Beyond the referee: Milan take positives from Atletico defeat

by | Sep 29, 2021 15:00

Despite a harsh defeat against Atletico Madrid, Miguel Agyei believes Milan can take many positives away from their second Champions League group stage game.

Faithful Milan fans have been waiting for almost eight years to support their team at home while the Champions League anthem was playing. The last time they watched the Diavoli at San Siro in Europe’s elite competition was in another fixture against the Colchoneros.

It was February 2014, in the first leg of the Round of 16, won by the Spanish giants, thanks to a Diego Costa strike. Led by Stefano Pioli and captain Alessio Romagnoli, Milan and their fans hoped for a different outcome this time, although they knew the task would be just as tricky.

The Diavoli had to deal with several injuries with Rade Krunic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Simon Kjaer all on the treatment table.

Simeone: ‘Milan superior to Atleti until red card’

The mighty Rossoneri started off the game well, maintaining most of the possession and creating attacking opportunities against an Atletico Madrid side pinned on defence. Franck Kessié was given an early yellow card in the 15th minute, which led to a rather strange turn of events. Jan Oblak was called into action, making a save with his feet against Ante Rebić. But shortly after, Milan would break the deadlock with a goal from Rafael Leão, assisted by Brahim Díaz. Franck Kessié was sent off after receiving a second yellow for a challenge from behind only nine minutes later. It was a game-changer.

The Ivorian midfielder received no warning and was given two yellow cards from two challenges. Safe to say, this hasn’t been the best start to the season for him. Milan’s game changed drastically after less than half an hour. This unfortunate turn of events led Pioli to alter his game-plan and adapt his team to a 10-man system in which Ante Rebić was sacrificed and Sandro Tonali was brought on from the bench.

Milan managed to make it to halftime with their lead intact but had the difficult task of navigating another 45 minutes down to one man. Their zonal defence was massively effective as they were able to read Atletico’s game and the ball’s movement to close down any space and cut passing lines, leaving their opponents stuck and often turning the ball over when in possession.

Why VAR should’ve revoked Atletico Madrid penalty against Milan

In the second half, the La Liga champions did all they could to attack Milan and to try and find the back of the net. Coach Diego Simeone made many changes, bringing reinforcements off the bench to change the dynamic team’s team’s attacking output.

Though the red and blacks were outnumbered on the pitch, they effectively brought the ball up to the field into their opponents half on the counter-attack, gaining ground but not having enough attacking options to dish the ball. Mike Maignan came up big in the fixture, making some rather crucial saves, but Antoinne Griezmann would find the back of the net with a volley with five minutes remaining.

Milan tried their best to hold onto the 1-1 scoreline and even had a chance to take the lead shortly after with an attempt from Alessandro Florenzi that wasn’t far wide from the net. But a rather questionable penalty call on Pierre Kalulu for handball in the closing stages of extra time allowed Atletico to take all three points from San Siro. Though replays indicate that the ball touched Thomas Lemar’s hand before Kalulu’s, VAR did not intervene. Maignan came close to saving Suárez’s penalty wasn’t enough as Milan capitulated again in a big European night.

Though Milan tasted bitter defeat, there were multiple positives to take away from this fixture. We saw an inexperienced, youthful team play with confidence and character that stunned many.

Pioli: ‘Ref had bad night, but Milan…’

The Rossoneri put on a show in front of their home crowd with a good performance from Rafael Leão, Brahim Díaz, Fikayo Tomori, Sandro Tonali, Ismaël Bennacer and Mike Maignan. They looked like a completely different side from the one that had lost to Liverpool at Anfield Road two weeks ago.

They controlled the game’s pace and played with no fear up until Kessié’s harsh sending off. However, the La Liga giants could benefit from substitutions and an overall deeper squad. In the second half, Diego Simeone threw in the likes of  Joao Felix, Rodrigo De Paul, Renan Lodi, Thomas Lemar and Antoine Griezmann, and many of them played a crucial role in helping the Colchoneros earn all three points.

Undoubtedly, there is still a gap of quality and experience between the Rossoneri and Europe’s elite sides, but as many say, Milan fans need to trust the process. Even though the odds may be against them, Milan can still hope to make it beyond the group stage if they get results against Porto and in their rematches against Liverpool and the Spanish side, hoping to find Lady Luck on their side as well.



  1. Basta Poco

    Positives eh? Well, I’m positive the refs were out to screw over Milan, and I’m positive they achieved their goals. Kessie’s 2nd yellow card, harsh. Meanwhile, if I recall correctly, Tonali had his foot stepped on in a similar manner by an ATM player, but lo and behold, no yellow card! Yes, I’m positive that there were no unbiased officials on the pitch for that match.

  2. Maldinis Heir

    When the draw was made I did not expect Milan to get through this group. They’re facing two very recent finalists and coaches who have been with their clubs for years. The fact that Simeone was at A Madrid the last time Milan faced them, and Milan have had 8 coaches in the interim (as well as 100s of different players) shows the difference between the clubs. But Milan did extremely well against both Liverpool and, even more so, A Madrid. People talk about money, but the A Madrid game came down to luck: Kessie was unlucky to be sent off, Leão was unlucky to hit the cross bar, and we won’t even talk about the penalty. These two defeats make it even harder for Milan to qualify but if they can maintain these levels then they can learn from this experience and go out with their heads held high.

  3. erani

    the justice will be done at the end. Milan will get what they deserve. we will beat Porto twice and Atletico in Madrid in the final match of the group stage.

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