Junior Messias delivers late winner for Milan to leave Atlético Madrid in trouble
When they needed him most, Milan’s Junior Messias appeared. With three minutes remaining at the Wanda Metropolitano and their elimination drawing ever closer, the Brazilian rose above everyone to head in the goal that gives them life, sending staff and teammates streaming from their bench and this group into a final day when almost anything can happen.
By the other bench, Diego Simone stood looking into space. This had been coming, and it is not over yet, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. “It’s hard to lose like this,” Jan Oblak said.
Liverpool are through of course – they already were – but this result means Porto, Milan and Atlético can all join them, drop into the Europa League or be knocked out entirely. Atlético are bottom and must beat Porto to have any chance, their fate not in their own hands even then. Milan must play Liverpool and theirs is not either. Only Porto control their own destiny. Stefano Pioli’s side had been so close to falling but deserved to live to fight another day. Not just here, and not only in the final 20 minutes when they threw everything at Atlético, but in previous games too.
Milan were entitled to wonder how they came into this penultimate round of games bottom. That feeling deepened in a first half in which they again dominated Atlético, as they had done in their defeat at San Siro. Theo Hernández’s return began by being dumped on the turf but before long he was up and running at his former club. It was Brahim Díaz, on loan from Atlético’s rivals Real Madrid, who most impressed though, a superb slalom and shot setting the tone after six minutes.
Playing off the front, Brahim moved with a speed, intelligence and intent that Atlético struggled to control, while behind him Sandro Tonali hit diagonal passes that pulled the hosts out of position. Rodrigo De Paul and Marcos Llorente began to combine, giving Atlético a foothold – giving Antoine Griezmann a chance that he swiped at, too – but still it was Milan that most moved this game. Not that either keeper really moved much by half-time on a cold night at the Metropolitano.
Within two minutes of the restart, both had. The more notable stop was Ciprian Tatarusanu’s from Thomas Lemar, and then Griezmann escaped up the left and crossed for Yannick Carrasco to turn past the post. This was better now, the game opening up. Olivier Giroud tried a Zidane volley, only from further out, and sent it well over the bar. Frank Kessié then hit a shot even higher, about the time that news reached of Porto now trailing – a little light for both sides coming from Liverpool.
Simon Kjær headed over next, the shift Milan’s way soon becoming definitive. There were 20 minutes remaining and six changes followed at once: two for Atlético and four for Milan, including the introduction of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the impressive Tiémoué Bakayoko, and the man who would ultimately win this game.
Ibrahimovic set Messias running deep into the area to pull back for Bakayoko by the penalty spot. On his knees, Stefan Savic somehow blocked the shot. As the move continued, Hernández couldn’t control to shoot from close range. At the other end, Tatarusanu saved from De Paul but Milan were on the move now, Alessandro Florenzi’s shot flying into the stands and Bakayoko heading over.
Atlético felt fear – and the fact that a draw was almost as good as the win for them given the score at Anfield was reflected in increasing changes, each more defensive than the last. It didn’t work, it only made it worse. For Milan, it was the opposite – they needed the win and kept on coming. With five minutes left, Oblak struck out an astonishingly strong arm to deny Ibrahimovic.
The flag had gone up anyway but they were back two minutes later, Kessié delivering a wonderful cross for Messias to deliver justice.