AC Milan 1, Red Star Belgrade 1: Losing Our Minds

After nearly a year of blissful winning, Milan have hit a mental wall. Which seems to have in turn made a lot of Milan fans mental. This match was hard fought, Red Star did not make it easy. But in the end, that second away goal last week made the difference. Despite another less than stellar performance, Milan are in the Round of 16. The lack of the intensity and focus that got us to this point is still missing, though. It seems that Milan are losing their minds.

Don't show the pitchfork crew

Honestly, I don't think I would have been sad if Milan would have gone out of the Europa League. That would probably be our best chance of catching Inter, since they exited Europe in the group stage. Also, because I would like to cancel my CBS All NO Access subscription, after they couldn't even manage to show the first 30 minutes of this match live. The commentator for this match literally announced the substitution of Rebic on for Krunic at the half, but for the first 8 minutes, still mistook Rebic for Krunic. It was just one of those days.

The match itself was a battle, and well fought by Red Star. Milan weren't their worst, but lacked that mental intensity as we have seen lately. Red Star gifted Milan a penalty in the 7th minute, after Gobelic handled the ball. That was crucial later, as well, as the player would get a second card and be sent off. Kessie stepped up and converted the penalty as he does. 1-0 Milan, 3-2 on aggregate. In a class move, Kessie honored Willy Ta Bi after his goal, a youth player from his former club, Atalanta, who lost a battle with cancer this week.

Touching tribute

Red Star would have a Ben goal called back for a Pankov handball at the other end, that makes a three goal difference across the two legs for Milan for Pankov, he was our top player in this tie. But Ben did not settle for that, on a fast break, he beat Romagnoli to score. 1-1 all. 3-3 on aggregate. The Milan pitchfork fans are building a cross to crucify Romagnoli, but very few defenders would have been able to shut that shot down. Or stop Lukaku. Or do whatever else these entitled people expect him to do as both a defender and a captain, despite having played with five different center back partners tin 26 matches. It's honestly so disgusting. Milan fans have lost their minds.

Clearly wanting the result, Pioli put both Ibrahimovic and Rebic on at halftime. Their quality was immediately evident, but without someone like Bennacer or Tonali in the midfield, they were running the full length of the pitch and carrying the team on their experienced shoulders. In fact, Ibrahimovic cleared a couple of shots himself in front of goal. If you had an expensive watch, and replaced one of the parts with an inferior part, the watch would not be the same. This is true of putting Meite in the midfield instead of a talented midfielder. Meite is one foul away from a red card at any moment. And while his defensive abilities and athleticism can be helpful, his passing is poor, and his playmaking skills are completely lacking.

Super save from the Birthday Boy

More than any defensive errors that pitchfork-wielding fans are losing sleep over, I think that playmaker was the piece Milan missed most in this match. Well, that and the mentality. Both teams took 16 shots, but Milan had four on target and were still more deserving of a result. Gigio Donnarumma, on his birthday, had a super save in the 68th to keep Milan in the game. After Gobelic got a second yellow for a nasty foul on Calhanoglu in the 70th, Red Star once again found themselves on ten men. Saelemaekers scored a goal in the 74th after a great play that included Ibrahimovic and Rebic, but it was called back for the Swede's giant foot being offside.

The irony was that in stoppage time, the referee awarded a corner to Red Star in the final seconds. However, after looking at his watch, he instead blew the whistle for full time without allowing them to take the corner. After being falsely awarded a corner last week by a ref error, and scoring on that corner, their protests only made this call more delicious.

Does Pioli have answers? Or has he reached his mental and tactical limit?

Speaking of irony, Pioli's strength is mentality. We saw the difference he made upon arrival, and the reinforcement of mentality that came along with the more experienced players just over a year ago. It shouldn't be a surprise that after battling through the epic injury and COVID-19 crisis this season, this young team have lost something in intensity. Often it is after the crisis that we see the mental impact, and that seems to be the case now. We also know that Pioli's tactics are pretty limited, and that is showing now, too. Teams know exactly how we will play, and so there are rumors of a possible tactical change in the works.

This is not the way that we wanted to go through, but for better or for worse, Milan are through. We will at least know our Round of 16 opponent shortly, with the draw scheduled for Friday at 13:00 CET. But with the big match against Roma looming on Sunday, using so many starters so much today in a match where their mentality was once again exposed is not encouraging. On the pitch, players have lost something in mentality. Off the pitch, fans are literally losing their minds.

This post inspired by the music of Muse's "Psycho"

Our Europa League Round of 16 opponent is Manchester United

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 24
Roma vs. Milan
Sunday, February 28 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)

AC Milan 1, Red Star Belgrade 1: Losing Our Minds AC Milan 1, Red Star Belgrade 1: Losing Our Minds Reviewed by Elaine on 11:32 PM Rating: 5
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