AC Milan secured a massive win in front of their home fans on Sunday night as they beat top four rivals Atalanta 2-0 to rack up a fourth straight victory.
In truth Milan dominated the game from start to finish and the only wonder is how the margin wasn’t wider, but the first goal came in arguably a rather fortuitous way as Theo Hernandez struck a stunning 25-yard volley that hit the post, ricocheted off the back of Juan Musso and went in.
After missing countless chances the second goal finally came in the last few minutes as Junior Messias got his second in two games with a lofted finish when through one-on-one, and that made the rest of the match plane sailing.
The result means Milan go six points ahead of Inter and also get back on equal points with Inter who lose 1-0 against Bologna earlier in the day, with the top four race now looking a lot more optimistic.
Stefano Pioli made a couple of changes to his starting line-up from the win at Monza as Olivier Giroud resumed his place as the centre-forward and more significantly Mike Maignan was back between the posts marking his first start in over five months.
Milan had their first attempt of the game after 30 seconds as Rafael Leao darted through the midfield and wound up a cross to the far post where Giroud was waiting for the volley, but skewed it comfortably wide and over.
Some smart work by Theo Hernandez – who made several early forward runs – saw Atalanta give away a free-kick just outside the edge of the 18-yard box for a foul on Giroud yet Sandro Tonali struck his shot well over the bar when he should have done better.
Giroud had a much bigger chance to open the scoring in the seventh minute and again Leao was the provider. This time the Portuguese winger cut in onto his right foot from the left wing and curling in a perfect low cross that the Frenchman fired over on the half-volley.
In the 26th minute, Milan took the lead just as their early pressure suggested they might. A ball into Giroud in the box was masterfully headed backwards into the path of Theo Hernandez, who could not have hit his volley any sweeter as it cannoned off the post, hit Musso’s back and rebounded in for an own-goal.
The chances kept on coming for Milan and Leao almost got himself through on goal a few minutes after the opener, dribbling the ball against the arm of Toloi who was booked given the position on the pitch, and the Portuguese was then booked for his protest as he thought it could have been a red card.
Leao again picked up possession in a dangerous area on the break after Atalanta had muted penalty shouts waved away, this time running into the box on the right side and firing wide of the near post when he should have hit the target.
The former Lille man just didn’t have his shooting boots with him in the first half. He curled an effort way over the bar not longer before the interval after Giroud did well to find Brahim who led the charge on the break, though it must be said the final ball from the Spaniard was a couple of yards behind where Leao wanted it.
The theme of wasting chances continued into the second half as Brahim Diaz played another ball behind his man on the break causing Giroud to stutter backwards and lose possession, then a through ball from Messias was deftly backheeled by Brahim and rolled through to the centre-forward who struck a shot straight at Musso, but might have been offside.
Milan slice their way through Atalanta like a hot knife through butter with just over 20 minutes to go as some lovely interplay involving Giroud, Tonali, Brahim Diaz and Leao saw the Spaniard find the Italian who put it across goal where the the Portuguese was only just stopped from a tap-in.
It was Messias’ turn to stare at the heavens moments later when Theo Hernandez won possession right on the byline and squared to Leao who fed the Brazilian on the far side of the box with the goal gaping, yet he somehow blazed it over the bar.
A double change came in the 74th minute as Zlatan Ibrahimovic came on for his first appearance since the final game of last season, replacing Giroud, while Charles De Ketelaere was brought on for Brahim Diaz.
With four minutes left on the clock, Milan got the second goal that their chances deserved. Another counter saw Leao play a first time through pass down the centre of the field with Messias making a run, and although Musso came rushing out the wing-back dinked it over him and the ball bounced into the back of the net.
A couple of final changes saw Alexis Saelemaekers and Ante Rebic come on, while Krunic went into the back to earn a suspension for the next game as the remaining minutes wound down and another vital win was secured.
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