Rio Ave 2021 Kitsempty Spaces The Blog

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AC Milan clinched a spot in the Europa League group stage by overcoming Rio Ave after a thrilling penalty shootout. Saelemaekers and Calhanoglu (penalty) scored for the Rossoneri.


Donnarumma (7 – MOTM): Although Milan conceded two goals in the course of the game, none of them can be blamed on the goalkeeper. Gigio was imposing both during the game and the penalty shootouts as his last penalty save gave Pioli’s men a much-needed victory.

Calabria (6): The Italian right-back delivered a decent performance, helping the team create many dangerous chances. However, in a must-win game, a decent performance did not seem to be enough, especially in defence.

Kjaer (6.5): Not particularly impressive considering what he has shown in the past. However, Simon Kjaer showed great leadership in the toughest times and did not blink when it came to penalty shootouts, scoring twice from the spot.

Gabbia (6): While he can be seen as a decent partner for the veteran that is Kjaer, the youngster still has of improvement to do. Overall, he completed Kjaer quite well for the most part even though he could work a bit more on his decision-making and positioning.

Hernandez (6.5): Despite a forgettable first half, Theo stepped up towards the end of the second half and took over during extra time as he was on every ball both offensively and defensively. Great performance from the French.

Bennacer (6.5): Impressive once again. Bennacer’s short passes between space to find teammates created some good chances for the team and he was more dangerous than usual offensively.

Kessie (7): A dominant performance from Kessie who keeps proving he is by far the most consistent player on the team.

Castillejo (5): Uninspired and ineffective. The Spaniard failed to create any threat and seemed clueless going forward for the majority of his time on the pitch.

Calhanoglu (6.5): Creative and inspiring, the Turk was pulling the strings throughout the game and scored the crucial penalty that brought Milan back in the game.

Saelemaekers (6.5): An impressive display by the young midfielder who showed an incredible amount of grit and desire and his goal is a good testament of that.

Maldini (5.5): The youngster looked lost on the pitch, his lack of experience proved to be a disadvantage for him in such a crucial match-up.


Diaz (6.5): Skillful and ambitious. Diaz was at the start of nearly every dangerous opportunities for the Rossoneri during extra time. Impressive performance.

Leao (6): Not a great performance from Leao who was sloppy most of the time and kept tripping on himself during crucial moments. A performance to forget.

Colombo (5.5): His lack of experience and game time was palpable as the youngster failed to make an impact.

Tonali (6.5): A truly great performance from Sandro who gave new life to the midfield after coming on during the extra time.

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READ MORE: Saelemaekers gives Milan the lead against Rio Ave with a superb finish

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AC Milan have been stuck in the wilderness for far too long and in the year of 2020 under the guide from Stefano Pioli are back at the top of Serie A and looking to capture the Scudetto and break Juventus dynasty of 9 in a row.

March the 8th 2020 a home game played behind closed doors due to the global pandemic which started to cause chaos on the world. AC Milan took on Genoa at the San Siro, Genoa shocked the home side with a 2-1 away win thanks to goals from Goran Pandev and Francesco Cassata. Zlatan Ibrahimović pulled one back, but it was too late. That defeat left AC Milan in 8th position and in real danger of missing out on European competition all together. A day later after the Sassuolo-Brescia game the league was suspended for three months due to the Covid-19 global pandemic. March the 8th 2020 was the last time that AC Milan have tasted defeat in Serie A.

AC Milan picked up a whopping 30 points from the remaining 12 games that were played in 40 days. The schedule between the 22nd June to the final day of the season on the 01/08/2020 was relentless. A week of matches was played every three days as the Lega Calcio played catch up and tried to finish the season. AC Milan were the side to watch post lockdown, an easy on the eye attacking football which caught teams by surprise. AS Roma, Lazio and Juventus were all swept away in a space of 10 days. The latter two performances were brilliant to watch, AC Milan travelled to Rome to take on Lazio who before the pandemic were the team to watch. Lazio had built a squad which was equipped to play once a week and had done successfully before the season stopped. They struggled with the demands of playing more than once a week and team capitalised on it. on Matchday 30 in early July in a hot summery night in the capital AC Milan were irresistible and took Lazio apart with ease. Was 3-0 up after an hour and went through Lazio like a hot knife through butter.

Just a few days later, AC Milan took on Juventus at the San Siro, the first half was a non-event. The game really sprung into life in the second half, Juventus raced into a 2-0 goal lead in 6 first half minutes. But AC Milan hit back with four unanswered goals in a crazy 18 minutes in the second half. AC Milan had bloodied the nose of the top dogs in Serie A and done it with so much swagger and confidence which they have taken into the first half of the 2020/21 Serie A Season.

With his side performances on the pitch, Stefano Pioli was rewarded with a new two-year contract extension in July 2020 which runs out June 2022. This came on the back of Ralf Rangnick abandoning negotiations to take over as AC Milan coach for the start of the 2020/21 season. Bild and Kicker in Germany reported that deal was off and that the talks have been ongoing since November of 2019 just after Stefano Pioli replaced the sacked Marco Giampaolo. Football fans and followers of Serie A scoffed at this news when Pioli was handed a contract extension, but in reality, it was a smart bit of business by the hierarchy at AC Milan. Pioli came into the club when it was struggling and struggling to find its identity after the poor start from Marco Giampaolo.

AC Milan finished the season in 6th place with 66 points from 38 games and finished 4 points behind AS Roma who they had been battling for 5th place which guaranteed a place in the group stage of the Europa League. With finishing in 6th AC Milan had to start the season a bit earlier with three rounds of qualifying to the group stages of the Europa league. The qualifying stages for this season Europa League were all singular ties, AC Milan got through Shamrock Rovers, Bodo/Glimt and Rio Ave FC on penalties. The game finished 2-2 and Milan took the game to penalties thanks to a 120th minute Hakan Calhanoglu penalty. This was an epic penalty shootout which AC Milan won 11-10 on penalties, Rio Ave had three chances to win the tie-on penalties and blew all of them. The 4minute clip of the penalty shootout went viral on twitter just moments after the final whistle.

AC Milan transfer business for the 2020/21 season was smart and shrewd, hoovered up a lot of young hungry talented players who are looking to build their careers at the top. Sandro Tonali chose AC Milan after a long-protracted move to Inter Milan did not happen. Jens Petter Hague was brought in from Bodo/Glimt after impressing AC Milan hierarchy in the Europa league Qualifying tie against each. Pierre Kalulu joined from Lyon and adds depth to the central defence. Brahim Diaz came in on loan from Real Madrid and Diogo Dalot had joined in from Manchester United with a point to prove after his big money move from FC Porto to Manchester United had stalled. Romanian Goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu joined from Lyon to be Gianluigi Donnarumma understudy. Ante Rebic, Alexis Saelemaekers and Simon Kjaer all had their transfers to AC Milan all made permanent after successful loan deals.

The departures that left AC Milan in the summer were Suso who joined Sevilla permanently, the disappointing Lucas Paqueta who came to AC Milan in the January 2019 transfer window with all the hype and skill from Flamengo left to join Lyon for half of what AC Milan paid Flamengo for. An expensive loss. Andre Silva made his move to Eintracht Frankfurt permanently and once again AC Milan made a massive loss on a hefty investment made in the summer of 2018. Silva was signed for €38m from Porto and sold to Eintracht Frankfurt for a reported €9m. Lucas Biglia, Pepe Reina and Giacomo Bonaventura all left the club on free transfers well Gustavo Gomez joined Palmeras in Brazil.

AC Milan had an unbelievable start to the 2020/21 Serie A Season, started off with 4 wins out of 4 including a very impressive Derby Della Madonnina win over city rivals Inter Milan on match day 4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the hero that day as he came back to haunt the club that he played for in the late 2000’s with a vintage Ibra performance. 2 goals and the centre of attention, Zlatan at 39 is evergreen and rolling back the years. Just a week later, AC Milan dropped the first points of the season in a 3-3 thriller with AS Roma. AC Milan thought they had won the game in the 79th minute with a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty but five minutes later Marash Kumbulla scored from close range to end the game at 3-3.

Ac Milan would drop points against teams they would be expected to defeat in Hellas Verona, Parma at home. Which Parma were 2-0 up and cruising to an unlikely victory. AC Milan had Theo Hernandez to thank as he netted a 91st minute equaliser to salvage a point and to keep this unbeaten run going. More dropped points away at Genoa where AC Milan, 2-1 down after Mattia Destro had found his scoring boots in 2020 has scored twice. Things I did not expect to see in 2020, Pierre Kalulu scored with 7 minutes remaining. That was Kalulu second start for the club and netted his first goal in senior football.

Udinese, Napoli, Fiorentina, and Sampdoria were all defeated as the Stefano Pioli AC Milan bandwagon moved on. The Sampdoria away win was an eye-catching performance as AC Milan did not play well and had to dig in deep and pick up a massive three points. Winning when playing badly and up against it is a sign of champions. The final two Serie A games of the year for AC Milan were vital and important wins away at Sassuolo and at home to Lazio. The win away at Sassuolo was special as straight from kick of Rafael Leo scored after just 6.2 seconds. Breaking a 19-year record which was held by Paolo Poggi who scored for Piacenza away at Fiorentina after just 8 seconds on the 02 December 2001.

The final game of the year against Lazio turned out to be a classic, AC Milan raced into a two-goal lead which Lazio pegged back. But in the dying moments of stoppage time Theo Hernandez crashed home a bullet of a header which took AC Milan to the top of Serie A going into the Christmas Break and going into 2021.

In the Europa League, AC Milan finished top of Group H in a group which contained Celtic, Lille and Sparta Praha. 13 points qualification secured to the round of 32, where they will play Red Star Belgrade. A tie that is rich in history and controversy, AC Milan were saved by the Belgrade fog in the 1988-89 season. Trailing 2-1 on aggregate and a man down when Pietro Paolo Virdis was sent off, the fog came to the rescue and the referee Dieter Pauly called the game off. The game would be played the next day which AC Milan won on penalties 4-2 and won the European Cup defeating Steaua Bucharest in the final 4-0 at the Camp Nou. Revenge is on the horizon

It has been an impressive 2020 for AC Milan and they have done wonderful well to continue the form post lockdown going into the first half of the 2020/21 season. AC Milan have picked up a whopping 79 points from 35 games which sits them top of the table for 2020, 6 points ahead of city rivals Inter Milan in second and 10 points ahead of Atalanta who sit in third. AC Milan have showed a never say die attitude and play to the final whistle, time after time this season they have won or drawn games with late goals. Coach Stefano Pioli has installed that belief in the squad, he and his staff and the club are reaping the rewards. The spine of the team is crucial, Donnarumma in goal, Romagnoli and Kjaer at CB. Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer at the centre of midfield and Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. The latter parts of this year, that spine of the team has not been there. Kjaer, Bennacer and Ibrahimović has been missing through injury. Franck Kessie missed the Lazio game through suspension and had the depth in the centre of midfield to cope. It is a real sign of strength that you can win without your spine of the squad and best players out on the pitch. AC Milan have done it time after time this season.

Coach Stefano Pioli has been really a breath of fresh air at the club and has worked wonder in Milan. The 4-2-3-1 system installed is working well, it is getting the best out of his players. it gives licence to his more creative players to express themselves. You can see that game by game. His league record at AC Milan is incredible, 24 wins out of 43 Serie A matches. 13 draws and 6 defeats, picking up 85 points with a points per game average of 1.98. Pioli total record at AC Milan is 33 wins from 55 matches with 7 defeats and 15 draws. Giving the two-year contract extension has proven to be a master stroke. Could 2021 be the year that AC Milan de throne Juventus from the top of Serie A and capture the first Scudetto in 10 years.