Champions League Group Stage • FC Salzburg vs. AC Milan: Commitment to Youth

Milan head back to Austria, the site of their summer ritiro, but this time to Salzburg to begin their Champions League campaign. This trip will not be about riding bicycles through the countryside, though. Red Bull Salzburg are the Austrian Champions, and also made it through their Champions League Group Stage last season (albeit in a group of Sevilla, Lille, and Wolfsburg, compared to our group of death.) But the most amazing thing about Red Bull Salzburg is that they are a selling club, devoted to finding young talent and developing them, then selling them for a profit. By young, I mean that they fielded a team with an average age of 21.8 years of age already this season. Even their coach is only 34 years old. Now that is a commitment to youth.

These guys are ancient compared to Salzburg's side

Milan actually have a history with Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League Group Stage, a history that is older than almost all of their players. In 1994, when their manager, Matthias Jaissle, was only six years old, Milan defeated Salzburg 1-0 to move on to the knockout round in the Champions League. Only two of their current players were even born when that match was played, a match Maldini himself featured in. For the record, Salzburg are now known as FC Salzburg in the Champions League for sponsorship reasons.

This season, Red Bull Salzburg are again at the top of the Austrian League, having won six of their seven matches. Their most recent victory was a 2-0 win over WSG Tirol on Saturday. For that match, Jaissle lined up Köhn; Ulmer, Wöber, Solet, Dedić; Seiwald; Kjærgaard, Capaldo; Kameri; Okafor, and Fernando. Fernando has been their most impactful signing of the summer, coming in from Shakhtar Donetsk. Of those on his Champions League list, Jaissle has a number of players out injured, including Luka Sučić, Van der Brempt, Koita, Piatkowski, and Omoregie. 

Fernando making an impact quickly in Salzburg

Pioli will be missing Ibrahimović, Krunić, Florenzi, and Rebić, which helps bring the average age of his squad down significantly, but Milan's "young" squad seems geriatric in comparison to Red Bull Salzburg's side. In fact, of all of the players used so far by Pioli this season, our average age is 25.3 years. And Pioli is technically old enough to be Jaissle's father, too. This one will be kind of strange, we are used to being the youngest side.

Speaking of Pioli, he had to make some very difficult decisions on Friday in regards to his Champions League Group Stage list. Milan are lacking enough "home grown" talent (Italians, basically,) and so our squad size will be limited to onlß 23 players, with stipulations regarding the nationalities of those players. Ultimately, he had to cut: Tatarusanu, Vranckx, Thiaw, Adli, Ibrahimović, and Bakayoko from the Group Stage list. Ironically, we limited our own squad by our transfer strategies, whereas other teams will see their squad size limited by financial indiscretions.

Adli possibly the most disappointing omission, but is too redundant at his position

Mirante was chosen over Tatarusanu because he is Italian, and the third goalkeeeper spot was given to Jungdahl, who could be on the List B, which is made up of younger players registered with the club for two years or more and is unlimited, and can actually change during the Group Stage. Ibrahimović was obviously not going to be available due to injury, and while Florenzi is unlikely to make it back before the end of the Group Stage, being Italian, adding him to the list did not take a spot that anyone else could occupy, so he made the list. Unfortunately, however, there were not enough spots for foreign players for our new arrivals Vranckx, Thiaw, and Adli. Dest was added because of depth due to Florenzi's injury, and Bakayoko is not considered to be in Pioli's plans.

The real Champions League news was Milan's settlement agreement, which was also released last week. Milan agreed to a €2 million fine, to be deducted from earnings this season, and were given a three year plan in which they are required to stay within UEFA's sustainability requirements or else be given a further fine of up to €13 million more. This is not harsh, and considering Gazidis' initial year of spending, is actually a huge relief. Milan are also well on their way to meeting these new requirements, unlike the other Italian clubs sanctioned, so I am not worried.

Times were much easier for Pioli the last time he was in Austria

However, when you put it into the context of the agreements/sanctions that other clubs did or did not receive, it is about as fair as Cüneyt Çakir's reffing of our home match vs. Atletico Madrid last season (and even UEFA suspended him.) Milan took it in stride of course, releasing a classy statement accepting the agreement. Perhaps this was an effort to quell the anger of passionate fans like me, but it did not work. I'm done with UEFA. They may have even taken the "fair" out of their Financial Fair Play so as not to confuse the layman, but even pretending to be just by meting out sanctions somewhat equitably would go a long way to prevent accusations of corruption. They cannot even bother to do that.

Back to the game at hand, however. The team are traveling to Austria to face a young but challenging FC Salzburg side. On paper, Milan actually may have the upper hand here. Salzburg's captain Andreas Ulmer admitted to seeing videos of Leão, but experiencing Leão in person is an entirely different situation. Not that this match is a guaranteed win by any means. For one, Milan are likely to be burdened with their away kit, which they have yet to win in or even play well in (maybe the third competitive time's a charm?) Plus, Salzburg are actually quite good, and their commitment to youth is more than admirable.

This post inspired by the music of Muse's "Time is Running Out"

Our next match is 
Champions League Group Stage
FC Salzburg vs. AC Milan
Tuesday, September 6 • 21:00 CEST (3pm EDT)
This match can be streamed LIVE on Paramount+ in the U.S.

UEFA Youth League
FC Salzburg U19 vs. AC Milan Primavera
Tuesday, September 6 • 15:00 CEST (9am EDT)
This match is NOT being shown in the U.S.

Champions League Group Stage • FC Salzburg vs. AC Milan: Commitment to Youth Champions League Group Stage • FC Salzburg vs. AC Milan: Commitment to Youth Reviewed by Elaine on 8:30 AM Rating: 5
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