Anderlecht gives Milan hard time
Anderlecht’s defender Olivier Deschacht (L) jumps for the ball with AC Milan’s midfielder Mathieu Flamini
MILAN, Italy ● Group C whipping boys Anderlecht held seven-time champions AC Milan to a scoreless draw in a Champions League opener that will heap further pressure on the hosts’ coach Massimiliano Allegri.
After two home defeats and one away win in three Serie A games, the pressure was on Allegri to deliver a win that would get Milan’s European campaign up and running and help erase their domestic woes.
But it was whistles that rang out around a less than half-empty San Siro stadium at the end of a match the hosts, who lost several leading players over the summer, failed to take by the scruff of the neck.
After being dominated in the first half Milan came fighting back in the second period but the Rossoneri were ultiamtely left frustrated after failing to convert a string of second half chances.
Milan have twice been crowned European champions after playing Anderlecht early in the competition, but going on this performance few neutral observers will believe in a similar outcome.
In the end, Allegri was happy not to have conceded a goal.
“The fact we’ve had a mediocre start to the season has perhaps affected our morale,” said the Italian.
“But the simple fact is if you don’t score, you don’t win and that’s something we have to improve on. We’re lucky not to have conceded a goal.”
Anderlecht, who had sent observers to all three of Milan’s Serie A games, had based their tactics on exploiting a team which coach John Van den Brom labelled as “clearly lacking in confidence”.
And the Belgian said he was “proud” of his side’s achievement.
“I’m proud of what we did. We dominated the first half at the San Siro and the team showed a lot of character against a quality side,” he said.
“We based our tactics on what we’ve seen of Milan. It seems their players are not totally relaxed and it’s clear they lack confidence.
“We showed our creativity both in technical and tactical terms and showed that Anderlecht deserve their place in the Champions League.”
Anderlecht dominated the early exchanges, with the impressive Dieudonne Mbokani and American midfielder Sacha Kljestan keeping Christian Abbiati on his toes in the Milan goal early on.
Milan’s best chance of the half fell to French midfielder Mathieu Flamini, who seen his close-range angled shot blocked by keeper Silvio Proto in the 18th minute.
Dutch midfielder Emanuelson’s superb first-time effort from Antonio Nocerino’s long ball was then stopped by Proto while at the other end 19-year-old Massimo Bruno’s shot was blocked by impressive French defender Philippe Mexes, making his return to the team.
Milan were more promising after the interval, but first Anderlecht spurned a great chance when Lucas Biglia sent his angled shot from close range high over Abbiati’s bar.
An advancing Boateng lost momentum on the edge of the area just as he connected with Pazzini’s lay-off to send the ball wide of Proto’s goal.
The Ghanaian was replaced by Stephan El Sharaway on the hour mark, and while the Italy under-21 striker added verve to Milan’s attack he also added to their frustrations.
After Pazzini had agonisingly failed to connect with a low cross on 66 minutes following a well-worked counter-attack launched by El Sharaway, Emanuelson ran across goal and turned to send his angled effort high.
El Sharaway then sent a volley from a high cross-field pass high over the bar when he had time to control and shoot.
And in the closing minutes a frustrated Pazzini could only run into Anderlecht traffic on the edge of the area as he sought to fire home El Sharaway’s lay-off.