Rafael Leao ready to make his mark as AC Milan look to beat Roma

By Sports Desk April 17, 2024

Rafael Leao is determined to silence his critics when AC Milan seek to overturn a 1-0 deficit in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Roma.

Leao came in for criticism after last week’s first match, but showed a much better version of himself as Milan fought back from two goals down to take a 3-3 draw at relegation-battling Sassuolo on Sunday.

The 24-year-old forward, who scored Milan’s first goal, recognises he needs to bring more consistency to his game.

“I hope to help my team,” Leao told Milan TV.

“If I don’t score a goal, I hope to play well and win. This is the most important thing, to move forward.

“After the first leg, where I didn’t do very well, I was disappointed and with Sassuolo I wanted to give the right answer. If I make a mistake, I always try to come back even stronger, to learn from my mistakes.

“I found the joy of doing well and helping my team-mates. I want to play better now. We know the comeback is possible. We have to start strong, try to score in the first few minutes and then play like a final.”

Goalkeeper Mike Maignan is expected to return in goal after sitting out Sunday’s match as a precaution, but Simon Kjaer is a doubt after suffering a muscle injury in that match. Both he and fellow defender Pierre Kalulu missed training on Wednesday.

Gianluca Mancini struck in the 17th minute as Roma took an impressive 1-0 victory at the San Siro last week, carrying on their good form since Daniele De Rossi replaced Jose Mourinho in the hotseat.

The 2022 Europa Conference League champions came ever so close to making it back-to-back titles after they were defeated on penalties in last year’s Europa League showpiece and are 90 minutes away from another semi-final.

But De Rossi knows AC Milan are far from beaten as they prepare for the second leg in Rome.

As quoted on romapress.net, he said: “Milan? They will fight with everything they have. This is their last resort, they want to win and achieve one of their objectives for the season. It will be difficult.

“There are characteristics of the opponent that must always be respected and you need to think about the opponent’s coach’s moves. The first leg with Milan was quite balanced, perhaps it went a little better for us. Milan won’t change their tactics too much, but we must not overthink our own gameplan.

“We will prepare the match to win it, to try to score a goal which would be a blow for them even if it might not be decisive.

“Milan are a very strong team, they are better than us, but in the first leg we showed that we are not that much inferior and I told my team that we can play for it. We are one step away from an important milestone such as a European semi-final.”

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