Ismael Bennacer rescued a point for AC Milan with a superb equaliser as the Serie A champions were held to a 1-1 draw away to Atalanta on Sunday night.
Ruslan Malinovskyi, who surprisingly started for the hosts amid rumours of an imminent transfer, smashed in the opening goal in the first half.
But Milan improved after the break and their pressure paid off when Bennacer skipped inside a defender and curled a shot into the bottom corner in the 68th minute.
Both sides have picked up four points from their opening two games, and they sit two points behind early pace-setters Inter Milan and Napoli.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s selection of reported Tottenham target Malinovskyi surprised many, coming a day after the Atalanta coach criticised the midfielder’s six-goal haul from last season and said he wanted new signings with ‘more suitable characteristics.’
Malinovskyi responded to the off-field noise in impressive fashion by scoring the opening goal after 29 minutes, smashing home a powerful shot via a deflection after he was left with time and space on the edge of the box.
The goal came after chances at both ends, Milan’s best opportunity coming when Junior Messias was found unmarked at the back post and fired into the side-netting instead of picking out a team-mate for a tap-in.
Pierre Kalulu headed over and Rafael Leao’s curling shot flew just over as Milan responded in the second half, but Mike Maignan had to be alert to palm over a Mario Pasalic header.
The Rossoneri’s big-money summer signing Charles De Ketelaere came off the bench with Olivier Giroud to try and enliven the attack, and the Belgian youngster immediately threaded a pass into the path of Tonali, whose finish was charged down by Musso.
Milan began to increase the pressure and eventually found the breakthrough thanks to Bennacer’s inspired finish, but neither side was able to land a decisive blow in the closing stages.
TALKING POINT – MALINOVSKYI PROVES A POINT
Malinovskyi’s name has featured heavily in the gossip columns this week, with Tottenham and Marseille among his reported suitors. The stories were more than just hearsay, as Gasperini’s aforementioned comments hinted at an exit, while the Ukrainian’s wife Roksana posted on Instagram that she and her husband have been “forced to seek other options”.
Gasperini’s allusion to his midfielder’s lack of goal threat and subsequent selection of Malinovskyi in his starting line-up turned out to be a winning formula. The 29-year-old looked determined to prove his coach wrong as he rained shots at goal, with his successful effort being one of five he had during the match.
It was a strong performance from the playmaker, and one that’s sure to cause all sorts of discussion in the days ahead.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Ismael Bennacer (AC Milan): The Algerian has started the season in top form. His passing and positioning were excellent in Bergamo, and when his team were struggling, it was Bennacer who stepped up with a rare goal. It was beautifully executed for a man who so rarely finds the net – this was just his fourth goal in 107 games for the Rossoneri.
The midfielder dropped the shoulder to duck past a marker and bend a shot into the far bottom corner like a natural winger. But his passing was crisp all night – he ended with 86% pass accuracy – and he racked up several interceptions and ball recoveries to help his team defensively.
Atalanta: Musso 7; Toloi 6, Demiral 6, Djimsiti 6; Hateboer 6, De Roon 6, Koopmeiners 6, Maehle 7; Pasalic 6; Zapata 6, Malinovskyi 7. Subs: Scalvini 6, Muriel 6, Lookman 6, Okoli N/A, Zortea N/A
AC Milan: Maignan 6; Calabria 7, Kalulu 6, Tomori 7, Theo Hernandez 7; Tonali 7, Bennacer 8; Messias 6, Brahim Diaz 6, Leao 6; Rebic 6. Subs: Giroud 6, De Ketelaere 6, Origi 6, Saelemaekers 7, Florenzi N/A
24′ BIG CHANCE FOR MILAN: Hernandez sweeps a cross into the box from a deep position and it finds its way to Messias at the back post, but the Brazilian fires his finish wide.
32’ GOAL! (MALINOVSKYI) ATALANTA 1-0 AC MILAN: Malinovsky is left unmarked at the edge of the box and fires a shot past Maignan, taking a deflection off a defender on the way in.
56′ – PASALIC THREATENS: Atalanta produce another flowing move from one end of the pitch to the other, ending with a dangerous cross towards Pasalic. The Croatian gets a powerful header on target, but Maignan sticks up a right arm and palms it over.
60′ – TONALI DENIED: Instant impact from substitute De Ketelaere! The Belgian threads a pass through to Tonali, but the midfielder’s shot is well charged down by Musso.
68’ GOAL! (BENNACER) ATALANTA 1-1 AC MILAN: Bennacer dribbles into the box, cuts inside Koopmeiners and curls a superb shot into the far bottom corner. It’s an unstoppable effort, and Milan are level!