, and then skillfully sent it around two defenders and past the goalkeeper. 2-0 Milan. Brahim Diaz had probably the strongest performance of the three newest young players in this match. He seems very talented and determined, I hope we see plenty more of him.

The second half saw two more goals, and all five yellow cards of the match. The first went to Laxalt, for attempting to return some of the more skillful tackles Castillejo had imposed upon him in the first half. Of the players still at Milan, Tonali, Gigio, and Saelemaekers each were awarded cards as well. The Celtic goal was scored by substitute Elyounoussi in the 76th, a goal I feel we would not have conceded had Kessie not been having a much needed rest at that point. 2-1 Milan. 

Papa Ibra is proud of Brahim

For me, the final goal was the part where I kind of lost my mind. Not only because it was in the final minute of stoppage time, but also because it was a great goal, with some seriously painful collateral damage for the poor Celtic players. Jens Petter Hauge, another 21 year-old, who had replaced Brahim Diaz just ten minutes earlier, scored his first goal for Milan to make it 3-1 Milan and seal the match. 

He is the only Milan player to score both for and against Milan in the Europa League this season, having scored against us with his former team Bødo/Glimt in qualifying. This goal also sealed the test of Milan's strength for me, with 21 games now unbeaten, scoring that third showed that we are not just on a lucky streak. Our mentality is strong, we have the talent, and much of it is in our young players, too. A perfect way to truly rebuild Milan. Finally.

Hauge celebration, Celtic annihilation

Celtic certainly had their chances. Despite Milan having 54% possession, we only took six shots, with the three on target. Celtic, on the other hand, took 13 shots, with only two on target and the single goal. While Milan did not play our best, we gave our young players great opportunities to learn and grow against an opponent that challenged us, while still playing enough core players to not risk losing points in our first group stage match. Pioli just keeps looking better and better as our coaching choice with his wisdom and most of all, the impressive mentality and sense of unity in the squad. This game was the perfect test of our youth and strength, the perfect proving grounds.

This post inspired by the music of Sneaker Pimps' "Six Underground"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 5
Milan vs. Roma
Monday, October 26 • 20:45 CET (3:45pm EDT)*
*note the difference in time due to the end of European Daylight Savings Time

Celtic 1, Milan 3: Proving Grounds Celtic 1, Milan 3: Proving Grounds Reviewed by Elaine on 10:33 PM Rating: 5
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