AC Milan 4, SK Slavia Praha 2: The Power of 10

Coming into this match, Pioli spoke confidently of their preparations, but once the match kicked off, Milan did not seem so prepared. Perhaps it was the referee, who made some controversial early calls. But Slavia Praha playing on 10 men for more than an hour seemed to only empower them, not weaken them. Sure, they will be exhausted, and they may have an injury or two from playing so hard, but even Milan's 4-2 win over Slavia did not feel like a victory with such a gutsy performance from the visiting Czech side. Players postmatch denied that they underestimated Slavia, but the match looked like maybe they did. Certainly, they surprised everyone with the power of 10.

Thanking the fans for their support after a difficult win.

There were two potential yellow cards in the first two minutes, and Florenzi was the unfortunate supplier of the second one, and thus received the actual yellow card, rather than the warning, from Turkish referee Meler. This also means that he will unfortunately be suspended for the second leg next week. I think that may have set everyone on edge, but particularly the Milan players, who had some very unfortunate refereeing last Friday, as well. 

An early yellow and two assists, Florenzi left his mark on this match in just 45 minutes.

The controversy increased in the 26th minute when Diouf was shown a straight red call for a foul on Pulisic and Slavia went down to 10 men. First of all, was it a red card? Absolutely, the replays made it very clear that Diouf going down into Pulisic's lower leg like that with his studs is incredibly dangerous and can result in serious injury. Sure, he was the third player sent off for fouling Pulisic in a week, but maybe opponents should learn a lesson from that and pick on someone their own size. 

The questions around this card make me wonder, are people influenced by the card colors as they pertain to traffic lights? Emojis? Or something else? Do people think that there needs to be malice involved to send a player off? It was clear that Diouf did not intend to harm Pulisic, it was just reckless. Which is good, because no one wants to see players playing with the intent to harm like that. But these rules are there to protect the players, and this call was correct. It was incredibly unfortunate, and more unfortunate to take place so early in the match, but a referee cannot ignore plays like this, it is his job to protect the players.

Giroud breaking the deadlock.

Speaking of protecting the players, Maignan's ferocity nearly broke Gabbia in the 29th minute. Our Milan players need to beware when they are playing near him, they know he takes no prisoners. And speaking of taking no prisoners, Giroud finally broke the deadlock in the 34th with a deadly header from a great Leão cross. 1-0 Milan.  A perfect gift for his son's eighth birthday. Unfortunately, that only inspired Slavia, and Chytil came right back with a chance that Kjaer had to block. Then it was from the resulting corner that they scored, a brilliant strike from outside the box from Douděra to equalize, 1-1 all.

That did not sit well with Milan, who reacted by peppering Staněk's goal. He saved another header from Giroud, then had to tip a great shot over the bar from Leão. Loftus-Cheek received the ball, turned, and shot, and sent it just over. Staněk was forced into a brilliant save from a Gabbia header in the 42nd minute. But new Papa Reijnders scored an absolutely incredible goal from the top of the box from a Florenzi free kick, sliding it just inside the post where Staněk could not reach it. 2-1 Milan. He also dedicated his goal to his newborn son, Xavién.

Reijnders scoring a brilliant goal and offering a special dedication.

That was not all, though Leão sent a very dangerous ball in, and almost forced an own goal. Then, one minute into stoppage time, Loftus-Cheek scored a header from a Florenzi free kick to make it 3-1 Milan going into halftime. At this point, things seemed right in the world, with a team like Milan dominating a 10-men Slavia at the break.

That, however did not last. At halftime, Pioli chose to sub Tomori on for Gabbia, and Calabria on for Florenzi, who was on a yellow. My guess is also that he wanted to give Tomori and Calabria minutes for fitness. But neither of these subs were gamechangers, if anything, Gabbia has been in such good form, and with Tomori just coming back, that one was questionable. Also, with Florenzi suspended on Sunday and also next Thursday, Calabria will have to play plenty over the next week, so maybe just a few less minutes for him may have been prudent. With Pioli missing only Pobega now to injury, it is curious to watch his lineup and substitution choices. All season long, it has seemed that his choices were forced by injury, but now that is no longer the issue, he really needs to show more range and competency with his selections.

Loftus-Cheek scoring his third Europa League goal for Milan this year.

Leão had a great shot across the face of goal that went painfully just wide in the 49th minute. But Slavia got back in the match, and in the 65th, from another set piece, Schranz, who had just subbed on, scored another great goal for the visitors to bring them back into the game. Now it was just 3-2 Milan. Fair play to Slavia, both of their goals were great. Pioli's answer was to sub on Jović for Loftus-Cheek, which was also a bit of an odd choice. Then Calabria saw yellow for a technical foul in the 72nd minute.

Finally, in the 80th minute, while being held by 10-men Slavia Praha, Pioli brought on Bennacer for Reijnders and Okafor for Giroud. Milan defend much better with Bennacer, and the whole system functions better with him on the pitch. Adli has shown a lot of promise, but Bennacer is like that cog that holds everything together. Jović had a shot that was just wide, and in the 85th, Leão made a trademark beautiful run and shot, and seemingly scored, but for Pulisic just getting a touch on it to make sure it went in, so he was given credit for the goal. 4-2 Milan.

Pulisic putting the finishing touches on a 4-2 win.

Last year at this time, Milan would have been thrilled to score four goals at all. And, if you knew about Slavia Praha's brilliant form and also their record in the Europa League, perhaps this was not as much of a shock. But I think the players were embarrassed to concede two goals from a team on 10 men, and it definitely seemed like they had underestimated what Slavia could do. Certainly, their performance was not as focused, motivated, or united as usual, and raised some real questions about whether or not Milan realistically can move on to the next round. Hopefully, they will not make the same mistakes next Thursday when we are in their house. Because a two goal lead is nothing to a team that scores like Slavia Praha do. Maybe they will not be as strong on 11 men, but in this match, they absolutely demonstrated the power of 10.

This post inspired by the music of Garbage's "Not My Idea"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 28
Milan vs. Empoli
Sunday, March 10, 2024 • 15:00 CET (10am EDT*)
*note the time difference due to Daylight Savings Time in the U.S.

AC Milan 4, SK Slavia Praha 2: The Power of 10 AC Milan 4, SK Slavia Praha 2: The Power of 10 Reviewed by Elaine on 1:37 AM Rating: 5
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