STADIO PAOLO MAZZA (FERRARA) – Franck Kessie ensured that AC Milan did their part in pursuit of a Champions League spot in Serie A’s final round as he led the Rossoneri to a 3-2 win over SPAL at the Stadio Paolo Mazza.
But results elsewhere didn’t go the way of Gennaro Gattuso’s men, meaning they will spend the 2019/20 season in the Europa League while Atalanta and Inter will dine at European football’s top table in the Champions League.
Each of the three hopefuls – Milan, Inter and Atalanta – were outside the top four at various points throughout the evening, but it was those in Ferrara who ended the season falling so narrowly short.
Kessie was instrumental, as was his midfield partner Hakan Calhanoglu, but it was the former Atalanta ace who stole the show with two goals and an assist, in what was ultimately a disappointing day for Milan.
The tension was palpable in the early minutes and it only intensified with neither side taking control of things and both playing at full-speed for the opening exchanges.
It was Milan who emerged through the flaming chaos to have the first chances, but Emiliano Viviano denied Krzysztof Piatek well before Fabio Borini fired into the side netting.
The entirety of the Paolo Mazza – with one exception – was on edge. Viviano showed his obliviousness to the stakes as he successfully pulled off a Cruyff turn in his own six-yard box, which was greeted with an audible collective exhalation from the Curva Ovest behind him.
Things kept going at a frantic pace, but Calhanoglu took control of midfield for the Rossoneri. First, he had a fizzing long-range strike parried away by Viviano, before a ball fell his way on the edge of the box that allowed him to pick out the bottom corner.
As the Turk’s goal was celebrated, Gianluigi Donnarumma was being treated when another roar went up from Milan’s travelling support as Sassuolo went ahead against Atalanta.
Those celebrations intensified as they tightened their grip on the Champions League places as Kessie doubled their lead within four minutes, this time firing into the top corner of Viviano’s goal.
SPAL weren’t to be defeated that easily though and they battled back. Alessandro Murgia delivered a dangerous freekick from deep on the left which Francesco Vicari perfectly guided into the top corner of the recently arrived Pepe Reina’s goal.
An awareness of what was at stake then seemed to hit Milan, and their heads reappeared onto their shoulders as they looked to slow things down and get control of proceedings.
Mohamed Fares should have levelled for SPAL as he managed to wander in at the back post without Ignazio Abate noticing, but he made a mess of his close-range effort and tamely headed to Reina.
Back in Milan, Keita Balde Diao came off the bench to score and had both Milanese sides in the Champions League places.
Amends were made moments later though as Thiago Cionek found the No.93 who this time headed out of Reina’s reach to send SPAL level. Almost simultaneously, Papu Gomez netted in Reggio Emilia to send Atalanta in front and back into third place, pushing Milan back out of the top four.
Calhanoglu remained central for the visitors, but not quite with the same composure as in the first half and he fired over with a half-chance before the hour mark.
Just as Inter missed a penalty in Milan, the Rossoneri were awarded their own in Ferrara. Kessie stepped up and, unlike Mauro Icardi, the Ivorian made no mistake in slotting home. The simultaneity of the evening’s actions continued though as Mario Pasalic scored at the same time at the Mapei Stadium.
Andrea Petagna then troubled his former side and fired over before another two SPAL chances came and went without forcing Reina into a save.
Sergio Floccari header off the crossbar in the dying moments for SPAL.
Milan were made to sweat as Empoli levelled and then Radja Nainggolan fired Inter back into the top four, leaving Milan narrowly missing out to the Nerazzurri pair.