AC Milan came from behind to earn a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Red Bull Salzburg in their UEFA Champions League opener on Tuesday.
AC Milan kicked off their Champions League campaign with a disappointing 1-1 stalemate against a very impressive Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. The Rossoneri came into the game fresh off a 3-2 win over rivals Inter in the Milan derby over the weekend but failed to build on their domestic exploits here.
Stefano Pioli made only one change to the team that defeated Inter in the Derby della Madonnina on Saturday, opting for Alexis Saelemaekers on the right wing over Junior Messias. Milan were overwhelmed by their opponents’ intensity, and it was Red Bull Salzburg who seized the lead when Noah Okafor slipped Pierre Kalulu and slotted past Mike Maignan to punish Ismael Bennacer’s costly mistake.
The opening ten minutes were high-octane as Salzburg pressed their visitors but were met by a tenacious Milan side who tried to counter-press the hosts. Milan eventually regained composure after a frantic early start to the game and equalised in the 40th minute via Saelemaekers in what was a well-worked goal.
And it was no wonder that Leao was at the heart of it all again. The Portuguese international picked up the ball on the left flank from surging Charles De Ketelaere’s forward pass and pulled it back to Saelemaekers, who finished powerfully past Kohn even though the Red Bull Salzburg keeper got a fingertip to the strike.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) September 6, 2022
Stefano Pioli’s men failed to capitalise on the Belgium international’s effort in what was a fairly end-to-end second period without any goals to show for. However, Leao came close to scoring in stoppage time but was denied by the goal post, as the hosts appeared to have run out of steam. The Hard Tackle will now run the rule over Pioli’s charges after an underwhelming display in Salzburg.
Mike Maignan: 7/10
Steady as usual with the ball at his feet throughout the game, Maignan made a few key saves in each half to keep Milan in the game. His performance in the game was vital in Milan grabbing a point and he did a fine job of coming off of his line when called upon to do so. He was good at claiming aerial balls and made a critical save from Nicolas Seiwald’s drive from range.
Davide Calabria: 5/10
Pioli pulled him off early in the second half, probably due to the yellow card. But the AC Milan captain was another player who struggled, particularly with ball control, before being replaced by Sergino Dest.
Pierre Kalulu: 6/10
An up-and-down evening for Kalulu, as he recovered well after his early error and was one of Milan’s better players. But that error proved costly, as he lost his balance in 1v1 and gave Okafor enough room to fire past Maignan. He made a game-high six tackles, completed two blocks, and had a 91% pass accuracy (63/69), as well as completing 8 of his 10 long balls.
Fikayo Tomori: 7/10
Tomori was booked quite early on and was meant to be on a tightrope throughout the game. However, he remained composed and performed admirably in what was a difficult game for both centre-backs up against the pace and trickery of Okafor and Fernando. But he shepherded them well, limiting their shooting chances.
Theo Hernandez: 5/10
Hernandez is really just so up-and-down that it is hard to get a read on him. He looked fantastic at times, shutting down Red Bull Salzburg’s attack. But then, minutes later, he would give a pass or an attempted clearance right back to them, and this led to him making two errors that directly led to shots. He did not showcase his usual forward movement on the left wing either.
Sandro Tonali: 6.5/10
It was a good performance from Tonali, who controlled the pace of the game with his long passing, completing seven of his nine attempted long balls. He won the majority of his contested duels (3/4) and drove forward with the ball quite well at times.
Ismael Bennacer: 5/10
Bennacer has been Milan’s most consistent player this season. However, he had a game to forget here. He lost a lot of his duels, misplaced some of his passes, and was at fault for Salzburg’s opener. He was sluggish and had the ball snatched from under his nose in Okafor’s goal. With the exception of a tackle, he did nothing defensively to help cope with Red Bull Salzburg’s threats on transitions. That said, he was crucial in the build-up to Milan’s equaliser.
Alexis Saelemaekers: 7.5/10
Saelemaekers got the nod to start on the right wing over Junior Messias, and he justified his selection with a brilliant display. He was Milan’s best player on the day, and he probably had the best game of his life. Saelemaekers not only scored the crucial equaliser with a powerful finish, but he was lively with his quick turns and movements throughout the game.
Alexis Saelemaekers in the first half vs. RB Salzburg:
4 duels won
4 take-ons attempted
3 take-ons completed
1 chance created
Bringing his side level before the break. ⚽ #UCL
— Squawka (@Squawka) September 6, 2022
He delivered a couple of nice crosses and he had some crafty dribbles. The Belgian international completed a game-high successful dribbles (5/6), won most of his contested ground duels (8/11) and created 2 key passes. A superb display.
Charles De Ketelaere: 6.5/10
Charles De Ketelaere was relatively quiet for around 40 minutes but then burst into life with a touch of class to overcome Red Bull Salzburg’s press with an elegant flick and initiate the move that resulted in the equaliser. However, he did not have much of an influence on the game and went missing often before being substituted off the pitch.
Rafael Leao: 6/10
Having fired Milan to victory in the Derby della Madonnina on Saturday, Leao continued his electrifying form by setting up Saelemaekers to bring the Rossoneri back on level terms. He certainly had his moments during the game, but he was overdoing his trickery and dribbles, as demonstrated by his dribble success rate of under 50%. Leao came agonizingly close within inches of winning at the death, but his stoppage-time strike crashed against the post.
Olivier Giroud: 5/10
Giroud was not particularly involved in Milan’s general build-up play and was fairly anonymous up front, partly down to Milan’s inability to provide him with adequate service and scoring chances.
Divock Origi: 6/10
Origi’s poor first touch and lack of ball control cost him dearly. He needs to get back to full fitness soon to be able to perform at his peak level. The former Liverpool striker had one prime opportunity from inside the box when he looked to turn and shoot but failed to get off a good connection with the ball.
Sergino Dest: 6/10
— AC Milan (@acmilan) September 6, 2022
A promising debut for the American, who was not only composed on the ball but also displayed some of his defensive and attacking qualities.
Tommaso Pobega: 5/10
Pobega was not involved much in gameplay and was very sloppy in possession. He made a very clumsy and terrible tackle attempt right after coming onto the pitch and gave Salzburg a free-kick in a dangerous area. He took two terrible shots thanks to his poor decision-making.
Brahim Diaz: 6/10
With 20 minutes remaining on the clock, Pioli decided to make a change in the playmaker role, bringing in Brahim Diaz in place of De Ketelaere. The Spaniard had a difficult start, but he gradually improved and was involved in a handful of good chances near the final whistle.
Junior Messias: N/A
Messias was very wasteful and predictable. He always dribbled into traffic by cutting inside on his left foot.