Ten-man AC Milan went second in Serie A after a dogged 2-1 win over Sampdoria.
Rafael Leao was at the heart of everything Milan did in possession, and it was no surprise when the opening goal came from his dart down the left.
The Portuguese forward led a counter into the Samp box, feeding Olivier Giroud. Giroud, in turn, cut it back towards the penalty spot. Belgian attacker Charles de Ketelaere missed the ball, but full-back Junior Messias arrived to put away the chance.
After just six minutes, it was Milan’s fastest goal of the season so far.
Fourteen minutes later, Leao danced away from defenders in the Samp box and floated a lovely cross towards the penalty spot. Goalkeeper Emil Audero attempted to come out but missed, and De Ketelaere headed into an empty net. It was 2-0, but only for a moment as VAR intervened to rule out the goal for an offside in the build-up.
Early in the second half, Leao, who had already been booked, went for a bicycle kick but missed, instead kicking Sampdoria defender Alex Ferrari in the head. The referee gave Leao his second yellow, and Milan were reduced to 10 while the bandaged Ferrari played on.
Later on, Filip Djuricic flicked Tommaso Augello’s cross past Mike Maignan to level the score.
Samp’s luck appeared to be changing, but in the 67th minute, things turned once again as Giroud was awarded a penalty after a lengthy VAR review which spotted a handball by defender Gonzalo Villar.
The French veteran was perfect from the spot, scoring his third league goal of the season to restore Milan’s lead.
The victory moves the Rossoneri’s unbeaten streak to 22 league matches, still well short of their all-time record of 58 games without defeat, while Samp have just two points from six games.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – DAVIDE CALABRIA (AC MILAN)
Olivier Giroud’s veteran performance ran him close, but Davide Calabria was sensational against Sampdoria.
The captain was impressive when it was 11 against 11, but once his team were reduced to 10, he seemed to grow in stature.
He had more touches than any other Milan player. He made an immense eight tackles, four interceptions and four clearances in a true captain’s performance.
Deep in stoppage time, just as his team were finally beginning to sag under pressure and fatigue, Calabria found the energy to sprint out and intercept a loose Sampdoria pass, before driving towards halfway and winning a foul.
Sampdoria: Audero 6, Augello 6, Villar 5, Djuricic 7, Rincon 6, Caputo 6, Sabiri 7, Murillo 5, Bereszynski 6, Ferrari 5, Leris 6. Subs: Verre N/A, Vieira N/A, Gabbiadini 5, Quagliarella 5
Milan: Maignan 7, Calabria 9, Kalulu 6, Kjaer 6, Hernandez 7, Tonali 7, Pobega 6, Messias 7, De Ketelaere 7, Leao 6, Giroud 7. Subs: Tomori 6, Bennacer 6, Vranckx N/A
6’ GOAL! Sampdoria 0-1 AC Milan (Messias): Samp is caught with too many players forward, and Milan break with purpose. Leao drives down the left wing and feeds Giroud, who unselfishly cuts it back towards the penalty spot. De Ketelaere misses the ball, but Messias arrives late to rifle it home.
17’ LEAO BOOKED FOR FLYING ARM: Milan’s star forward carries the ball into the box and looks to hold off Jeison Murillo. His flailing arm catches the Colombian, who goes to the turf rather theatrically, earning a booking for Leao.
21’ VAR CANCELS MILAN GOAL: A brilliant cross from Leao gives De Ketelaere the chance to head into an empty net after goalkeeper Emil Audero comes and misses. VAR intervenes and overrules the goal due to an offside in the build-up.
47’ RAFAEL LEAO SENT OFF: The Portuguese went for the spectacular bicycle kick but accidentally shinned defender Alex Ferrari in the head. Already being on a yellow, Leao is dismissed from the field.
57’ GOAL!Sampdoria 1-1 AC Milan (Duricic): Samp get the ball wide to Tommaso Augello who swings in a lovely cross that Djuricic delicately heads home.
67’ GOAL! Sampdoria 1-2 AC Milan (Giroud): VAR spots Villar’s arm coming in contact with the ball at the last corner, and now Milan have a chance to restore their lead from the penalty spot. Giroud hits a perfect spot kick, and Milan lead 2-1.
88’ HOW HAVE SAMP NOT SCORED? Maignan makes two saves, and Samp hit the crossbar in a frantic spell. It seems nearly impossible, but Sampdoria have not managed to equalise.