Stephan El Shaarawy and Tim Matavz each found the back of the net at Philips Stadion as PSV Eindhoven and AC Milan battled to an entertaining 1-1 stalemate in Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff match first leg.
PSV, who came into the contest with three Eredivisie matches already under their belt (all wins), looked to capitalize on the visitors’ lack of match fitness in the early going and quite nearly opened the scoring after two minutes when Matavz’s effort bounced just wide of goal.
Then it was Adam Maher who found himself in some useful space in front of Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, but his deflected effort skimmed the top of the cross-bar as the Rossoneri breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It was amid such pressure that El Shaarawy scored the game’s first goal against the run of play.
PSV left-back Jetro Willems coughed up the ball to Ignazio Abate in the buildup, and the Milan right-back took a few powerful strides before placing an inch-perfect cross to the head of his teammate, who had only to come up with the slightest nod to beat goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet for the opener.
From there both sides traded chances as the match, played at a furious pace, tested all the fitness Milan had managed to build up in preseason training.
But if PSV were let down by their failure to convert their bevy of chances, it was only due to lack of experience at this level—the average age of the squad is just over 22 years.
Maher, in particular, made a nuisance of himself, and Memphis Depay also displayed a willingness to have a go from anywhere.
In the end, PSV attempted 22 shots but troubled Abbiati with only eight on goal.
One of those eight, however, caused the Milan ‘keeper all sorts of problems and led directly to the equalizer on the stroke of the hour-mark.
Abbiati, who had been terrific until this point, carelessly spilled Jeffrey Bruma’s howitzer from well outside the area, and Matavz, who was Johnny-on-the-spot to collect the rebound, easily bundled the ball into the back of the net to restore level terms.
From there the match slowed considerably and even took on something of an edge—Sulley Muntari and Mario Balotelli both finding their way into the referee’s book before the final whistle.
But the result was one Milan were surely happy with, and after opening their Serie A campaign at home to Hellas Verona on Saturday will welcome PSV to the San Siro for the return match next Wednesday.
Key Player Grades
Memphis Depay: B-
Had he managed to find the back of the net, Depay’s score would read “A+.”
The 19-year-old winger menaced the Milan backline throughout the night, cutting in from the left and taking five shots and also completing 89 percent of his passes.
Mario Balotelli: B
Balotelli linked up well with El Shaarawy, and given that he was returning from a preseason knock, he acquitted himself quite well at Philips Stadion.
The 23-year-old completed 81 percent of his passes, and his 43 passes revealed a player involved in much of what Milan generated in the attacking third.
Stephan El Shaarawy: A
He might have scored two or three, but that he got an away goal in a Champions League playoff tie is enough for the best grade of the evening.
Not only did El Shaarawy score Milan’s only goal of the night, but he also took six shots on goal and touched the ball 54 times, also winning two tackles.
He was involved in everything, and he matched up well against Joshua Brenet.
Milan will happily take the 1-1 draw back to the San Siro, where they’ll look to secure their progress to the Champions League group stage next week.
They’ll host Hellas Verona in the meantime while PSV Eindhoven, who know they have to score in Milan, will look to continue their hot start in the Eredivisie when they visit Heracles on Saturday.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.