Serie A giants Milan opened their Europa League campaign up with a narrow 1-0 victory over Luxembourg minnows F91 Dudelange thanks to Gonzalo Higuain’s second goal for the club.
Milan dictated the majority of the opening exchanges as expected, with Gonzalo Higuain firing narrowly wide and Chelsea loanee Tiemoue Bakayoko’s marauding run ending with a chipped finish which was smartly saved at close range by Joe Frising.
Mattia Caldara wasted a glorious chance for Milan after 40 minutes, nodding miles over from a free header as the two sides went into half-time on level terms.
Higuain would force a superb save from Frising early into the second half, a Diego Laxalt pull back finding the Argentine whose close range effort was palmed away to safety.
It was Milan’s star man who gave them the lead after an hour, a cut back once again finding the forward, and this time the Argentine made no mistake from 15 yards out, albeit with the aid of a kind deflection.
Key Talking Point
The obvious question prior to this clash was whether Dudelange would be able to mix it with teams of Europa League quality, and on this evidence the answer is yes.
The club from Luxembourg looked comfortable out of possession, and against worse opposition than Milan they will no doubt offer a threat on the counter. They may lack some creativity, but if their outlet ball can be good enough they will stretch defences.
Starting XI: Frising (8*); Malget (6), Schnell (7), Prempeh (6), El Hriti (6); Stolz (6), Couturier (6), Stelvio (7), Kruska (6); Turpel (5), Sinani (6).
Substitutes: Stumpf (6), Melisse (N/A), Jordanov (N/A).
STAR MAN – Joe Frising
Predictably, Dudelange’s best player was their goalkeeper, but nothing should be taken away from him in what was an excellent performance. A brave stop from Bakayoko early on set the tone for the stopper, and his save from Higuain early in the second half was world class.
His marshalling of the back line was key, and there was nothing he could do about Higuain’s deflected opener. He did get his own back on the Argentine though, with yet another superb save from the forward late on in the match.
WORST PLAYER – Kevin Malget
It seems unfair to single anyone out in an underdog team that performed so admirably, but Malget struggled in the first half against Laxalt.
The right back also failed to make an impression going forward, but in reality no player on the Dudelange team deserved this award.
Key Talking Point
Despite the positive result, Gennaro Gattuso will be worried about the lack of quality on either wing. Milan’s 4-3-3 was mostly functional, but with Borini on one wing and Castillejo on the other, the Serie A giants lacked quality in the final third on the wings.
Borini grew in influence as the game went on, but still doesn’t look to be good enough for Europa League level. Milan’s front line appeared to lack dynamism and against better opposition the Italians could struggle to create chances.
Starting XI: Reina (6); Abate (6), Caldara (6), Romagnoli (6), Laxalt (7*); Bertolacci (6), Mauri (6), Bakayoko (7); Borini (5), Higuain (7), Castillejo (5).
Substitutes: Kessie (7), Calhanoglu (N/A), Halilovic (N/A).
STAR MAN – Diego Laxalt
Solid defensively and always a threat going forward, Laxalt had a very impressive first half where he tormented Malget down Milan’s left.
His second half was quieter, but he was dependable when called upon and in a Milan side in which nobody was an outstanding performer, Laxalt was the pick of the bunch.
WORST PLAYER – Samu Castillejo
He may well have provided the assist for Milan’s opener, but the Spaniard was way off the pace and far too predictable.
A left footed right winger will always look to cut inside and he was no different, and when you add to that his abysmal delivery from set pieces and crosses in general, it’s fair to say the Spaniard had a night to forget.
Dudelange now face a trip to Spain where they’ll face Real Betis, who grabbed a 0-0 draw at Olympiacos in their opening fixture, and Milan will be looking for an improved performance as they welcome the Greek giants to San Siro in the next round of Europa League fixtures.