Dudelange 0 AC Milan 1: Deflected Higuain goal spares Gattuso's blushes
AC Milan got away with producing an underwhelming performance as Gonzalo Higuain's deflected second-half goal secured them a 1-0 win over Luxembourg's Dudelange in their Europa League opener.
Gennaro Gattuso named a strong side that, for most of the first hour, looked incapable of breaking down theoretically hugely inferior opposition, and in the end their winning goal proved highly fortunate.
Milan were especially poor in the first half, hardly causing their modest opposition any problems at all at the back, with Dudelange arguably crafting the better opportunities.
But Gattuso's men stepped things up a notch after the break, finding the net - with a little help of a deflection - through Higuain in the 59th minute and that proved to be enough to open their Group F account.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) September 20, 2018
Despite Milan's superior quality on paper, Dudelange actually crafted the better chances in the first half.
David Turpel fired over from Kevin Malget's cut-back in the 32nd minute, before Dominik Stolz followed suit from a tight angle after being released into the left side of the box soon after.
Milan eventually went close just before the break, but Mattia Caldara's header went well over despite being unmarked at a corner.
The visitors began the second half with renewed purpose and quickly went close - Joe Frising denying Higuain, who had met Diego Laxalt's cut-back.
But Higuain got lucky just before the hour, receiving Samu Castillejo's pass on the edge of the area and finding the net via a hefty deflection.
A Castillejo cross shortly after found Fabio Borini, who hit the post from close range, but it mattered little as Milan comfortably held on.
What it means: Milan some way off being considered a genuine contender
Milan are certainly - historically - one of the biggest clubs in this year's competition, but they showed no signs on Thursday that they are going to go the distance.
Aside from Castillejo, there was very little creativity on display, while at the back they appeared susceptible, as Dudelange caused them more issues than perhaps would have been expected.
Rest assured, Olympiacos and Real Betis will give them a real examination.
Pat on the back: Castillejo with the craft
While he was by no means outstanding, Castillejo was Milan's standout player in attack. His final pass was disappointing in the first half, but he persisted with attacking in his usual direct manner and eventually set up Higuain's goal. He almost got a second assist, but Borini was thwarted by the frame of the goal.
Boot up the backside: Caldara fails to convince
Milan were better defensively after the break, but beforehand they were caused issues and Caldara was particularly unconvincing, letting Stolz escape him for the hosts' best chance, while also wasting a good opportunity at the other end.
Dudelange return to domestic action at the weekend and have three matches before their next Europa League clash, which is a trip to Real Betis on October 4. Milan, on the other hand, host Atalanta looking to claim their second Serie A win of the season.