Stade Rennais FC 3, AC Milan 2: Hospitality

Milan are through to the Europa League Round of 16 by virtue of having gone into this match with a 3-0 win over Rennes last week. So, in spite of Rennes' valiant 3-2 home victory over Milan on Thursday, Milan took the tie with a score of 5-3 on aggregate. In addition to the remarkable fighting spirit and overall strong performance by the seventh place Ligue 1 team that won the match today, though, was an even more remarkable display of hospitality. In stark contrast to the horrible Ultra behavior, and sometimes even warfare with police and rival Ultras that often accompanies European fixtures, Rennes offered Milan fans free galettes-saucisses, a local specialty, ahead of the fixture in France. Rivalry was replaced with beautiful hospitality.

When you still win in a loss.

Rennes also welcomed Milan to Roazhon Park with some fantastic coreografia, and provided a great atmosphere in a packed stadium that seats nearly 30,000 fans. To say they were fantastic hosts would be an understatement. They also did not just roll over and let a big club like Milan take the spot in the Round of 16, either. They came out fighting and never stopped, for which I have immense respect for them.

Rennes provided a proper European night hospitality.

While the pace was immediately frenetic, it was Leão who got the first shot off, forcing Mandanda into making a save. Theate would have to make a big tackle on Leão a few minutes later, too, to stop our number 10 from scoring. But it was Rennes who actually opened up the scoring with a Bourigeaud goal in the 11th minute. 1-0 Rennes. 

Luka Jović, giving Giroud some much needed rest for this one, would answer back in the 22nd minute with a headed goal from a Theo Hernández cross to equalize. 1-1 all. Rennes did not take that lying down, and Maignan was forced to work hard at the other end. By the 32nd minute, Rennes had taken six shots with three on target, while Milan had already taken five shots with two on target. It was like that. 

Jović celebrates a great header.

It was also pretty physical, with referee João Pedro Da Silva Pinheiro of Portugal letting a lot of things slide. That included in the 35th minute, when Theo was already fouled and down near the corner, and Guéla Doué's hand found Theo's face in what appeared to be a quite intentional way. Contrary to what we saw on Sunday in Serie A with Jović, who was shown a red card after VAR reviewed some contact with Izzo in the Monza match, and who will now serve a two match suspension, Guéla Doué walked away with only a Milan free kick to show for his crimes. When they say that the UEFA referees are different than Serie A referees, they are not making it up.

The pitch became a battlefield.

But the violence without calls went both ways, as just after halftime, Musah took a Rennes player down in the box, and Pinheiro did not even consider awarding a penalty. Shots were traded, with Désiré Doué's going just wide, while Mandanda was forced into a save on Leão. Our Viking, Kjaer, being the leader that he is, clearly wanted to deflect from the harsh criticism Thiaw got for conceding a penalty on Sunday. So in the 52nd, he fouled Terrier in the box, forcing Pinheiro to award Rennes a penalty. After VAR confirmed the penalty and awarded Kjaer a yellow card, Bourigeaud stepped up and took a perfect penalty kick to put Rennes ahead once again, 2-1 Rennes. 

Less than five minutes later, however, Leão took matters into his own... feet, and dribbled danced past everyone, including Mandanda, poking it into the goal to equalize once again 2-2 all. In the 62nd minute, Pioli subbed Okafor, Chukwueze, and Loftus-Cheek on for Leão, Pulisic, and Bennacer respectively. While obviously, he would have normally wanted to keep those players on longer if a win were needed, he also did learn a little from last week, that playing on Thursday and again on Sunday makes for some tired players. So he rested a few more starters.

Leão just having fun, at Rennes' expense.

Jović's hands continued getting him into trouble this week, as in the 64th minute, he handled the ball in the box. The play was reviewed by VAR, as the ref did not initially make the call, and after a trip to the monitor to see for himself, a second penalty was awarded to Rennes on the night. And Bourigeaud stepped up to take it again, converting it. Rinse, repeat. 3-2 Rennes. And Bourigeaud got his referee-assisted hat trick.

The Rennes hospitality continued around the 75th minute or so, as behind their goal, their Ultras lit tons of flares, creating a very intimidating atmosphere for Milan players to try to shoot into. And just a few minutes later, Maignan was shown a yellow card, I assume for time wasting, but it could have just been for being so damned badass. Pioli then subbed the much maligned Thiaw on, which, contrary to popular belief, was actually a defensive substitution. That was followed a few minutes later by replacing Florenzi with the young Terracciano for a few minutes.

Thanking the traveling Milan supporters.

The final minutes were spent with Rennes peppering the Milan goal with shots. In all, they would take 24 shots, but only eight were on target. (In contrast, Milan only took eight shots but five were on target.) People are leading with the fact that Milan conceded another three goals, but two were penalties, and Maignan made five saves in this one, too. The highlight of the final minutes for me was a "tackle" by Alidu Seidu on Okafor, where he basically tried to pick up the Milan player by the waist and turn him over. It was reminiscent of a gymnastics teacher trying to teach a child to do cartwheels, not a footballer trying to tackle another player, and I found it quite amusing.

At the final whistle, Rennes were quite happy with the win, but Milan were not very upset, and rightly so. The scoreline was not pretty, but Milan still are going through to the next round. And while stupid errors and the inability to rest any of our starting lineup still plague our final scorelines, they did their job to qualify, which was the most important thing. Now we simply await the draw on Friday at noon to know our next opponents. For me, though, the most memorable thing about this tie will be the brilliant Rennes fanbase and the beautiful city of Rennes. They showed that football rivalry does not always have to be dark and ugly, it can still be warm and friendly and quite beautiful. For me, this tie was all about their amazing hospitality.

This post inspired by the music of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You"

AC Milan will face SK Slavia Praha in the Europa League Round of 16
Home March 7, Away March 14

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 26
Milan vs. Atalanta
Sunday, February 25, 2024 • 20:45 CET (2:45 EST)

Stade Rennais FC 3, AC Milan 2: Hospitality Stade Rennais FC 3, AC Milan 2: Hospitality Reviewed by Elaine on 1:40 AM Rating: 5
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