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FOR the third time in UEFA club competition, Milan have been drawn against their bitter city rivals Inter in the Champions League. The Rossoneri progressed from both previous ties – in the 2002-03 semi-finals and 2004-05 quarter-finals. In fact, Milan are unbeaten across all four previous meetings with their noisy neighbours in the competition (W2 D2), while they advanced via away goals when the two sides last met at this stage 20 years ago. Although plenty of time has passed since then.

After clinching their first league title in 11 years last season, Milan have been unable to lay a glove on runaway leaders Napoli in Serie A this term. Stefano Pioli’s side trail the Partenopei by 21 points in the league table and currently occupy sixth spot – two points behind Inter in the race for Champions League qualification.

The Rossoneri appeared to be viable challengers to Luciano Spalletti’s high-flyers in the first half of the season, losing just two of their opening 15 league games, alongside qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14. Yet just one win in their eight games across all competitions following the return from the World Cup break saw Pioli’s side’s Scudetto defence go up in flames.

Instead, the Rossoneri have found themselves in the midst of a five-way battle for a top four spot in order to clinch Champions League football next season. This is further complicated by the fact that Roma may still claim one of Serie A’s berths with victory in the Europa League, while Milan and Inter may also do the same if either were to go on and lift the Champions League. And with the mouth-watering final four clash between the two Italian giants looming, the Rossoneri could be forgiven for shifting their focus from domestic football in recent weeks.


Pioli’s charges have been rather inconsistent of late – winning only two of their last nine in Serie A. Milan named an extremely weakened starting line-up in their last outing – a 1-1 midweek draw at home to bottom-three side Cremonese. Yet, despite their topsy-turvy league form – Milan have been a completely different beast in the Champions League. After sealing qualification from Group E with double figures, the Rossoneri knocked Tottenham out in the Round of 16 following two assured performances – marking the first time that they reached the last eight of the competition since 2011-12.

Milan then knocked out league rivals Napoli at the quarter-finals stage, advancing as plucky underdogs via a 2-1 aggregate scoreline. It was the seventh time that the Rossoneri have reached the last four of the tournament – the joint-most by an Italian side since the competition’s rebrand in 1992-93 (also seven for Juventus). Though more importantly, it is their first time advancing to the semi-finals since 2006-07, when they went on to the win the competition.

The 1-1 draw during the second leg in Naples was also the first goal that Pioli’s side had conceded across six matches in the Champions League. A feat that can be largely lauded to the scintillating form of goalkeeper Mike Maignan. There is little doubt that the Rossoneri’s slump at the start of the year coincided with the absence of Maignan. The 27-year-old, dubbed ‘Magic Mike’ by sections of the Italian press has been integral to Milan’s success over the last two campaigns. The goalkeeper kept 17 clean sheets in Serie A last term – the most of any player in the competition as Pioli’s side clinched their first league title in over 10 years.


Maignan has once again been an impenetrable force between the sticks for Milan this season. In fact, there were calls for the former-Lille man to be France’s No1 ahead of the 2022 World Cup. However, a calf injury ruled him out of the tournament and saw him miss a large spell for Milan after the turn of the year. Yet after marking his return with a clean sheet in the victory over Atalanta in February, the shot-stopper hasn’t looked back. The France international has inevitably steered the Rossoneri into the last four of the Champions League with key saves against Tottenham and Napoli, when both ties were finely poised.

However, there is little argument that the star of the show for this Milan side is forward Rafael Leao. The 23-year-old has gone from strength-to-strength since his arrival at the San Siro. The Portugal international was the key cog in the Rossoneri’s Scudetto victory last season, reaching double figures for goals. The winger was also voted Serie A’s MVP in 2021-22, and he’s continued this campaign in much the same vein. Leao is Milan’s joint-top scorer across all competitions this term with 13 goals, while no Rossoneri player has more goal contributions than the attacker (23).


Leao will also be revelling in the fact that his side have been drawn against Inter. The forward has had a hand in four goals across his eight appearances against the Nerazzurri in Serie A, bettered only by his five against Roma. He was extremely influential in the first Derby della Madonnina of the season back in September, as Milan came from behind to defeat their foes 3-2. Leao had a contribution in all three goals – scoring the first, providing the assist for Olivier Giroud’s strike before rounding off the performance with the third and final goal.

As the first leg of the semi-final draws closer, anticipation continues to ramp up in the city of Milan. After Inter relinquished their Serie A title on the final day of last season, this tie has even greater significance. Missing out on Champions League football next season would serve up huge consequences for both club’s due to the tightening purse strings of Italian football. It really is a match-up that neither side can afford to lose.

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