AC Milan 1-0 Napoli: Five things we learned – bending not breaking; quality on the left

By Ivan Stoev -

It wasn’t a vintage performance by AC Milan on Sunday night against Napoli at San Siro, but in the end they had just about enough to claim all three points.

The only goal of the game came in the first half and it was that familiar pairing of Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao who linked up, with the latter setting up the former and who finished under the goalkeeper.

In truth both sides missed big chances to either pad their lead or draw level, and Milan had the post the thank when a cross was diverted onto the woodwork by substitute Jan-Carlo Simic.

Milan held on for a big victory, marking their first win in Serie A at San Siro against Napoli since 2014, and as a result the gap between the teams is now 17 points.

Below are five things we learned from the game…

1. Theo at top speed

Theo Hernandez was up and down the pitch throughout the game causing a lot of trouble for Napoli’s defence whilst also locking down their attack as he was difficult to beat at the back.

The Frenchman also scored the only goal in the game for his side after a lovely run into the opponent’s box combining well with Leao before showing his composure to beat the onrushing Gollini with a smart finish.

It was the kind of high-level performance we have become accustomed to from the left-back who had a shaky 2023 but continued his impressive start of the year with yet another top outing.

2. A stark contrast

While Milan managed to keep the clean sheet it was far from a brilliant performance at the back. The nicest thing we could say is that it was a “bend-don’t-break” type mentality.

On the one hand there was Matteo Gabbia, who continues to impress after coming back from loan and is making a case for himself to continue being a key Milan player even after all the injured centre-backs have recovered.

On the other hand, however, Simon Kjaer was just not up to speed at all and it’s a miracle that Mike Maignan managed a clean sheet with the Dane in front of him.

He was sloppy, slow and bad in his decision-making, luckily though he was saved by his team-mates for the bigger part of the game before being withdrawn for Jan-Carlo Simic.

3. Both drought and creativity continue

It was another bittersweet performance for a man who is expected to be Milan’s star: Rafael Leao. The Portuguese winger was at the heart of a lot of the danger and he provided a lovely assist for Theo’s goal.

However, it must be said that the performance could’ve been much better with the winger being close to scoring his first league goal in four months a couple of occasions. Once he drew a good save from Gollini, but other times was wasteful.

It was a dynamic display by Leao and you can feel that the goal is near for him, and he will be hoping that once the goals start they don’t stop again.

4. Cracks down the middle

Whilst the Milan midfield were not overrun necessarily against Napoli it certainly wasn’t a flashy performance by the trio who in the end did just enough to help their team secure the win.

Yacine Adli and Ismael Bennacer started together for the first time and in truth we’ve seen them perform on a much higher level and they never really provided the shielding of the back four that a double pivot should do.

Then there was Loftus-Cheek who was pretty much invisible throughout the game barring a couple of runs where the end product never came, and we didn’t even see much of his physical presence because the game was played mainly on the flanks.

Yunus Musah came off the bench and looked lively while Tijjani Reijnders will be back from suspension for the next game, so Pioli will have to try nail down a winning formula for big games.

5. Pioli gets his tactics right

The win was a pretty ugly one even if we are at the stage of the season whereby it doesn’t matter how they come. Performance aside, Pioli got his tactics right against a side that has been comfortable playing at the San Siro as of late.

Milan played on the counter-attack and exploited the space well with Leao and Theo Hernandez in particular causing lots of trouble for the opposition.

In the build-up to the game it became clear that Walter Mazzarri would switch to a three-man defence with Kvaratshkelia in a central position, and the instructions to keep him quiet were pretty much on point.

The Rossoneri’s press also brought about long periods of pressure particularly at the start of the second half, forcing Mazzarri to change formation again. Pioli adapted to that well, and the subs – some bold like Alex Jimenez – brought energy.


Tags AC Milan Milan Napoli


  1. Harsh review.

    We won. We seem to be back to the form we lost a year ago on that fateful night against Roma.

    We finally have a settled line up again.

    These pretend expectations- well won, but we could have won better – are simply used to fuel more transfer and manager speculation.

    If we continue with this run and finish a comfortable 3rd or 2nd then there really isn’t a case for getting rid of Pioli.

    My only concern is Gabbia. He’s been amazing. It’s got nothing to do with his loan spell where he played just 7 times under 4 different managers. He’s just been given games. It’s been forced on the club and modern football.

    My worry is that nothing Gabbia will do will ever be enough because he’s not a new signing. He has to produce 3 or 4 times the performances of others just to keep his place.

    All because a win isn’t a win. We can always apparently do better. The sky is the limit until you fall through it.

    1. “If we continue with this run and finish a comfortable 3rd or 2nd then there really isn’t a case for getting rid of Pioli.”
      “All because a win isn’t a win. We can always apparently do better. The sky is the limit until you fall through it.”
      We’re gonna finish this season with 0 titles (most likely), we’re out of everything since december but you’re satisfied ?
      I thought you were more ambitious than that

      1. Yes I’m ambitious for a well run club.

        A well run club doesn’t sack a manger when we meet and exceed expectations.

        As an Italian club we basically are competing for two trophies, one of which we haven’t won in 20 years, and the other Inter happen to be having a great season.

        If we finish in the top 2 or 3 then by definition we’ve got a manager who is in the top 2 or 3 in the league.

        1. “A well run club doesn’t sack a manger when we meet and exceed expectations.”
          The expectations are pretty low I guess. Also he was supposed to qualify to the knockouts of the UCL or else be sacked, guess what happened.
          “As an Italian club we basically are competing for two trophies, one of which we haven’t won in 20 years,”
          Let’s see:
          Serie A: out of the race since November
          Coppa italia: out in the 1/8. Not winning it in 20 years is not an excuse
          UCL: eliminated in an overrated group
          This is indeed a fascinating season
          “Inter happen to be having a great season.”
          They didn’t “happen” to have a great season. They brought good players (and btw they brought as many players as we did and lost core players). They won titles, they have a solid system and they want to win. Also everyone else got weaker.
          “If we finish in the top 2 or 3 then by definition we’ve got a manager who is in the top 2 or 3 in the league.”
          If we don’t a title then by definition we didn’t do enough to win a title.

          1. Make up your mind – either:

            – inter have bought all these great players and therefore they are better than us;


            – Pioli has a better squad that is underperforming.

            Which is it?

            If it’s the former, I might agree with you. It’s why I spend so much time criticising the transfer strategy over the past 15 years. Inter have 3 of our former players only one of whom is a dirty filthy mercenary.

            But to build long term success we can’t keep chopping and changing, or making panicked decisions.

            We won’t actually be able to judge this season until the end.

            So how about show some patience and for the love of god enjoy the wins.

          2. “Pioli has a better squad that is underperforming.”
            This is the main one.
            We’ve lost many games trying to use a 4-3-3 that he had to ditch because it made no sense.
            He insisted on playing high line and man marking type of pressing against teams that are good on the counter.

            But management wise, Inter also did better than us, they did replace the players they needed to replace unlike us who brought like 4 central midfielders and none in the defensive midfielder.
            Inter might still end up winning this serie A even if we did better, but losing serie A in April or in May is one thing, being out of the race since November is another.

    2. “Harsh review. We won.”
      The standards of this fan base are as low as ever.
      We barely won vs a team in a poor form, just like vs Udinese, Frosinone and other bottom table teams.
      Also the same person who argues in here trying to defend Pioli is worried that no matter what Gabbia does it won’t be good enough.
      Who do you think picks who is playing, the fans? That would be your coach.
      Why do you think Gabbia left on loan in the first place? Because Pioli wouldn’t play him.
      We just had Saelemaekers friend say that he left because of Pioli with whom he didn’t get along last year before the new signings.
      Rebic, the guy you cry after because he is on of the 19s also left because of Pioli.
      CDK is not at Milan because of Pioli.
      But I bet it won’t stop you to forget all that the next time you wanna argue in defense of Pioli.
      Talking out both sides of your mouth as always

      1. Your imaginary standards, like the imaginary claims in your post, are the thing that has kept the club back.

        Winning is all that matters. We won. End of.

        As for Gabbia, the issue is that he’s a victim of the system. He’d have faced the same challenges whoever we have as manager. The issue is systematic across modern football especially in Italy.

        And we’ll never fix the system with people like you. Because you’ve no patience or understanding of what takes to build a successful team.

        1. Again this guy is blaming the fans. It’s your coach that is the problem not the fans.
          How come Calabria isn’t the victim of the system but Gabbia is.
          The fans didn’t push CDK out, Pioli did.
          Most fans have been asking for Calabria to be benched but Pioli isn’t benching him.
          A lot of fans want Giroud benched for Jovic but Pioli still plays the old man every 3 days.
          Shoo , most Milan fans want Pioli gone and yet neither him nor the club listen to the “impatient fans.” And either quits on his own or gets fired.
          Which one is it.
          Again, you talk out of your a*s, every time you get proven wrong. It’s all the fans fault. They make the rules, they sign the players, they sell the players, they pick who is playing who isn’t. It’s not the “great coach” Pioli but the fans

          1. By the same logic, all YOU ever do is blame Pioli, for EVERYTHING… Injuries – Pioli’s fault. Players missing PK’s – Pioli. Little rotation for continuity – Why doesn’t Pioli rotate??? Frequent rotation, putting in youngsters who occasionally mess up, PIOLI’s fault – why is he putting inexperience player’s in???

            The truth is alway in the middle.

            YES, Pioli has his limitations.

            Yes, tactically he’s no Guardiola.

            Yes, Inzaghi has his number with a deeper, better quality roster playing out of their minds.

            YES, he could improve with his tactical systems.

            BUT ALSO,

            Yes, given all the injuries, Pioli has done well to keep this team firmly in third with makeshift CB’s and new midfield.

            Yes, Pioli has done well to get the most out of his players since he took over, to push Theo and Leao and Bennacer and Tonali (when he was here) to the next level.

            YES, he’s brought us the God Damn Scudetto after over a decade of irrelevance.

            NO, Pioli won’t have this team team playing worse than now when Tomori and Thiaw return and we have a Next-Level Gabbia to count on too.

            YES, Pioli will go down as one of the monthst successful coaches at Milan.

            Again, it’s objectivity that you lack.

          2. Calabria was an accident.

            They tried their best to crowd him out including signing Conti but the former was unlucky and Calabria took advantage of this misfortune. Plus for some random reason we seem to be able to leave full backs alone for more than 5 mins without signing a new one.

            Ironically Calabria was the weakest of his generation. But Donnarumma was a snake and we successfully pushed out Locatelli and Cutrone.

            Youth development in Italy and at Milan in particular is a disaster. We have success rate of less than 1% when it comes to converting youth protégés into first team players.

            And it’s all because of people like you. You help create the conditions for failure because you lack patience and crave instability.

      2. I’m kinda in the middle of both your and Maldinis Heir’s arguments here – but CDK isn’t at Milan because of Pioli? CDK isn’t at Milan because of CDK. Pioli gave him more than enough chances in multiple positions and he sucked ass every time. Some players just aren’t made for big clubs imo.

        1. Well said Dejan10, its Very Simple, what more would PIOLI do after all that chances, PIOLI used CDK as a striker, winger, acm, nd he failed everywhere all the time, missed clear goal chances, even the first match against Atalanta this season he blasted is effort in a close range, the boy was nt ready for MILAN yet, he cant handle it.

  2. On Leao that assist was incredible. I actually think the goal is one of our goals of the season.

    Leao is doing his job. He’s not Messi or Ronaldo but they were freaks who played in leagues where freaks can get their freak on.

    Serie A just doesn’t allow for phenomena to dominate like in other leagues.

    It’s too tactical and despite everyone’s best efforts, we still produce quality defenders who love to defend.

    Gabbia included.

    Gabbia forever.

  3. 5 things I learned:
    1- Pioli should accept the need to sit and counter a bit more often against teams with good offensive capabilities. The reason we seem to succeed recently against Napoli, is that Pioli seems to respect them and be more cautious. Had he respected Inter or Atalanta, results might have been different.
    2- We should consider loaning our players more often to Villareal instead of buying their players.
    3- I need to get our black jersey ! Seriously though, our away shirts should only be in black, white or even yellow. Please stop with this blue, pink nonsense.
    4- Leao has improved compared to the beginning of the season and has become more of a team player. But he needs more killer instinct and be lethal in front of the goal. We should do as much as we can to keep him.
    5- Not related to this game, but we should stop acting like we somehow improved or as good as 21/22 when most of our last like 11 games in serie A were against tomato cans. Napoli is 9th, until we win against a top 5 team, don’t overhype this squad.

  4. We seem to be running out of time for my prediction that inter will choke….

    All it takes is a w….o……w…..bble….wobble wobble….come on….wobble wobble.

        1. Yes. Just like Juventus.

          2 weeks ago they’re 1 points off Inter. Now they’re only one point above us after one draw and 2 consecutive losses.

          1. Juve is quality challenged. Allegri has been walking on water keeping this team in Second. But Juve is no match for inter. Our cousins are playing light out and they are deep.

            Baring injuries and a congested schedule (deep CL run) I don’t see Inter losing concentration.

            Inzaghi is no fool. He understands that the chances of winning the Scudetto are dramatically higher than winning the CL. So he might just pull the plug on it if they start to falter domestically.

  5. Guintoli comes out and says that they will discuss Allegri’s future at the end of the season. Think about that, a coach that has won, what, 6 scudetti, several Copa and super Copa trophies, went to the UCL final twice, a day they are not convinced in keeping him, but @Maldini Heir and people similar to him Think that Pioli deserves to stay at Milan because he won 1 lucky scudetto.
    Difference in standards between clubs and fan bases.

    1. I think I understand why our management is so patient.
      Few wins here and there against small fries, meaningless stats comparing our points to some seasons ago and the fans start acting like we’re doing great and forget about every game we’ve lost.
      We’re gonna end this season with 0 titles, we were out of every race by december, but that’s good don’t worry, we have as much point as in 21/22.

      1. It’s like people are satisfied with status quo of hovering around 4th place, and hope Juventus do something stupid so they can get points deducted and you can squeeze in the top 4.
        The goal should be to improve day after day, week after week , year after year.
        What Milan player is improved? Our top 3 players have regressed.
        Theo said that the combination that led to the goal yesterday they never practiced. Another proof that Pioli doesn’t contribute much and he lives of individual effort by the players.
        But hey we got the same points as during the scudetto season. The league being much weaker has nothing to do with it. Roma, Lazio, Napoli being absolute hot garbage has nothing to do with it. Even Juventus had much better players back then than they do now.

        1. You don’t even know what the plan for the summer is. What are you huffing and puffing about? 🙂 Pioli this… Pioli that….

          Let it play out. See how the summer plays out. And if by some chance Pioli stays for another season, take a break from supporting this team because all this negativity coming out of you might lead to a serious cardiovascular complication…

          Be safe.

      2. I could not agree more. The standards have fallen. Those who continue to bring up our Scudetto season – constantly saying we are on the same number of points – miss the boat entirely. What we did or how many points we achieved years ago is irrelevant. Things change. Standards are raised. Competition improves. Either you improve with them or you get left behind. Constantly saying, “well we have the same number of points as our Scudetto season” is pointless and lazy. We must evolve and keep up.

        We got knocked out of UCL early despite making it to semi-finals last season and our record against good sides is poor. We often get out-coached by more tactical managers/teams. So until that changes we will only go so far. To say we should be happy with 2nd or 3rd place is kinda sad. I don’t think Madrid, Barca, Liverpool, etc…fans say that

        BUT this is the issue. Redbird are not interested in winning titles – only making profit. Winning titles requires spending – not a budget of 35M and selling a core player each season and replacing them with younger unproven players or older players with questionable history each year. So I could see us staying put with Pioli another season. Looks like we will qualify for UCL and that is all Redbird is concerned about.

        We will see what road Redbird takes us down this summer. Should be interesting

    2. Allegri won those titles after we sacked him…

      That worked out well, didn’t it?

      If we replace Pioli with Klopp or Guardiola I’m on board. Is that ambitious enough for you?

      And why are you so angry after a win?

      If you can’t enjoy a win then go and…..

      1. hahaha Exactly what I said. He just needs to take a break until after Pioli is gone. God Forbid Pioli wins EL… Can you imagin what would happen to Bubbles there?

  6. “Stefano Pioli equals Arrigo Sacchi as the #ACMilan coach with the fifth-most games taken charge of (220) across all competitions, behind only Ancelotti, Rocco, Capello and Liedholm.”

    Yeah, one of them had 1 Serie A and back to back european cups in 2/3rd of the games played. The other one has a Serie A title fall into his laps and was hardly only the earnings of him, we all know the factors in why we won that title, lets not kid ourselves. Only reason he has that many games is the management not having any ballz.


    1. There’s a really single solution to your problem.

      If you’re tired of looking at Sunday league stop looking at Sunday league.

      Nobody is forcing you to watch.

      1. Not a solution though, It’s hard not to when the team you have followed since you were a kid plays Sunday league level football. (Pass the guy who was really good at football but never become a pro player to win us the game, he will pull some magic.)

        However, we have been through worse.

        Let’s see what the summer brings.

  7. I agree, this is a harsh assessment. Milan were the better team for the overwhelming majority of the game.
    Give Kjaer a break. He has done well playing in every game because of injuries. He organizes the defense and Napoli didn’t have many chances. Yes, Kjaer is not great 1 v1 anymore, but if you have Kvara left 1v1 with Kjaer, somebody else already screwed up…

    Also, Asli did quite well in the defensive aspect of this game.

    1. Good shout about Adli.

      I’m not his biggest fan but he did well.

      I think he works better with Bennacer as the latter give us more grit.

      Maybe it’ll be RLC’s turn to step aside and we play with with Adli, Bennacer and Reijnders.

      1. Maldinis Heir you should definitely stop listening to your own BS!
        I agree with the others and being realistic is important. If you are a real Milan follower the stop talking about the supporter base and follow what is on field.
        Pioli is a good manager that’s all. A great club like Milan,Inter,Juve ManU, ManC need a great manager.
        Pioli struggles against big clubs history shows this!
        What do you think Maldini wanted him out of the club?

        1. During our scudetto season, we are better against top 6 team, in fact its the reason we were able to win scudetto, we only struggle against the lower level team who sit back. Last season was kinda mix bag against big team because we were the scudetto team, we were the most researched team on Serie A.

        2. History doesn’t that at all!

          He’s beaten all of the big clubs!

          If you can’t accept basic historic facts then there’s little point even discussing this.

          You’re not a fan. You’re someone who imagines what the club should be and can’t deal with reality. So stay in your imagination and go s#*t on someone else’s team.

      2. Yet Krunic after a dozen bad games, gets a pass and you’re his biggest fan. Adli could walk on water and you still wouldn’t like him.

        1. Krunic rarely had a bad game (unless your definition of a “bad game” is “not enough Hollywood passes).

          He was absolutely solid and we won more with him than without.

          The hatred of him on here is from people who simply don’t know anything about actual football beyond computer games.

          1. Krunic had many bad games, dude. Many. He misplaced so many passes this season it was pretty embarrassing. And he single handedly cost us games. You’re the one that doesn’t know football. Oh and he’s not having a good impact at the new teams he at. Really a player we are better off without.

  8. If anyone here thinks that this team is better than the team we had during the Scudetto season than that’s the problem because we still have the same amount of points and had many more injuries than in 2021. I really don’t understand why people keep complaining about Pioli. Let him finish the season and we see from there.

    1. Grande you should be more Grande!
      Think that the scudetto season was a season of mis opportunities when they just fell over the line and Inter were terrible to allow Pioli a first.
      Grande since then Pioli has created nothing the team has not grown in strength or evolved. Inter have making the UCL final where Milan have done nothing falling to Atalanta, Sassuolo, Inter, Juve, Torino, PSG, Dortmund,and so on. Important games Grande! We will not talk about season long injuries under Pioli control because it disgusting at the great club.

      1. Are Reijnders, Loftus and Musah better than Kessie, Dias and Tonali? Now compare it to Inter Thuram instead of Lukaku. Fratessi instead of Brozovic. I understand the frustration because once you reach a level you hope it only goes upwards but I also believe the blame shouldn’t fully be put on pioli. From all the new players we go the past year I don’t see anyone as an upgrade other than pulisic but even he is just average we just had worse RW before!

        1. Blame Maldini then, not Pioli. Maldini is the one who let our valuable players (Donnarumma, Kessie, Calhanoglu) leave for free so that we couldn’t replace them with equal value. And Tonali was and is hugely overrated. It was Kessie that controlled that midfield.

  9. Juventus lost to Udinese.
    I remember couple months ago few people in here were arguing that Juventus and Napoli have better squads than Milan. One of them said that Locatelli and Lobotka would walk into Milan starting lineup.
    Ha ha , good times.
    Juventus has 40 mil higher wage budget than Milan’s, only plays in 1 competition, Milan has their whole defense injuried, they are coached by the inept Pioli, best players play poorly most of the season and yet Juventus with their “better squad” are only 1 point ahead of Milan, while Napoli are 17 points behind Milan.

      1. a) Maldini was a club legend – the club legend – who was treated appallingly so frankly it doesn’t matter how well we do (and clearly we aren’t doing so well that it justifies his sacking).

        b) Most of our current run of form is thanks to the players he helped sign.

        c) frankly after spending hundreds of millions this summer on 10-12 new players we should be challenging for the Scudetto.

        1. I think you said things would get disrupted lmao. If we went by your logic, we would be around Roma’s level right now constantly missing out on the CL and Krunic would have been handed a 3 year renewal. Lol

  10. Am 67 and watched AC Milan the first time just before the mid 60s. I remember teams with players like Prati, the Paolo Maldini’s father, goalkeepers like Cudicini. Schnellinger was great as was Rivera of course. After Berlusconi sold the club I stopped watching. There will never be an AC Milan like that, with other teams such as Juve’ having Platini, Napoleon’s having Maradona and Inter having Ronaldo. Of course AC had the best lot with Gullitt, Van Basten and Rejkaard not to mention Baresi, Maldini, Donadoni etc. I think the whole Italian soccer scene is driving towards the bottom with the national squad doing hopelessly. It could be my age but I am convinced soccer in Italy was far more watchable before than it is now.

    1. Agree 100% 🙏. I grew up with football in the 90s – it was so much better then. Never mind milan remember Hagi Suker Futre etc? those guys were on another level.

  11. We have the same budget as Everton. They battle for relegation. Yet we are supposed to easily beat PSG, Newcastle and Dortmund. Is it about standards or delusion? Roma spends 25% more than we do each year and they suck massive balls. Glory hunting is now in fashion in the EPL – Man City will do many posers here good.

  12. My only problem with Pioli is, he doesn’t know how to use a midfield he hand picked himself. And it was poorly picked in the first place.

    Frankly speaking, there’s no order and no specific roles are delegated in midfield. I am no expert but buying a bunch of ball carrying box to box midfielders and put them to occupy all spots and roles in the midfield is plain stup*d.

    We can have all the attacking and defensive power on this planet at our helm but it doesn’t matter when we don’t have a functional midfield first.

    We have an 8 playing a 10 and a 10 playing a 6.

    1. I agree… We have three ball carriers in midfield and we cannot control games. We need a proper DM and not wasting Reijnders in that role

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