An AC Milan team inspired by Rafael Leao defeated Napoli 4-0 on Serie A Matchday 28, and the performance from the Portuguese forward was much needed, especially with more crucial fixtures coming up for the Rossoneri.
The 23-year-old had failed to score in his last eight league appearances, but he was decisive against the Partenopei, scoring twice and having a hand in another on Sunday evening. Alexis Saelemaekers added further gloss to the victory with a fine solo goal.
Although this result barely changes anything in terms of the Serie A title race, it should give Milan more confidence as both sides will face other again in the Champions League quarter-finals later this month.
Leao bursts into life again
Leao had come into this game without a Serie A goal in two months and he had just one assist in that time as well. However, Milan coach Stefano Pioli decided to return to the 4-2-3-1 formation, which brings the best out of the 23-year-old, especially when he plays on the left wing.
A sublime through-ball from Brahim Diaz put Rafael Leao clear and he was able to delicately chip the ball over Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret for the opening goal. It was a rare moment in which a normally tight Partenopei defence was open and left exposed.
The Portuguese forward was also involved in the build-up for the second goal, exchanging passes in the middle before the ball was sent towards the left flank. After Ismael Bennacer supplied the cross, Diaz kept his cool to control the ball in the box and strike the ball past Meret.
After the break, Leao added the third with a moment of individual brilliance. He received a pass from Sandro Tonali, surged forward, and then beat two defenders before smashing a left-footed shot into the net.
Leao showed the player that Italian football followers have known since his arrival from French club Lille in 2019. A tall yet agile and fast winger, he is capable of the spectacular, and he clearly demonstrated that against Napoli.
Napoli lacking reference point without Osimhen
Days before the match, Napoli lost Victor Osimhen to a muscular injury, which granted Giovanni Simeone a rare chance to lead the Neapolitan attack.
Although the Partenopei won all seven competitive matches in which the Nigerian striker was absent, they are a better team with him on the pitch. His strength, his ability in the air and at ground level, and his positional play were evidently missed against Milan.
With 21 goals so far in the 2022/23 Serie A season and seven strikes clear of nearest rival Lautaro Martinez from Inter, an Osimhen‘s return cannot come soon enough, particularly with that European clash in mind.
Despite some impressive cameos from Simeone and Giacomo Raspadori early in the season, especially in the Champions League, the Nigerian possesses an all-round game that the other two do not have.