SK Slavia Praha 1, Milan 3: Banished

After last week's match at San Siro, when Slavia Praha were forced to play on 10 men for over an hour, I had really wanted this one to be different. It started with some brilliant coreografia from Slavia Praha Ultras that read, "In the heart of Eden, we cast out the Devil." (Their stadium is also known as Eden Stadium, built in a district called Eden.) However, that was very short lived, as their captain was sent off after just 16 minutes this time, leaving his team a task of biblical proportions in which il Diavolo easily conquered. Milan defeated Slavia 3-1 in this match, with an overall score of 7-3 on aggregate, sending the Rossoneri into the Europa League Quarterfinals and leaving Slavia Praha banished.

A relaxed win to progress to the Quarterfinals.

Things got off to a terrible start when Maignan collided with Vlček in just the third minute, requiring treatment. Then he needed treatment again just five minutes later. He made a brilliant save in the 14th minute that actually made UEFA's Europa League Great Saves reel. But that was his night, as he was replaced by Sportiello in just the 21st minute.

A great save despite being injured after just 3 minutes.

In the meantime, in just the 16th minute, Calabria went down in pain in the 16th minute after contact with Slavia Praha captain Holeš. While he was getting treatment, the Dutch head VAR referee, Dennis Higler, notified Swedish head referee, Glenn Nyberg, that he should take another look at the incident. Nyberg seemed to want to do everything to not send Holeš off so early, he looked at the contact from every angle and took plenty of time to review it. However, the replays showed that Holeš stamped on Calabria's lower leg, and incredibly dangerous foul, and in the 20th minute, Nyberg reluctantly showed Holeš a straight red card. Slavia were down to 10 men. Again.

Unlike last week, when Slavia did so well to fight back, this time, with a 4-2 deficit and facing over 70 minutes on 10 men, even playing in front of their own supporters, the red card completely took them out of the game. Last week's first goalscorer, Douděra, almost immediately was shown a yellow card for a foul on Musah. And their manager, Trpišovský, was also shown a yellow card for protesting just two minutes later. Milan began their onslaught, and while Staněk did well enough to save as many as possible, the odds were against him.

Pulisic with 3 goals and 3 opposition players sent off in his last 4 appearances.

Those odds led to two goals for Milan within minutes. First, a Pulisic goal, assisted by Leão to open up the scoring, 1-0 Milan. That brings Pulisic to 11 goals and seven assists in all competitions this season, a brilliant tally after so many struggles at Chelsea. No sooner had those celebrations ended and the match restarted, and Loftus-Cheek slotted home his ninth goal in all competitions this season, assisted by Theo Hernández. 2-0 Milan. With a 6-2 deficit on aggregate, Slavia Praha were completely demoralized, but had to keep playing. 

Musah's shot in the 37th was saved, then Tomori was shown a yellow card in the 44th minute for a foul on Chytil. This means he will unfortunately be suspended for our next match. There was plenty of stoppage time added on, between the treatment for Maignan and Calabria, as well as the lengthy VAR review ahead of the red card. So it was in the sixth minute of stoppage time that Rafa Leão launched a brilliant rocket from outside the area that just brutally screamed past poor Staněk. 3-0 Milan. His performance put him in the running for Europa League Player of the Week. Despite constantly being overly criticized, he now has ten goals and 9 assists in all competitions for Milan this season.

Loftus-Cheek just punishing the home side.

With a 7-2 lead on aggregate, Milan could gave slept through the second half, and they did let up in intensity, but there is no mercy rule in football. Pioli subbed Kalulu on for poor Calabria, and Thiaw on for the carded Tomori at halftime. Milan's chances were fewer and further between, but tensions grew. Things were getting quite physical, and less than ten minutes in, Adli seemed to attempt a quick restart, but kicked the ball straight into Provod's back, which did not go over well with he or his teammates.

Gabbia would be shown a yellow for a foul on Provod in the 55th, then Pioli gave Chukwueze some time by bringing him on for Pulisic in the 63rd minute. Shortly thereafter, play was stopped briefly, as Slavia fans apparently seemed to be throwing things onto the pitch while Milan were attempting to take a corner. After an announcement was made and Nyberg sent their captain over to talk to their Ultras, who also talked to their supporters, play resumed once again. 

Leão with a goal and an assist and another brilliant performance.

Reijnders replaced Loftus-Cheek in the 76th, and Trpišovský made some crucial subs as well. Those subs paid off, as one of them, Jurásek, was able to pull one back for Slavia in the 84th with a brilliant goal from distance to make it 3-1, still in favor of Milan. In the preview, I talked about Slavia's uncanny ability to score beautiful goals from outside the area, and this held true once again in this match. In fact, both Jurásek's goal and Leão's rocket were two of the four goals nominated for the Europa League Goal of the Week.

No Player of the Week performance is complete without a yellow card, and Leão earned his when things got a little too tense in the 88th minute and a bit of a skirmish broke out. Both he and Dorley were cautioned in that episode, bringing a fiery end to a sadly controversial match. Poor Nyberg did his best to keep the match under control, and he definitely missed a few things, too, but ended up handing out six yellows to players, plus the card to Trpišovský, as well as obviously the red card to Holeš early on. I cannot imagine Slavia fans are all that happy with his performance, but it was not a bad one, it was just a difficult match due to what was at stake.

Pioli presiding over another important European performance.

So, despite the unfortunate circumstances of playing on ten men in both legs, Milan progress to the Europa League Quarterfinals for the first time in their history. Unlike Napoli, Lazio, and Inter, all of whom crashed out of the Champions League this week, putting Italy at risk of losing their berth for that fifth Champions League spot next year. All four Italian sides in the Europa League and Conference League Round of 16 competitions went through, leaving Italy still narrowly in pole position for that extra spot next year. With the draws happening on Friday in Nyon to determine their next opponents, we will see how plausible it is that Italy can maintain that lead.

The Curva Sud there to witness Milan's great performance.

As for Slavia, they really did put up a great fight against a team with resources and talent far superior to their own. Milan fans often cite our poor circumstances, having had four different owners in the past seven years, amongst many other incidents that sullied our once glorious club with such impressive European history. However, for Slavia Praha, the chance to cast out devils in their own little Eden does not come along every day. And while they undoubtedly will feel plenty of regrets, particularly with the red cards in both matches, there is no shame for them in being eliminated by such a big club. They fought hard, scored three brilliant goals on ten men, and left their mark on the Devil, even if they were eventually banished.

This post inspired by the music of Måneskin's "I Wanna Be Your Slave"

Milan will face Roma in the Quarterfinals
Matches will be April 11 and 18th both at 21:00 CEST

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 29
Verona vs. Milan
Sunday, March 17, 2024 • 15:00 CET (10am EDT*)
*note the time difference due to Daylight Savings Time in the U.S.

SK Slavia Praha 1, Milan 3: Banished SK Slavia Praha 1, Milan 3: Banished Reviewed by Elaine on 4:00 AM Rating: 5
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