AC Milan maintained their superb start to the new season with a 3-1 victory over Celtic in a keenly contested Europa League Group H opener.
The Rossoneri arrived on the back of an impressive derby triumph over rivals Inter at the weekend and didn’t really need to move into their highest gears to take control against Neil Lennon’s men.
The Hoops were hoping to provide a response to their own disappointing derby loss at home to Rangers, but fell behind on 14 minutes when Rade Krunic nodded Samu Castillejo’s superb cross into the far corner.
The visitors then doubled their advantage three minutes before the break when Brahim Diaz finished off a fine counter attack down the left.
Milan started 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic but he couldn’t add to his five goals already this term on what proved to be a quiet night for the Swede.
Celtic posed most of the questions in the second period once they reverted from a 3-5-2 formation and set up a nervy finale when substitute Mohamed Elyounoussi headed home a corner 14 minutes from time.
However, they couldn’t find the equaliser and substitute Jens Petter Hauge finished them off in stoppage time to ensure Milan join Lille at the summit of the pool after the French outfit won at Sparta Prague.
Celtic will now need to raise their level when they visit Lille on Matchday Two, while Milan host Sparta Prague.
Simon Kjaer in Celtic-Milan
Image credit: Getty Images
Milan are finally on the rise. The Rossoneri are seven-time European Cup/Champions League winners and second only to Real Madrid on the list of most triumphs. They have a rich pedigree on the continent, but they haven’t featured in Europe’s elite competition since 2013-14 and have been a pale shadow of the great sides of yesteryear over the past decade. General mismanagement has been behind their sad decline and they have taken various wrong turns to find a more promising path.
However, there is a growing feeling in Italy that this time the green shoots are now visible, tangible and not a false dawn. Stefano Pioli’s men have made a superb start to the 2020/21 campaign, their best since the mid-1990s. The coach has developed a good relationship with his players and everyone appears to be on the same page. He has spoken of his intent to try to win the Europa League and end a decade-long wait for a Scudetto, having watched Juventus hold a monopoly on Serie A for too long.
Whether they end a five-year wait for a trophy of any description remains to be seen, but this performance was another promising sign of their progress to go in tandem with their four wins from four in Serie A. They confidently controlled large spells of the contest and dealt with the late pressure well before killing the game at the death. There’s still a long way to go, but we could well be seeing the re-emergence of that famous red and black shirt as a force to be reckoned with.
As for Celtic, it’s been a disappointing few days for Lennon and co. What is clear is that they need to abandon the 3-5-2 formation that the players seem so out of sorts with. Once they adjusted their shape after the break they began to cause more problems, but at that stage the damage was done. Milan were always going to be favourites in this pool, but it’s vital Celtic avoid defeat next time out against an in-form Lille if they have serious designs on progressing further in the competition.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Rade Krunic (Milan). The Bosnia and Herzegovina international came into the side and capped a solid showing with his first goal for Milan. With all eyes on Zlatan, it was the 27-year-old who ghosted in to grab the game’s all-important opener.
CELTIC: Barkas 6, Welsh 5, Duffy 5, Ajer 6, Frimpong 6, Ntcham 6, Brown 5, McGregor 6, Laxalt 7, Ajeti 6, Griffiths 5. Subs: Christie 7, Elyounoussi 7, Rogic 7, Taylor 5, Klimala 5.
AC MILAN: Donnarumma 6, Dalot 7, Kjaer 7, Romagnoli 7, Hernandez 7, Krunic 7, Tonali 7, Kessie 7, Castillejo 7, Ibrahimovic 7, Diaz 7. Subs: Leao 6, Bennacer 6, Saelemaekers 6, Hauge 6.
14’ – GOAL! Celtic 0-1 AC Milan. Krunic flashes a lovely header into the far corner after a teasing run and cross from Castillejo on the right.
42’ – GOAL! Celtic 0-2 AC Milan. Diaz side-steps his man and drills a low shot into the far corner after Hernandez and Zlatan had combined superbly down the left.
76’ – GOAL! Celtic 1-2 AC Milan. Elyounoussi loses his marker well and meets a left-wing corner with a firm header.
14’ – GOAL! Celtic 1-3 AC Milan. Hauge collects Saelemaekers' pass and slots it beyond the keeper. Game over.
Image credit: Getty Images
Celtic have won just one of their 11 European meetings with Milan, losing on seven occasions.
Milan have scored 2+ goals in 10 consecutive games in all competitions for their first time since December 1964, 56 years ago.