Tottenham Hotspur FC 0, AC Milan 0: Don't Stop Me Now

After an incredibly tense and scoreless 90 minutes in North London, Milan are through to the Champions League Quarterfinals. The single goal scored early at the San Siro was enough for us to qualify for the next round for the first time since the 2011-12 season. If you did not watch the game, you might think that Milan simply sat back and defended, but you would be wrong. They attacked whenever possible and played with an intensity that was true to Milan's Champions League DNA. They absolutely deserved to go through, and at the end of the match the celebrations were beautiful to watch. After proving the naysayers wrong last year with the Scudetto win, Milan are once again exceeding expectations. Don't stop me now.

They worked hard for this, but they also thank their fans, who stood by them

Let me start by saying that I was disappointed by Pioli's choice to start Krunić instead of Bennacer and Messias instead of Saelemaekers. Was he just mocking Conte? I mean, I could see an argument for both choices, but Bennacer and Saelemaekers would still win that argument every time. Plus, Messias was on a yellow card, and now he left the pitch after having pulled up with an injury, making Saelemaekers an obvious choice in hindsight as well. (We had one half of one match with a completely healthy squad.)

I think I speak for all Milan fans when I say we all want to hug Maignan right now

But it really did not matter who started, this team was ready for it. Our defense was rock solid. Maignan was absolutely phenomenal in only his third game back from over five months out with injury. And according to Conte's press conference, our attack was far superior to his attack. Although our attacking three only make a combined €9 million in wages per year, compared to Spurs' attack, who get paid €29 million in wages annually altogether. So if he is right, then his players are really, truly, severely underperforming. 

Speaking of underperforming, Conte's European journey continued. He is getting paid €15 million per year, managing a squad worth €135 million in annual wages. Pioli only makes €4 million per year, and Milan's total wage bill is only €88 million. The first thing Conte talked about in his press conference was how his players underperformed. The first thing Pioli did was praise his players. Kind of like when Inter won the Scudetto, Conte dedicated it to himself, while Pioli thanked everyone from the top of the organization all the way to the fans when Milan won. There is a definite difference, and it made a difference tonight.

One instills faith in his players, the other instills fear. There is a difference.

Besides, Conte must have forgotten about Messias' woeful misses, such as the 1v1 chance from the free kick routine in the 18th minute that even Saelemaekers would have buried. Or the one in the 30th that sent the ball into the stands. Yes, Milan took five more shots than Tottenham, but both goalkeepers were only credited with three saves apiece. Conte probably forgot because he was so upset about getting a yellow card for dissent within the first 25 minutes of the game.

It was the 56th minute that Messias pulled up and Saelemaekers was pulled off the bench without any warning or warmup. Hopefully, Messias' injury was nothing, because I like the comfort of having zero injuries. Maignan made a massive save on Højbjerg in the 64th minute. In the 73rd, Richarlison made a very poor life decision by body slamming Maignan and knocking him over. Sure, Langlet got away with that nonsense vs. Tatarusanu in the first leg, but Maignan practices boxing before breakfast for entertainment purposes. And Thiaw was not happy about it, either, and made that very clear in a tackle on the Brazilian just a minute later. 

They'll defend not only our goal, but our goalkeeper, too

But it was Romero who made the most regrettable life choice in the 77th, with a very dangerous foul on a full speed Theo Hernández. Both players required treatment, and Romero took so long that Turpin finally stopped waiting for him to get up and went over and showed him his cards while he was still down. Ouch. Mind you, Turpin, an excellent referee who reffed last year's Champions League final, had not shown a red card in Europe at all this season. But Romero, who for all intents and purposes should have been sent off in the first leg, made it impossible for the referee to keep the red card in his pocket, and Spurs were down to ten men.

Pioli went in for the kill in the 81st minute, relieving poor Giroud, who had been ill with the flu this week, and taking off Brahim Díaz as well, while bringing on Origi and Bennacer to replace them. Things got even more tense, as a single goal for Spurs would have sent the match into extra time or worse. But it was in stoppage time that things got really intense.

Origi came the closest to scoring, hitting the post in stoppage time

Thiaw received Milan's only yellow card in the 93rd minute for a technical foul on Højbjerg. From that resulting free kick, Maignan had an epic lightning reflex save on a header from Harry Kane that kept us in the game. Theo cleared that, ran it down the pitch, sent it in for a wide open Origi, who hit the post. It was the most nailbiting 30 seconds of the match. But just a couple of minutes later, Milan breathed a sigh of relief as Turpin blew the final whistle.

Despite not scoring in this match, they were through. Pioli jumped into the air. The players erupted with joy. The traveling fans were rewarded for their long march through the bitterly cold, wet streets of London. It felt like some kind of miracle, and yet those players sweat blood to get here. After last season's refereeing debacles and group of death scenario upon their return to the Champions League, they absolutely deserved this.

Keeping their feet on the ground

Both Pioli and all of the players, while obviously ecstatic, kept their feet on the ground and expressed their desire to keep this level of play going in Serie A. Wise and humble words after a disappointing loss to Fiorentina on Saturday. While they will have until Monday to recover, I love that they are already channeling the positive energy toward the next match. Partying tonight, sure, but keeping their eyes on all of the prizes. Don't stop me now.

This post inspired by the music of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 26
Milan vs. Salernitana
Monday, March 13, 2023 • 20:45 CET (3:45pm EST*)
*Note the time difference due to Daylight Savings Time in the U.S.

Tottenham Hotspur FC 0, AC Milan 0: Don't Stop Me Now Tottenham Hotspur FC  0, AC Milan 0: Don't Stop Me Now Reviewed by Elaine on 11:57 PM Rating: 5
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