STADIO SAN SIRO (Milan) – AC Milan made the most of a moment of brilliance from their stars Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao to come out on top against Napoli in a tight 1-0 win on Serie A Matchday 24.
The French full-back scored the game’s only goal with a clinical finish midway through the opening half by taking advantage of Leao‘s excellent assist, but it took a very solid defensive display to fend off the Azzurri’s attempt at a comeback, especially in the second half.
Second-placed Juventus will now inevitably feel pressure after the Diavolo reduced the gap between them to one point, forcing the Bianconeri to win against Udinese on Monday to restore a four-point advantage.
Leao and Hernandez unlock Napoli
After limiting Milan‘s early attempts to break into the box from the right flank, Napoli‘s lengthy spells of possession resulted in their first great chance of the game after 10 minutes as Khvicha Kvaratskhelia dribbled his way past Matteo Gabbia and swept in a cross which was met by Giovanni Simeone, but he sent the ball over the bar with a wayward strike.
A tightly balanced period followed, with both teams looking unable to create serious danger but it only took a moment of brilliance from the most exciting player to change it all.
After a timid opening 25 minutes, Leao played a great through-ball into the path of Hernandez, who found himself in the box one-on-one against Pierluigi Gollini and smartly scored with a low drive that went in at the near post.
The opener sparked an enthusiastic reaction from the stands, and the hosts tried to ride that wave by increasing their presence in the Azzurri’s final third. Still, there was little to note in the final stretch of the first half, except for an injury that forced Davide Calabria to limp off of the pitch with Alessandro Florenzi taking his place.
Kvaratskhelia’s brilliance not enough to inspire Napoli’s comeback
Substitute Florenzi gave the visitors an immediate scare after the break as his fierce shot from outside the box forced an unconfident save from Gollini, who eventually managed to block the ball before Olivier Giroud could pounce on it.
A break led by Leao saw the Portuguese lay another excellent ball off to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was challenged seconds before the shot with the crowd roaring in protest following the referee’s decision not to award a penalty.
The match was now more lively and open, and Napoli racked up three chances in quick succession but neither Simeone nor Kvaratskhelia managed to hit the target, with Matteo Politano bending his left-footed effort inches wide shortly after.
The Georgian international kept proving the main threat for the Rossoneri down the left with his dribbling and runs. Yet, the greatest chance of the second half eventually occurred in the opposite half and fell to Leao, who swiftly cut inside only to hit a curled shot that flashed wide of the far post.
Milan‘s rearguard was at full stretch as they desperately tried to shield Mike Maignan‘s goal from Napoli‘s late push but once again the action went from one end to the other, with Leao failing to capitalise on a massive chance, as his indecision in front of Gollini allowed the defence to clear the danger.
There was one last scare to face for the home side as substitute Jan-Carlo Simic deflected the ball against his own post, but the tension was eventually broken by the roar of the crowd who welcomed a win that sent Milan just one point behind Juventus, and leaves Napoli down in ninth.