Rafael Leao once again proved AC Milan’s saviour as he created two goals for Sandro Tonali as the Rossoneri recovered from a goal down to win in Verona and move a step closer to their first Serie A title since 2011.
After a strong opening, when they were denied a goal from Tonali by a marginal offside early in the build up, Milan fell behind to a header from Verona skipper Davide Faraoni, who nodded home Darko Lazovic’s perfect cross.
Three minutes into injury-time in the first half, Leao raced to the byline on the left side of the penalty area and drove a ball which Tonali, holding off a challenge from Federico Ceccherini, nudged home from two yards out.
Four minutes after the restart, it was almost deja vu when, breaking from a corner, Leao raced past Antonin Barak and then played a perfect low cross to Tonali at the back post.
In the 86th minute, Milan’s nerves were allayed as substitute Alessandro Florenzi played a one-two with Junior Messias then drove into the box and smashed a low effort home.
Milan now lie two points clear of rivals Inter, also holding an advantage in the head-to-head tie-breaker employed in Serie A if sides are level on points, with just two games remaining.
Serie A now the most competitive league – For a long time in Italian football a team trying really hard when they have nothing to play for was looked down upon, in the same way they could not understand the effort and fan appreciation in England of players sprinting 30 yards to make an inconsequential sliding challenge on the halfway line. In the not too distant past players have been seen on television complaining about the effort being put in by opponents which threatened to derail a procession to the title. This seems to be in the past now.
Both Milan teams, locked in a tussle for the Scudetto, have almost stumbled against teams embedded in mid-table, with no major historic rivalry, but who for at least half a game looked like taking points which could have settled the title race. You compare this to how Manchester City and Liverpool have brushed aside all-comers (until the latter’s recent slip until Champions League-chasing opposition), as well as the easy path to the title for Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris St-Germain, and Serie A this season stands as a beacon for how competitive a league should ideally be.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Rafael Leao (AC Milan) – Although likely the first Milan team to win the title since 2011, it will never be rated one of the great Rossoneri sides – admittedly they face incredibly strong competition in this regard. The one position which will bear comparison with one of the greatest Milan teams is their left winger who for the second game in succession rescued the side from a parlous situation. In an era of great left-sided forwards Leao is as exciting and consistent as any.
Hellas Verona: Montipo 7; Gunter, Casale 6, Ceccherini 6; Faraoni 7, Tameze 6, Ilic 6, Lazovic 7; Barak 6, Caprari 7; Simeone 7.
Subs: Depaoli 6, Hongla 6, Lasagna 6, Sutalo 6.
AC Milan: Maignan 7; Calabria 6, Tomori 7, Kalulu 7, Theo Hernandez 6; Tonali 8*, Kessie 6; Saelemaekers 6, Krunic 7, Rafael Leao 9*; Giroud 6.
Subs: Rebic 6, Messias 6, Bennacer 6, Ibrahimovic 6, Florenzi 7.
15′ GOAL FOR MILAN! They didn’t have to wait long this time round and the hordes of Milan fans in attendance are delighted as Tonali robbed Ilic then calmly slid the ball past the Verona keeper for the opening goal.
17′ VAR DISALLOW THE GOAL An offside decision which wasn’t obvious on replays.
38′ GOAL FOR VERONA! It has been coming. A fantastic move saw Lazovic clip a ball into the centre over the head of Maignian and Faraoni guided a header home into the net.
45+3′ GOAL FOR MILAN! You don’t make Leao angry. He skinned Casale on the left by-line and then forced a low ball inside the six-yard box which Tonali under pressure did well to turn home.
49′ GOAL FOR MILAN! Tonali with another goal and again the lion’s share of the praise deserves to go to Leao. On a break from the corner he drives past Barak and then plays a square ball just outside the reach of Montipo and perfectly for Tonali to turn home at the back post.
86′ GOAL FOR MILAN! Victory is now secure. Florenzi in his first meaningful possession played a one-two with Messias and then drove low into the corner.