With only their second win in six Serie A games, albeit with a 106 day gap between their last Serie A loss to Genoa and Monday evening’s victory at Lecce, AC Milan ensured they are still alive and well in the battle for a place in European competition next season.
Goals from Samu Castillejo, Giacomo Bonaventura, Ante Rebic and Rafael Leao were enough to ensure Stefano Pioli’s men returned home with all three points, but they were made to work hard for the win by the Salentini who levelled the contest just after the break, although the parity was fleeting.
Milan sat back after Castillejo’s opener just before the half hour mark and allowed their hosts to dominate the contest, with Biagio Meccariello having a goal ruled out for offside and both Gianluca Lapadula and Khouma Babacar going close, until Marco Mancosu levelled the tie from the penalty spot in the 54th minute.
All signs pointed to Fabio Liverani’s men making the remainder of the evening uncomfortable for the Rossoneri, but an error from Gabriel in the Lecce net and a complete defensive collapse in the space of 60 seconds provided them with room to breath. Bonaventura and Rebic capitalised on the mistakes before Leao ended the game with a well placed header late on.
Milan will now go into Sunday afternoon’s clash with fellow European hopefuls Roma, who currently sit fifth in the Serie A table, full of confidence, but the lapses of concentration on display in Lecce will be a cause for concern.
LAPSES OF CONCENTRATION
Losing the lead in games has led to Pioli’s men dropping ten points so far this term and with only five points separating Napoli in sixth and Bologna in tenth it could prove to be costly when the season reaches its conclusion.
Pioli’s men went from dominant to dormant almost instantly after Castillejo opened the scoring and it was only Lecce’s mistakes that allowed them to snatch back control.
With games against Atalanta, Juventus, Lazio, Napoli and Roma still to come this will be a real cause for concern in Milan, any lapses of concentration will almost certainly be punished with ruthless efficiency by the teams at the top of the table.
REBIC TO THE RESCUE
Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to the Stadio San Siro in December as the Rossoneri’s apparent saviour after a poor start to the season, but after only three goals in eight lacklustre Serie A appearances his presence has become more of a hindrance than a help.
However, just under the radar and out of the spotlight has been an unlikely hero in the shape of Croatia international Rebic.
Rebic’s calmly taken goal on Monday evening was the seventh time in eight league games that he has found the target as he tries to lead the Rossoneri’s ailing front line.
His work rate was phenomenal as he covered every inch of the pitch and led from the front in a game that looked like it could get away from his team.
MIDFIELD THREE LIGHT UP LECCE
It was Calhanoglu, who both assisted and scored in Milan’s 2-2 draw with Lecce in October, and Castillejo who combined for the games opening goal. The Turkey international providing the cross for Castillejo to deftly turn past Gabriel in the Salentini goal, his first tally since April 2019.
Calhanoglu again played a part in Milan’s second and third goals of the evening, first his long range shot was to hot to handle for Gabriel and Bonaventura stabbed home the rebound, before his picture perfect pass sent Rebic clear for the Rossoneri’s third.
Both Calhanoglu and Castillejo were a constant threat to the Lecce back line whilst Bonaventura, in his 150th appearance in the starting XI for the club, provided a workmanlike performance and fully deserved his goal.