A youthful looking AC Milan team continued their fantastic start to the season, in which they have suffered only one defeat in 19 games, as they wrapped up the Europa League group stages with a 1-0 win over Sparta Prague on Thursday evening.
The match, which was played at Sparta’s Generali Ceska Pojistovna Arena, was far from a classic, but the Rossoneri dominated their hosts from start to finish. On the face of things the vast majority of football fans would always expect Milan to control a contest against a lower level of competition, but it was the fact that Stefano Pioli included seven players under the age of 25 in his starting XI that made it all the more impressive.
It was one of those young guns that provided the moment of magic midway through the first half that gave the Rossoneri the only goal of the evening, Jens Petter Hauge slipping his way past several defenders before producing a deft and highly accurate finish.
There appears to be something of a revival happening at the Stadio San Siro so far this term as the Rossoneri sit at the top of the Serie A table and look to be contenders to win their first Scudetto in a decade. However, it is the amount of young players breaking into the first team that will be the most pleasing thing for Pioli.
With players such as Lorenzo Colombo, Sandro Tonali, Daniel Maldini and Hauge showing composure beyond their years the future looks bright for the red half of Milan and provides a promising indication that the club’s current success could be prolonged for years to come.
TONALI THE 20 YEAR OLD VETERAN
Of the seven youngsters to take the field on Thursday evening Tonali stands out as the most accomplished all round footballer of the group. Despite only having turned 20 in May he has made 100 senior first team appearances between Brescia and the Rossoneri, 42 of which have come in Serie A.
He makes the game look effortless with his accurate passing, as well as providing invaluable defensive support from midfield, and is quickly becoming a star in the Rossoneri’s ranks. It would be a huge surprise if Milan don’t take up the €15 million option to make his loan move from the Leonessa permanent at the end of the season.
Although not quite as composed as Tonali, Hauge is quickly becoming a fan favourite at the Stadio San Siro with his all action attacking style. Pioli brought the 21 year old to Milan after he gave his back line nightmares whilst playing for Bodo/Glimt against the Rossoneri during the Europa League qualifying stage and he hasn’t looked back since.
His goal on Thursday evening was a thing of beauty and if he continues to progress his game he will almost certainly become a fixture in the Milan squad for years to come.
THE LEGEND’S SON
Maldini probably has the hardest task of all the young players on show on Thursday evening as he tries to find his feet with a club where his father, Paolo, made over 900 appearances and won countless trophies.
However, he has made a promising start to his senior career and although he is the roughest diamond amongst the current crop of young talent he is improving with every game. He looked more assured against Sparta than he has in his previous appearances and linked up well with Tonali in midfield.
PLENTY TO WORK ON AT THE BACK
The biggest risk Pioli took on Thursday evening was handing Pierre Kalulu his top flight senior debut at centre back in a defensive line that had an average age of just 23.
Kalulu and the rest of the back line didn’t disappoint as they held onto a clean sheet over the course of the 90 minutes with some solid defending. However, despite the Rossoneri controlling the contest Sparta didn’t go into the night quietly and had periods of pressure during the game that caused Pioli’s men difficulties.
The back line lacked composure on occasion and things looked frantic when their hosts found space out wide, but with the veteran Ciprian Tatarusanu behind them, who made some fantastic saves, they managed to keep Sparta at bay in all round positive performance.