UEFA Europa League
Celtic Park, Glasgow
Thursday, October 22, 2020
AC MILAN… 3
(Krunic 14, Brahim Diaz 42, Hague 90+3)
CELTIC kicked off their UEFA Europa League campaign this evening (Thursday) with a 3-1 defeat to AC Milan. Despite the Hoops enjoying the majority of play in the opening quarter-hour, Rade Krunic put the visitors in front on 14 minutes, before Brahim Diaz made it two before the break.
Second half substitute Mohamed Elyounoussi pulled one back for the Scottish champions with 14 minutes left on the clock, but Milan substitute Hauge restored the current Serie A leaders’ two-goal lead three minutes into added time.
Celtic looked hungry from the outset, pressing the game and building from the back in the opening stages. Ahead of the five-minute mark, Albian Ajeti and Olivier Ntcham carved two half-chances – the former with an effort blocked from 10 yards following a fine driving run from centre-back Kris Ajer, the latter sending the follow-up from a loose ball down the throat of goalkeeper Donnarumma from the edge of the box.
Diego Laxalt, playing against his parent club, looked a threat on the left as he sought to unpick the Milan defence in both wide and central areas, coming short to help out the likes of Scott Brown, and going long for Ajer and Shane Duffy as each move dictated. Jeremie Frimpong likewise worked hard on the opposite flank, and combined well with Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths ahead of him.
However, despite the Scottish champions’ intensity in the early stages, it was the visitors who took the lead after 14 minutes. With the Hoops playing on the front foot, Samu Castillejo found himself in space on the right flank 30 yards from goal, curled a ball deep into the box, and Rade Krunic rose highest to glance the ball past Vasilia Barkas.
Celtic responded with some more smart build-up play, with Milan always a threat on the break. To this end, Ajer was required to block Zlatan Ibrahimovic inside the box to the left of goal on 20 minutes, while at the opposite end, Frimpong did well to beat Theo Hernandez on the right before zipping a low ball that was cleared at the first man.
For the next quarter-hour, chances were few and far between for both sides, with much of the play resigned to the centre of the pitch. On 35 minutes, Krunic won a free-kick in a dangerous area after collecting a fine cross-pitch pass from Ibrahimovic, but the Swede sent the set-piece into the Celtic wall.
Moments later, Ajer did well to thwart the 39-year-old striker once more, instigating an attack that saw Leigh Griffiths drift wide before seeing his high cross from the inside-left channel intercepted. The loss of possession spurred another Milan counter, which saw Theo Hernandez burst forward on the overlap.
The full-back squared to Brahim Diaz 12 yards from goal, who in turn delayed his shot, shifted the ball on to his right and fired across the keeper into the net.
Celtic made two changes at the break, bringing Ryan Christie and Mohamed Elyounoussi into the fold, in place of Stephen Welsh and Leigh Griffiths, and switched to a 4-5-1 formation from 3-5-2.
Five minutes after the restart, Laxalt fashioned the Bhoys’ first half-chance of the second period when he brought down a high ball in the box, before volleying a right-foot effort high of the mark. Elyounoussi and Christie offered width when Celtic moved forward, but Milan did well to narrow the pitch and return to the ball to central areas, where Sandro Tonali and Franck Kessie handled themselves well.
Just past the hour mark and the visitors appeared content to defend their lead by sitting in, restricting Celtic’s play in the middle third and denying them space on the flanks. When they did step out, Stefano Pioli’s men moved the ball with confidence despite rarely threatening the home side’s goal.
Celtic’s next half-chance of the match arrived on 75 minutes when Laxalt played a chipped pass towards Ajeti on the edge of the box, and he laid the ball up for substitute Tom Rogic, whose volleyed effort was in turn blocked for a corner. Christie swung the ensuing set-piece deep into the box on to the head of Elyounoussi who steered a header home from two yards out.
Inspired by their goal, Celtic burst to life, dictating much of the play from midfield anchor Callum McGregor. Ntcham in front of him helped instigate attacks in the final third, Christie looked lively from back to front, and Frimpong was explosive on the overlap.
Playing so far on the front foot, however, cost Celtic dearly three minutes into second half added time, when opposition substitutes Saelemakers and Hauge combined to restore Milan’s two-goal cushion at the death – the latter slipping behind the Hoops’ backline to slot the ball low under Barkas.
A disappointing result to kick off this year’s European journey, but a proud second half performance from Neil Lennon’s men at Paradise nonetheless.
CELTIC: Barkas; Welsh (Christie 46), Duffy, Ajer; Brown (Rogic 64), McGregor, Frimpong, Ntcham, Laxalt (Taylor 76); Griffiths (Elyounoussi 46), Ajeti (Klimala 76),
Subs not used: Bain, Hazard, Taylor, Klimala, Soro, Turnbull, Henderson, Dembele
AC MILAN: Donnarumma; Dalot, Romagnoli, Kjaer, Hernandez; Krunic, Tonali, Kessie (Bennacer 66); Castillejo (Saelemaekers 79), Ibrahimovic (Leao 66), Diaz (Hauge 79)
Subs not used: Tatarusanu, Donnarumma, Calabria, Conti, Kalulu, Maldini, Colombo,