Late goals are papering over cracks at AC Milan: What happens when they stop coming?

AC Milan have been saved by a lot of late goals lately, and there's no guarantee that they'll always be able to scrape wins in such dramatic fashion.

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Although they will celebrate wildly on the red and black half of Milan after another last-gasp victory at the Stadio San Siro, there will be questions as to why AC Milan were just seconds away from dropping more Serie A points and falling further behind league leaders Napoli.

After Olivier Giroud had scored a last-minute winner against Spezia in their last home fixture, it took a Nikola Milenkovic own goal two minutes into stoppage time for the Rossoneri to overcome Fiorentina 2-1 on Sunday night, despite getting off to a wonderful start as Rafael Leao struck after 90 seconds.

Before the Serbian international’s moment of misfortune, the Viola were inches from taking the lead themselves, when Jonathan Ikone curled the ball around Milan goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu, only to see Fikayo Tomori clear off of the goal line. Had that nestled in the back of the net, few could have argued that they deserved the three points.

Rafael Leao celebrates after scoring for AC Milan against Fiorentina (@ACMilan)

AC Milan hiding behind home form

The Rossoneri have now won 10 of their last 11 Serie A matches at the San Siro. Although their one defeat could prove crucial as it came at the hands of Napoli in September and Stefano Pioli’s side sit eight points behind the Partenopei. Leao certainly enjoys home comforts, with five of his six goals this term netted there.

However, the dominance and positivity displayed by Fiorentina, and to a lesser extent Spezia before them, was another example of this Milan side struggling to perform with that air of title holders, despite notable first-team absentees. When Antonin Barak equalised for the Tuscan club – the Czech’s third consecutive goal against Milan at San Siro – they had already struck the post through Cristiano Biraghi and were forcing their hosts to retreat deeper and deeper.

That lack of authority and creative spark have been most visible on the road, with a solitary point secured from their last two away matches, but been even more pronounced had it not been for those late winners. Across this campaign, the Rossoneri have won just 43 percent of away fixtures, compared to 74 percent in 2021/22, and could be crucial to keeping their title.

World Cup refresh for the Rossoneri?

Rafael Leao celebrates. (@acmilan)

Looking a little jaded after their Scudetto-winning efforts last season and possibly focusing on successfully navigating their Champions League group, the mid-season pause for the World Cup in Qatar could come at an ideal time for Milan, to refresh bodies and refocus minds.

However, it is too simplistic to believe that much publicised absentees will transform the Rossoneri when Serie A recommences. Goalkeeper Mike Maignan and full-back Davide Calabria are notable upgrades on their replacements, but this season Milan have conceded 0.93 goals per game, which is only marginally higher than last term (0.82).

Greater confidence in the back-line might provide the Rossoneri with the basis to show some greater attacking intent, but again, average more goals per game this campaign (1.93) than last (1.82). The currently injured Alexis Saelemaekers and Junior Messias have seen plenty of action and provided only moderate goal scoring contributions. Whereas an ageing Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have minimal impact on the pitch.

The reality may be that Milan over achieved in 2021/22 and this season we are seeing a more accurate sum of their individual parts, and their youthful title winners were not beginning an era of domination by the Milanese giants.

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