Ruben Loftus-Cheek brace helps AC Milan take control of Rennes play-off

By Sports Desk February 15, 2024

Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored twice as AC Milan took control of their Europa League play-off against Rennes with a 3-0 victory in the first leg at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli’s men finished third in their Champions League group, but continue to build momentum on the back of just one defeat in 13 games now through all competitions.

Former Chelsea midfielder Loftus-Cheek put Milan in front in the 32nd minute with a glancing header and nodded home another at the start of the second half before Rafael Leao swiftly fired in a third, leaving the Italian giants within touching distance of a place in the last 16.

The Rossoneri almost took an early lead when Leao’s close-range effort struck the crossbar before Theo Hernandez blazed over from the edge of the penalty area following a corner.

Loftus-Cheek then burst down the right and cut the ball back to Yunus Musah, who sent his shot wide.

After soaking up plenty of early pressure, Rennes went close in the 21st minute when captain Benjamin Bourigeaud’s long-range effort flew just off target.

Milan broke the deadlock just after the half-hour when England international midfielder Loftus-Cheek guided a cushioned header into the bottom corner from Alessandro Florenzi’s floated cross for his fourth goal in five appearances.

The hosts – currently third in Serie A, a point behind Juventus – continued to press as Olivier Giroud’s low drive from the edge of the area was clawed away by Rennes goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Rennes, who had been unbeaten in nine games, threatened on the counter when teenage winger Desire Doue drove forwards and drilled in a 20-yard effort, which was straight at Milan keeper Mike Maignan.

The French side fell further behind just two minutes into the second half when Loftus-Cheek nodded in from close range after Mandanda had palmed out a flicked header at the near post from Milan defender Simon Kjaer.

Before Rennes could look to regroup, Leao had fired in Milan’s third – his 50th goal for the club – after a neat exchange with Christian Pulisic down the right in the 53rd minute.

Rennes made a couple of changes to try to sharpen up the team and had a good spell of pressure heading into the final 20 minutes, with a low 22-yard drive from substitute Amine Gouiri testing Maignan.

Milan had a late chance to score a fourth when Pulisic broke down the left wing. The American’s shot was parried by Mandanda and then substitute Noah Okafor saw his follow-up hacked off the line by Rennes midfielder Azor Matusiwa.

Maignan saved again from Gouiri before Ludovic Blas fired over as Rennes were left with it all to do in next week’s second leg at Roazhon Park.

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