AC Milan took a huge step in the race to win the Scudetto as they beat Fiorentina 1-0 at San Siro this afternoon to put the pressure on city rivals Inter.
Milan created a plethora of fantastic scoring chances at the beginning of both halves yet the recent theme of wastefulness continued as several players did not take the opportunities that arose.
The Rossoneri had to wait until the 82nd minute before their winning goal came just a week after Sandro Tonali scored a 92nd-minute winner against Lazio, and this time Rafael Leao was the hero as he seized a poor pass from Pietro Terracciano to stroll into the box and finish.
The result moves Milan five points above their neighbours Inter with three games to play, and the Nerazzurri have the pressure on them when they face Udinese away this evening.
Head coach Stefano Pioli did not make any changes to the starting line-up from the team that won in the 92nd minute against Lazio last week, with Ismael Bennacer back in the fold but starting from the bench.
It was the away side who threatened first inside the opening minute as some good work from ex-Milan man Saponara down the left ended with a cross that was not properly cleared and allowed Cabral to fire an acrobatic effort that was well blocked.
Milan had the ball in the back of the net inside the seventh minute but their celebrations would be short lived. Theo Hernandez found the far corner with an excellent strike around 15 yards out on his weaker right foot from a central area but the flag was raised for a clear offside in the build-up.
Milan got another scare not long after when a corner from Fiorentina’s left sailed over the heads of everyone in a cluster near the penalty spot and fell to Igor, with the centre-back drilling a low effort just wide of the bottom corner.
The Rossoneri really should have taken the lead a minute later at the other end as Leao led a counter with a driving run down the middle and the ball was diverted by a Fiorentina boot into the path of Theo who hit the side netting from close range with Brahim Diaz perfectly poised for a cut-back.
Chances continued to flow in the early exchanges and when Giroud was put through on goal by Kessie’s through ball and he lifted it over Terracciano everyone in the stadium thought it was in, yet it was wide of the post.
A sloppy giveaway in midfield nearly led to the opening goal for the away side when Saponara cut inside onto his right foot and Maignan could only parry his shot into a dangerous area though thankfully Duncan was not able to get to the rebound.
The game continued at a frantic pace towards the half-time interval and Kessie perhaps should have done better when the ball fell to him after Theo Hernandez’s low cross following a surging run was cut out, though he fired well over and wide from 20 yards out.
Calabria became the latest to blaze an effort over the bar a few minutes before the break when a free-kick was cleared to him on the half-volley on the edge of the box.
Milan had a massive opportunity to open the scoring two minutes into the second half and this time it was Leao who could not keep the ball below the crossbar. Brahim fed Giroud down the right who cut it back to the Portuguese winger around the penalty but he lifted it above the bar.
Terracciano made a smart low stop a few minutes later to deny Kessie’s driven shot from a narrow angle after Giroud had hooked the ball in behind.
Milan’s finishing touch continued to be missing despite the numerous clear chances they were creating. Theo Hernandez surged through down the left and just had to lift the ball over the advancing goalkeeper which he did, but also well over the bar too.
In the 56th minute a double change was made as Junior Messias and Brahim Diaz made way for Ante Rebic and Rade Krunic.
The Croatian was straight into the action and his first chance came when a long ball was flicked on by Giroud into his path, but he took on the shot first time and it was well wide of the net.
With just under 25 minutes left another change was made as Giroud made way for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Tensions began to rise inside the final minutes as Theo was accused of throwing an elbow which produced a dramatic reaction, and then Quarta proceeded to fly in late on the Frenchman a few moments later.
Cabral came very close to stunning the San Siro crowd but it was Mike Maignan who came to the rescue, stopping the header from the Brazilian striker that seemed destined to creep in at the near post, and gathering the ball at the second attempt.
A final change was made with 11 minutes left on the clock as Ismael Bennacer came on for Kessie.
Milan finally opened the scoring with just over eight minutes left, and they had Fiorentina goalkeeper Terracciano to thank. He miscued a clearance that fell to Rafael Leao, who burst into the box and opened up onto his right foot, firing low and through a crowd into the back of the net.
There were a couple of potential breakaway opportunities at the end that would have killed the game off early, but the crowd of over 70,000 could finally celebrate when the last kick off the game was a free-kick straight into Maignan’s arms.