Rampant AC Milan Thrash Leaders Napoli to Move Back Into Serie A Top Four
AC Milan slowed Napoli’s seamless charge to their first title in 33 years, humbling the league leaders 4-0 at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
Producing a display of clinical ruthless finishing, first-half strikes from Portuguese forward Rafael Leão and Brahim Diaz gave the visitors an unexpected two-goal advantage at the break.
Napoli looked shell-shocked and were found wanting once more as Leao collected his second of the afternoon 15 minutes into the second half. Alexis Saelmaekers then rounded off the scoring to put further gloss on the victory as the game entered its final quarter as reigning champions Milan produced their best performance of the season.
Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti will now look for a reaction from his side to get back to winning ways at Lecce on Friday night before a trip to the country’s second city awaits in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
For Milan, it was a timely performance to end a spell of three games without a win and boost their own ambitions of a top-four finish. The Rossoneri, having fallen behind both Roma and Atalanta into sixth place in the table prior to kick-off, will hope victory can reignite their challenge domestically and in Europe into the final stages of the campaign.
The home side came into the match in tremendous form having won nine of their last ten league encounters, conceding just three goals in the process.
A chink in the armour came with a first home league defeat in over a year against second-placed Lazio. It will be the severity of the defeat against Milan now that will raise eyebrows, conceding more goals in one game than the Partenopei’s last 12 league matches stretching back to the turn of the year.
Things in Campania, however, are still looking rosy for Spalletti’s side. Having triumphed 2-1 back in September against Milan at the Giuseppe Meazza, it was only the second time the side in the southern-based outfits history that they have found themselves with an advantage of more than 15 points over their second-city rivals.
Such has been Spalletti’s side’s dominance in the Italian top flight this season that the title can now be in the Partenopei’s hands by the end of the month, with an outside chance of a European double quietly dreamt at by the home faithful
However, a shadow had been cast over Napoli’s parade with the loss of star striker Victor Osimhen to an abductor injury on international duty over the last week. The 21-goal Nigerian facing a fortnight out of action and the prospect of missing both European ties with Milan.
It would be a test for Spalletti to replace the league’s top goal scorer with duties given to Italian forward Giovanni Simeone to deputise, with depth amongst his squad’s bench could be key in the final run in.
The Nigerian forwards hold up play and off the ball running a big loss and a big outlet to many of the fluid counter-attacking moves the Partenopei possess in their play.
The alteration was one of three changes from the team that impressively brushed aside mid-table Torino 4-0 before the international break.
Mario Rui coming in for the injured Mathias Olivera at the back, whilst Matteo Politano, a scorer in the reverse fixture was preferred to Mexican Hiving Lozano on the right of the front three.
Having looked to have turned a corner with three straight wins following the return of several key personnel from the treatment table, Milan’s form had once again nose-dived. One point from the previous three matches seeing Stefano Pioli’s side drop to sixth place in the table.
Manager Stefano Pioli chose to freshen his side making five changes, reverting back to a previously used 4-2-3-1 formation for this one having been exposed defensively in a 3-4-3 formation in the 3-1 loss at Udinese prior to the international break.
Englishman Fikayo Tomori the only survivor to the backline, with recalls for club captain Davide Calabria and Frenchman Theo Hernandez at full back, with Danish international Simon Kjaer coming in at centre-half.
Rade Krunic formed the double pivot in midfield, whilst Olivier Giroud replaced the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the lone striker.
The visitors started the brighter of the two sides playing with much more offensive purpose than in recent weeks and created the games first opening.
Dias, finding space with a clever run picked out by Hernandez on the left before striking an effort inches wide of Alex Meret’s near post in the Napoli goal.
The home side started to find rhythm in their play and would be next to carve an opening. Piotr Zielinski picking out Simeone from the left, the forward though lacking composure in his finishing lashing an effort wildly over the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area.
It would prove to be a costly miss as Milan took the lead minutes later. Dias’ superbly weighted pass from 25 yards out on the right-hand side splitting the Napoli centre halves picking out the timed run from Leão to score his first in 12 matches dinking over the onrushing Meret.
Dias turned from provider to scorer as the Rossoneri then doubled their advantage. The Spanish international midfielder punishing indecisive play in the Napoli defensive, following an Ismael Bennacer cross from the right to lash home an effort powerfully high into the net from close range.
The hosts would look to respond with Zielinski picked out by Napoli’s charismatic Georgian playmaker Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The Poles drawing a stinging save from Milan’s French stopper Mike Maignan to divert the effort wide of the post.
Milan’s number one showing why he has been so badly missed in what has been an injury-ravaged campaign, enabling his sides two goal advantage would remain intact at the break.
The visitors though would be the side that would look the most likely to extend their lead on resumption of play. A neat interplay in the midfield resulting in Giroud guiding a guilt-edged chance narrowly wide of the Napoli goal.
It would only delay Pioli’s side as they found a decisive third on the hour mark. The excellent Tonali was strong in midfield, winning back possession before finding dangerman Leão to the left of the penalty area. The forward cleverly twisting and turning around two defenders before lashing an unstoppable effort past a helpless Meret.
Things went from bad to worse as Napoli’s defense crumbled conceding a fourth. Calabria’s charging run on the right picking out substitute Saelemaekers to ghost through the backline to squeeze home an effort.
The Belgian then came close to gaining his second driving a fierce effort from range drawing a smart stop from Meret.
The scoreline would remain the same to the conclusion. A fully deserved victory for Milan, who had been far superior in midfield, against an off-colour Napoli. The visitors moving into third place in the Serie A standings, whilst Napoli remain 16 points clear at the top of the pile.
Napoli X1: Alex Meret, Giovanni Di Lorenzo (captain), Kim Min-Jae (Juan Jesus 81), Amir Rrahmani, Mario Rui, Frank Anguissa, Stanislav Lobotka (Eljif Elmas 68), Piotr Zielinski (Tanguy Ndombele 68), Matteo Politano (Hirving Lozano 68), Giovanni Simeone (Giancomo Raspadori 77), Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
AC Milan X1: Mike Maignan, Theo Hernandez, Davide Calabria (captain), Fikayo Tomori, Simon Kjaer, Rade Krunic (Charles De Ketelaere 83), Ismael Bennacer (Tiemoue Bakayoko 83), Sandro Tonali, Brahim Diaz (Alexis Saelemaekers 56), Rafael Leão (Divock Origi 74), Olivier Giroud (Ante Rebic 74).