Milan scrape through after Ajax draw

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Milan's Riccardo Montolivo reacts to his red card at the San Siro.APRiccardo Montolivo reacts to his red card at the San Siro.

For all the pregame analysis regarding how Milan would approach the encounter with Ajax, Riccardo Montolivo's sending off ultimately destroyed the game plan as the Rossoneri hung on to progress to the knockout phase of the Champions League with a 0-0 draw.

Milan's captain received a straight red card for his late challenge on Christian Poulsen in the first half, and his absence inevitably resulted in prolonged pressure from the visitors, who were a dangerous proposition throughout.

Given the man advantage, their belief would have been boosted but the Rossoneri's resilience shone through as they were able to hold on for a draw which secured second place in Group H.

- Milan advance after stalemate

Having long been criticised, the defensive line put in a decent performance in the circumstances, and coupled with Mario Balotelli's efforts in a lone striker role, Massimiliano Allegri's men were able to preserve their slender advantage in the group over their Dutch rivals.

Furthermore, perhaps most notably, Mattia De Sciglio's performance at right-back was another positive to take away from a game which saw Frank De Boer's men predictably dominate possession and create numerous chances.

The 21-year-old defender has had an injury-plagued campaign thus far and has been a significant loss, but his return to full fitness, along with Stephan El Shaarawy, will be a major boost for Milan moving forward.

Nevertheless, as the only Serie A side to successfully qualify for the next stage of the Champions League it is a significant achievement for Milan despite the manner in which they progressed.

As has been the case in the past few years, they have struggled to maintain their influence and dominance in games consistently in Europe, but have now made it 11 consecutive appearances in the knockout stages.

In addition, given the Rossoneri's current domestic situation there is a sense that their participation in Europe's premier competition must be savoured this year. Although the quality of the list of potential opponents in the next round is daunting, they will undoubtedly still be a threat.

However, there was much to be admired from Ajax's performances in both meetings, and although they fell short in terms of the result, Allegri will hopefully have learnt from the experience and taken away aspects that he can apply to his own team.

Having previously spoken about Milan's reserved mentality and inability to allow their individual quality to make the difference, it will be a real test of resolve and desire in the upcoming games, but it would be refreshing to see a more positive approach.

In the short term, it remains to be seen whether this has an impact on performances in Serie A, but with Adriano Galliani confirming Keisuke Honda's arrival in January, along with Adil Rami, there are promising signs moving into the new year.

Progress in the Champions League was fundamental for the season as a whole, and Allegri admitted in his postgame interview that Milan have now "reached the second seasonal objective."

They were forced to dig deep on Wednesday night, and while it wasn't the ideal way to secure qualification, Milan's affinity with the Champions League proved too strong for Ajax.

What are your thoughts on the performance against Ajax? Who would you like to face in the knockout stages?

For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

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