STADIO SAN SIRO (Milan): Stefano Pioli’s rotations ended up backfiring as AC Milan needed an injury-time goal from a combination of substitutes Rade Krunic and Junior Messias to avoid defeat against Cremonese on Serie A Matchday 33. That equaliser came after David Okereke had also come on in the second half to silence the San Siro with a strike that helped the Grigiorossi close in on fourth-from-bottom Spezia, now six points away.
The 1-1 draw will leave the Rossoneri boss regretting not having picked his best players from the very start, as their replacements proved unable to pose a real threat for more than 60 minutes, leading to a result that will see Milan end Matchday 33 in sixth place.
AC Milan hindered by too many changes
The likes of Theo Hernandez, Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud were initially all rested by Stefano Pioli, who opted for a heavily-rotated side with a view to a crucial series of games that will see the Rossoneri take on Lazio and then on Inter, twice in the Champions League semi-finals, in the space of two weeks.
Divock Origi and Charles De Ketelaere were both given a start, afforded yet another chance to leave a mark in what has been a disappointing stint at the Stadio San Siro for both so far.
Things looked even easier than expected for the hosts when they found a breakthrough with their first attempt on goal, as Alexis Saelemaekers sprinted from the right past the last defender to pick up a delightful ball from Pierre Kalulu and clinically beat Marco Carnesecchi, but what they thought was an opener was chalked off for offside after a VAR review.
Carnesecchi was tested again by Origi with a precise low drive that was parried away and then outdid himself shortly after to stop De Ketelaere, who further added to his miserable season when a reckless backpass from Soualiho Meite left him one-on-one against the visitors’ goalkeeper. But Carnesecchi proved the smartest in the duel by taking the ball off the midfielder’s feet with a swift move of his arm.
After Atalanta and Juventus had won earlier in the day, the news of Inter’s goal at Verona seconds after the 30-minute mark, coupled with AS Roma’s early opener at Monza, put further pressure on a Rossoneri side who were desperate not to lose further ground in a tight fight for the three remaining Champions League spots, but even that wasn’t enough to inspire a spark amongst the hosts, and it was clear by that time that Pioli would try to tweak something during the break in order not to leave it too late.
Cremonese strike first in lively second-half
Rade Krunic replaced Ismael Bennacer as Milan began the second half, but it took them more than 15 minutes to create the first real opportunity, as Brahim Diaz broke through Cremeonese’s half and laid it off to Saelemaekers. His pinpoint cross was met at the far post by the Spaniard himself, heading a huge chance over the bar.
The visitors immediately responded in a similar fashion, as Emanuele Valeri was found completely free by Leonardo Sernicola’s ball but failed to head in the opener.
It was clear by then that the Rossoneri needed a further offensive boost, forcing Pioli to bring on Leao and Giroud at the same time, a double change that inevitably saw the hosts force the Grigiorossi into their own box, but when a final, intense assault from Milan seemed the only possible thing on the cards Cremonese stroke to leave San Siro in dismay.
Substitute David Okereke sprinted to pick up a long ball and his feints inexplicably caused panic between Kalulu and Malick Thiaw, who clashed against each other in an attempt to block him, gifting the striker with the chance to calmly beat Mike Maignan to give his side an unhoped-for lead.
Leao blazed wide from a good position to waste a massive chance for Milan’s equaliser and the Rossoneri had Rade Krunic and Junior Messias to thank for rescuing a vital point during the five-minute stoppage time with the former getting a decisive deflection on Messias‘ free-kick.