PSV 1-1 AC Milan: Cocu’s men emerge with reputation enhanced
A Tim Matavz header was enough to cancel out Stephan El Shaarawy’s first-half goal as PSV came from behind to draw 1-1 with AC Milan in the first-leg of their Champions League playoff tie. It was a fantastic performance from PSV, one which deserved more than one goal and was worthy of more than a draw for Phillip Cocu’s side.
That they travel to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza with a level scoreline and having conceded an away goal, makes the task of progressing beyond the Serie A giants an incredibly tough task. However, it is one which is not necessarily beyond them. This current crop of PSV players is remarkably fresh and full of youth. In each of their six competitive games in the Eredivisie and Champions League, including last night’s match, they have played with electrifying pace, confidence and without fear. Averaging just over three goals-per-game, they have shown their attacking strength despite the lack of experience in the team, challenging the adage that that is an aspect you cannot live without in football.
Against Milan, they showed that they wouldn’t be intimidated by a much more experienced team who were seen as the heavy favourites. Park Ji-Sung returned to the team he left in 2005 to join Manchester United following his loan from QPR. The inclusion of the 32-year-old and that of the former AZ captain Stijn Schaars, 29, boosts the average age of the PSV side, but there was little change in their style and attacking intent. Two 19-year-olds, Adam Maher and Memphis Depay, in particular, showed that they were well up for the challenge and created a lot of danger in the opening minutes of the game. Maher came close to opening the scoring very early on when a Tim Matavz shot flew towards him and he got a touch to change the direction of the ball but it went just wide.
PSV only increased the pressure from then on. Shots from Depay, Matavz and captain Georginio Wijnaldum were all fired towards Christian Abbiati’s goal but with no joy. A goal seemed imminent, but, unfortunately for the impressive hosts, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock instead. Left-back Jetro Willems had moved forward to close down Kevin Prince Boateng in the middle of the park while Depay tracked the run of Ignazio Abate down the wing. The Ghanaian forward played a nice pass down that flank to the Milan fullback who evaded his marker’s poor tackle and sent the ball into the box. His pinpoint cross was met by star striker Stephan El Shaarawy who was left in acres of space inside the box and nodded past Jeroen Zoet with ease.
It was against the run of play and a crushing blow to PSV, but they persisted and maintained the pressure on the Milan back four for the remainder of the half. Maher had the best opportunity to level the score when he drifted in behind the defence and unleashed an effort but he could only smack it off the bar.
The early stages of the second-half were very bright for Milan. Their attacks looked more dangerous than in the opening 45 minutes and they were able to pile more pressure on the home side. El Shaarawy latched onto a Balotelli through pass but his subsequent shot went just wide and minutes later the young striker saw a close-range shot blocked and cleared.
Despite Milan’s opportunities, it was PSV who next found the net. Jeffrey Bruma, who at 21-years-old was the oldest player in the Eindhoven side’s back four, collected the ball from about 30 yards out and smashed it towards goal. Abbiati could only parry it and Matavz was the only player to follow it up and he was able to head it into the net.
From then on, both teams created a lot of goalscoring opportunities. Most notably for PSV, a corner fell to Wijnaldum at the back post who did well to lift it up for Karim Rekik to head towards goal but he sent it wide. While Rekik understandably had his head in his hands, he’s certainly a lot more comfot Then, substitute Florian Jozefzoon had a promising effort blocked and cleared from goal. Milan saw one shot from Boateng go wide and then one from substitute Andrea Poli saved by Zoet.
As the game drew to a close, the players in the white of Milan would have been happier to take an away goal and level score back to Italy, while PSV’s youngsters were left to rue their missed opportunities. Seven times the pick of the bunch in Europe’s elite competition, Milan are favourites to progress but whatever the outcome, this performance should stand PSV’s young team, and in particular their centreback pairing, in good stead for the challenges that lie ahead.