Milan look to recover from Champions League loss as attention turns to Serie A

AP , Thursday 11 May 2023

Rafael Leão summed up AC Milan’s mood pretty succinctly.

AC Milan s manager Stefano Pioli walks off the field at the end of the Champions League semifinal first leg soccer match between AC Milan and Inter Milan at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Inter Milan won 2-0. Photo: AP


The injured forward was all smiles before the start of his team’s Champions League semifinal match against Inter Milan on Wednesday. But less than 11 minutes after kickoff, he was looking distraught.

That’s because Inter jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, a score that didn’t change the rest of the night, and took a big advantage ahead of next week’s second leg.

But before Milan gets its chance to overturn the deficit, the team has to worry about ensuring a spot in next year’s Champions League. Milan is involved in an ever-tightening battle for a spot in the top four of Serie A and visits relegation-threatened Spezia in Serie A on Saturday.

Milan is two points below fourth-place Inter, which hosts Sassuolo.

“Serie A is important, as is the Champions League,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “So I’ll try to make better choices so we can play better and try to win against Spezia and then to try and overturn this result.”

Spezia is only three points above the relegation zone so will also be desperate for the win.

Pioli will have to decide whether to risk Leão in that match, which comes only four days before the second leg against Inter. Leão missed Wednesday’s match after failing to recover in time from a thigh injury sustained over the weekend.

Without Leão’s creativity, Milan looked devoid of ideas and created only three clearcut chances against Inter, with Sandro Tonali hitting the post and Junior Messias and Brahim Díaz curling narrowly wide.

Olivier Giroud was isolated up front as Milan missed Leão’s lethal pace.

In contrast, Inter’s veterans excelled — 37-year-old Edin Džeko and 34-year-old Henrikh Mkhitaryan both scored.

“How old am I today? I’m 37 but I feel good and that’s what’s important,” Džeko said with a smile. “I feel fresh maybe because I was rested three days ago.

“But the whole team was fired up. It’s not every year you play a Champions League semifinal and especially a derby. We were focused from the first minute to the last and we were rewarded for that.”

Džeko became the second-oldest scorer in the Champions League semifinals with the 400th goal of his career. Mkhitaryan moved into seventh on that list.

Džeko has scored in all three of his appearances in the final four of Europe’s elite club competition, having netted in both legs of Roma’s semifinal loss to Liverpool in 2018.

The other semifinal matchup this year is between Džeko’s former club, Manchester City, and Real Madrid. They drew 1-1 on Tuesday.

“I would like to face City in the final. I hope we do,” Džeko said. “But we’re not thinking so far ahead because the semifinal is a fundamental match in the career of a player.

“The last time I played in one I lost and so I have bad memories even though I scored in both matches.”

Inter is now on the brink of a return to European soccer’s top event for the first time since it won the treble of the league, Italian Cup and Champions League under José Mourinho in 2010.

“We know that we’re just one step away,” Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said, “from a dream that we believed in from August until today.”

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