AC Milan were forced to settle for a draw in their opening Champions League group stage game, although they did battle from a goal behind against Red Bull Salzburg.
In what was a familiar feeling after the last campaign, Milan seemed to be surprised by the tempo that their opponents played at and it was Salzburg who took the lead when Noah Okafor beat Pierre Kalulu and slotted past Mike Maignan to punish Ismael Bennacer’s giveaway.
The equalizer came at a good time for the Rossoneri as Alexis Saelemaekers collected a cut-back from Rafael Leao to thump into the corner at the near post, and there was the hope that it would spark something.
However, there would be no goals in the second half despite numerous opportunities for both sides, although the draw might not be a terrible result given Chelsea were beaten 1-0 by Dinamo Zagreb earlier.
Stefano Pioli made only one change to the team that triumphed in the Derby della Madonnina against Inter on Saturday as Alexis Saelemaekers got the nod to start on the right wing over Junior Messias.
The first shot on goal came inside the opening 30 seconds as a cross was wound up from Salzburg’s left side and it hit the head of Capaldo who looped a header over the bar that Mike Maignan had covered. Less than a minute later Milan failed to clear their lines and the same player shanked an effort wide from the edge of the box.
Milan regained composure after a frantic early start to the game, and Theo Hernandez had a half appeal for a penalty as he went down trying to latch onto a feed from Sandro Tonali inside the box but it was correctly waved away without much protest.
There was a big chance for Olivier Giroud to follow up his derby goal by opening the scoring when he nudged the Salzburg defender away while he jumped for a bouncing ball and then surged into the box, however the Frenchman shot from a narrow angle when squaring it that Leao might well have been the best call.
Milan were growing into the game – one that Salzburg wanted to be played at the highest tempo possible – although the home size continued to show their threat. In the 25th minute Maignan was grateful to easily catch a shot from Fernando that had deflected, with the Brazilian having gained a yard on Calabria.
It was Red Bull Salzburg who took the lead, and it came via their in-form forward Noah Okafor. Ismael Bennacer gave possession away in a bad area and the ball was put through to the Swiss forward, who took advantage of Kalulu’s loss of balance to fire past Maignan from a narrow angle.
Five minutes before the break, Milan managed to get themselves level and it was no surprise that Leao was once again at the heart of it. The Portuguese winger picked up possession on the left flank after a ball from De Ketelaere and pulled it back to Saelemaekers, who finished powerfully past Kohn even if the Salzburg keeper got a touch.
Salzburg had already lost one of their ‘first choice’ starting centre-backs not long before kick-off as Wober was ruled out after picking up an injury in the warm-ups, and Solet was then forced off late in the first half having tried to play through a thigh issue that he had taped up, so the hosts essentially had two back-ups on in Pavlovic and Bernardo.
The two sides traded speculative efforts in the early stages of the second half, but the Austrian league leaders really should have gone back in front when Okafor found Kjaergaard and the Dane then fired a ball across the box that Fernando met but somehow sent over. He tried to redeem himself not long after when he surged and shot low, but it was straight at Maignan.
Substitutions followed as Pioli sensed his side looking a bit overwhelmed as Divock Origi, Tommaso Pobega and Sergino Dest – the latter making his Milan debut – came on for Giroud, Bennacer and Calabria who was on a yellow card.
The chances then began to come a bit more regularly just after the hour mark as first Seiwald’s shot from just outside the box was well parried by Maignan, and up the other end Pobega wanted to be the hero as he let fly from similar range but dragged his effort wide.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, Pioli decided to make a change in the playmaker role with Brahim Diaz coming on for De Ketelaere.
As both teams looked tired even despite the presence of substitutes the chances seemed to become half chances, with Pobega again skying an effort over the bar when he should have done better and Origi heading a Dest cross well wide.
A final substitution came with 10 minutes remaining, with goalscorer Saelemaekers making way for Junior Messias.
Milan thought they had picked the lock when Origi played a wonderful ball in behind the Salzburg defense with his back to goal and Brahim Diaz darted through but Kohn did excellently to react quickly off his line and gather just as the Spaniard was stretching to poke it in .
Sesko provided a reminder of his threat and why RB Leipzig moved early to secure him when he shot from 20 yards and curled an effort narrowly wide of the post.
Two final chances Milan when a move down the left saw the ball drop to Origi inside the box who looked to turn and shoot, yet he had enough pressure on him not to get anything close to a clean connection.
The last big opportunity was inches away from being a dramatic late winner as a low cross-shot from Leao deflected onto the post with everyone rooting, but the danger was then cleared and the referee blew for full time not long after.