Milan beat Empoli 3-1 after four very late goals in a dramatic finish to move into the top four of Serie A.
The champions started well and Rafael Leao should have had the opening goal in the eighth minute, but somehow failed to find the open goal.
Shortly afterwards Alexis Saelemaekers likewise spurned a huge chance to score.
Leao was causing trouble for the Empoli defence, but just couldn’t get a shot on target.
The rest of the first half was wrecked by a series of injuries. Saelemaekers went off first, followed by Milan captain Davide Calabria. Calabria had to be stretchered off. On the verge of half-time, Empoli lost Alberto Grassi.
Midway through the second half, Simon Kjaer became the third Milan player to be withdrawn due to injury.
Empoli’s best chance came in the 74th minute when Nedim Bajrani was through, one-on-one with Tatarusanu. With almost the whole goal to aim at, Bajrani shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Six minutes later, Milan took the lead. Leao had always seemed the likeliest source of a goal, and the Brazilian danced right through the Empoli defence before squaring for Rebic, who only had to tuck the chance away.
Bajrani had missed two huge chances, but when Empoli won a dangerous free kick in stoppage time, he stepped up and delivered a magnificent free kick. It seemed he had won a point for the home side, but the champions responded as champions do.
Fode Ballo-Toure turned in a free kick, before Leao led a last-second break, dinking the goalkeeper to extend Milan’s advantage and seal the win.
TALKING POINT – THERE’S TOO MUCH FOOTBALL
The sight of four different players limping off – or being stretchered off – was a sobering reminder that top players this season are being asked to play far too much football. The compression of domestic schedules to fit in a winter World Cup means that even players below the top tier are suffering. Any concerns about player safety appear to have been superseded, and we are now seeing the results.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – MARKO PJACA
The Croatian winger didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, such was his influence on the match. He was at least as influential as Rafael Leao, but was doing so with less talented team mates. Pjaca completed six dribbles – more than any other player on the pitch – and constantly threatened to break through and score. He should have had an assist, but Bajrani wasted the one-on-one chance that he had conjured for him. On the strength of tonight’s performance, Juventus could do worse than calling him back from his loan spell early.
Empoli: Vicario 7; Stojanovic 7, De Winter 5, Luperto 6, Parisi 7; Haas 6, Marin 6, Grassi 7; Pjaca 8; Lammers 6, Satriano 6. Subs: Marin 6, Bandinelli 6, Bajrami 7, Cambiaghi N/A, Destro N/A
Milan: Tatarusanu; Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Ballo-Toure; Bennacer, Tonali; Saelemaekers, De Ketelaere, Leao; Giroud. Subs: Dest N/A, Kalulu 6, Brahim 7, Rebic 7, Krunic 6
9’ HOW DID LEAO MISS?
Charles De Ketelaere skips through the Empoli defence and rolls the ball to the unmarked Leao but the Brazilian somehow picks the only part of the goal occupied by Guglielmo Vicario.
A huge chance goes begging.
21’ ANOTHER HUGE MILAN MISS
Leao turns provider, beating Empoli defenders before rolling the ball to Alexis Saelemaekers who somehow misses the entire goal.
42’ LEAO SHOOTS JUST WIDE
With two players down on the edge of the box, Leao picks up possession and charges into the box. The Brazilian lets fly, but his just slides outside the Empoli goal.
79’ GOAL MILAN
Ante Rebic turns in Leao’s cross to give Milan a late lead in Empoli.
90′ GOAL EMPOLI
A brilliant free kick from Bajrani up, down, and beyond Tatarusanu to equalise for Empoli.
90′ GOAL MILAN
Milan have gone and stolen it back with seconds remaining. Empoli had just levelled, but Fode Ballo-Toure slips Milan back into the lead at the death.
90′ GOAL MILAN
Rafael Leao sprints away on the break and dinks his shot over Vicario. What a finish to this one!