AC Milan 3, GNK Dinamo Zagreb 1: All Grown Up

Milan's return to the Champions League last season was marred by inexperience, refereeing controversy and a true Group of Death, featuring Liverpool, Atlético Madrid, and FC Porto. This season got off to a nervy start with a 1-1 draw away to Salzburg, producing four different yellow cards for Milan players, as well. But playing the first home Champions League match of the season, despite hosting a surprising GNK Dinamo Zagreb, Milan showed how much they've grown by closing out the 3-1 win. We also go to see a very special debut goal from a Milan youth product who has dutifully completed two loan spells and is finally back where he belongs. That's right, Tommaso Pobega is all grown up.

Our Milan Youth players are all grown up

Milan won their first home game in the Champions League in nine years, one of many firsts in nine years, actually. Following Abate's Milan Primavera 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb's U19 team earlier in the day, which put them at the top of their UEFA Youth League group, Milan followed suit, ending the evening at the top of Group E as well. Even better that the team were able to share the win with over 61,000 fans at the San Siro. 

Epic night at the San Siro

The first half was relatively tense. While Milan dominated play and created a lot of shots, including five on target, Dinamo defended with the same intensity that allowed them to sit back after scoring a single goal vs. Chelsea last week, giving them their epic win. Milan's efforts included shots from Tonali, Leão, multiple shots from Giroud, Bennacer with a rocket, Brahim Díaz, and a surprising shot on target from Saelemaekers.

Fate, aka Šutalo, intervenes directly on Leão's ankle

Fate intervened just before halftime, nearly intervening on Leão's health, too. He was clipped from behind just barely, but very painfully, by Šutalo just inside the box. Manzano, the referee, did not even hesitate to award Milan the penalty, which was confirmed by a silent VAR check. Giroud stepped up to take it and converted it with confidence, 1-0 Milan. This was his first Champions League goal for Milan, even better to score it at home in front of all of the fans.

Giroud makes no mistake from the spot... again

After securing the point for Milan last week, Pioli invited Saelemaekers to speak at the prematch press conference on Tuesday. So obviously, he had to go to the salon and post it on Instagram. Whatever chemicals they used though, they need to use ahead of every Champions League match, because not even two minutes into the second half, on a perfect assist scooped in from Leão, the Belgian headed another goal in for Milan. 2-0 Milan. Just to put that into perspective, according to OptaPaolo, the last Milan player to score a goal on the first two Champions League match days was Zlatan Ibrahimović in the 2010-11 season. I need whatever chemicals they are using for Saelemaekers' hair, too. 

It's all about the salon time

Not long after that, Leão repaid Šutalo with a little stamp on his foot. Whether it was intentional or not, luckily, Manzano was not handing out cards tonight. Except to Pioli, who got one just a couple of minutes later for dissent, probably upset about him not giving out cards, because it was getting pretty rough. On the flip side, having no Milan players get cards in this one helped to even out the four different cards from the first match. Five minutes after Pioli's card, Milan conceded. But it at least it wasn't some lame, scrappy goal. Petković masterfully managed the ball and threaded through a perfect assist, despite being surrounded by Milan players, and Oršić slotted it past Maignan just inside the far post, no way he could do anything about it. 2-1 Milan. 

Maignan at full stretch, but Oršić's effort was too much

The fouls continued to pile up without any corresponding cards, shockingly in some circumstances. Then Pioli began the substitutions, replacing Tonali with Pobega and resting Giroud while bringing on De Ketelaere. I guess the plan was to try the young Belgian out in the false nine position, an experiment that was not terribly successful. In the 75th, Manzano finally handed out a card, but it was apparently for simulation. Oršić had actually shoved Bennacer, and fallen over with his efforts, just outside of the box, looking for a call. The referee rewarded him with a card instead. An odd choice of cautions if you had seen all of the fouls, but I wasn't complaining.

Leão with "only" the assist for his efforts in this one

Then it happened. Theo Hernández sent the ball in for Pobega, and he slammed it in, ricocheting down from the inside of the crossbar and out of reach of Livaković. 3-1 Milan. After having been told he would be in the first team two summers in a row, then sent out on loan at the last minute, first to Spezia, then to Torino, the former Milan youth player scored a dream goal on the biggest stage, and immediately went to hug fellow Milan youth product and now captain, Calabria. I'm not going to lie, I teared up, it was such an emotional moment for a player who had kept his head down and worked hard and finally was able to realize his dream for all of us. So nice to see Tommaso all grown up. 

This is your moment, kid. You've earned it.

Pioli brought on Messias, Dest, and Krunić, who was returning from injury, in the 78th for Saelemaekers, Brahim Díaz, and Bennacer, who would receive UEFA's Man of the Match award for his performance. In a humorous moment, the 5'9" (1.75m) Dest took some sort of issue with Dinamo's keeper, Livaković, and shoved him. Manzano gave him a scolding, which may or may not have included some sort of health warning to pick on someone his own size, considering how much larger the keeper is. Dinamo sub Marin elbowed Calabria in the face, seemingly maliciously, right about the end of regulation, but was only given a yellow, although the Milan captain required some treatment.

All grown up.

Overall, it was clear to see that this Milan side have matured considerably since their first Champions League outing last year, and that the mentality Pioli has instilled is rock solid, even at the highest level. Dinamo fought well, but Milan's slight advantage in quality combined with the advantage of playing at the San Siro and with such a powerful belief in themselves and one another made all the difference. Milan proved that they are all grown up.

This post inspired by the music of AC/DC's "Back in Black"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 7
Milan vs. Napoli
Sunday, September 18 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)

AC Milan 3, GNK Dinamo Zagreb 1: All Grown Up AC Milan 3, GNK Dinamo Zagreb 1: All Grown Up Reviewed by Elaine on 11:00 PM Rating: 5
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