STADIO SAN SIRO (Milan) – An early Rafael Leao goal afforded AC Milan a sigh of relief as they returned to winning ways with a 1-0 Serie A win over a stubborn Hellas Verona side that put up a fight from beginning to end under the pouring rain in Lombardia.
After facing criticism for his displays against Inter and Newcastle United, Leao made the most of a Michel Folorunsho mistake to score the game’s opening, and only, goal. It was an afternoon on which both sides struggled to create clear-cut chances.
Although a positive performance won’t put any points on the board from Matchday 5, Verona coach Marco Baroni can be pleased that his side are making a good impression of themselves with seven points from five games so far.
Kick-off was delayed by 25 minutes due to the torrential rain that had fallen on the San Siro neighbourhood prior to the game, forcing referee Fabio Maresca to assess the condition of the pitch before giving the green light.
With Theo Hernandez joining Mike Maignan on the list of sidelined players shortly before the match, Stefano Pioli switched to a 3-4-3 with Alessandro Florenzi as a left wing-back, Yunus Musah starting on the opposite flank and Christian Pulisic coming back into the side.
Leao bounces back after Inter and Newcastle criticism
Evidently boosted by their bright start to the season and a positive streak against Milan that had seen them always score in their last six Serie A games at the San Siro, Verona got off to a brave start and proved far from timid by immediately pushing a number of bodies forward and trying to reach them with direct passes.
Such a bold approach was quickly spoiled when Michel Folorunsho‘s inaccurate pass was intercepted and set Leao off towards the goal. The Portuguese made no mistake in finishing with a swift touch past Lorenzo Montipo to give the Rossoneri an early lead eight minutes into the game.
The visitors didn’t seem too disheartened after falling behind and kept piling a well-worked collective pressure on the Rossoneri’s defensive ball carriers.
Folorunsho almost made up for his previous mistake as he singlehandedly led a Verona attack down the right before switching the ball to the opposite flank and making a run into the box to head a cross and give Marco Sportiello a scare, with the stand-in goalkeeper forced to palm his attempt away.
A balanced second half leaves Verona with regrets
Hellas Verona‘s initiative suggested an only goal might not be enough to get Milan over the line, but rather than pushing for a second the Rossoneri seemed to settle for a cautious approach after the break. They invited their opponents to come forward with a view to catching them on the counterattack, but it was the Gialloblu who got the first shot of the half through substitute Federico Bonazzoli.
The approach almost paid off when Sportiello came out and rapidly set up Florenzi, whose long ball put Milan‘s two strikers against as many defenders, but Leao failed to find space for a shot before more Gialloblu players tracked back.
The hosts’ first clear opportunity of the second half came shortly after the 70-minute mark, as Pulisic was teed up by Ruben Loftus-Cheek and turned on his left foot to unleash a shot that was well parried by Montipo.
A dangerous header from Folorunsho followed but that was all Baroni‘s side could create in the closing stretch of the match that saw Montipo make more saves.
While Verona deserve praise for their overall display at the San Siro, the Gialloblu will regret having conceded that early goal in such avoidable fashion, with it making a difference in a game that leaves Milan in second spot with 12 points.