After two consecutive wins, somewhat bouncing back from the derby defeat, AC Milan made sure to leave the latter behind by beating Lazio 2-0 on Saturday evening.
Stefano Pioli selected his usual starting XI, albeit with Yacine Adli getting his second consecutive start due to Rade Krunic’s injury and Simon Kjaer replacing Malick Thiaw, who needed some rest.
The game started off rather boring in the first half, with few interesting moments except when Tijjani Reijnders hit the woodwork in added time as he failed to react quickly and give his team the lead.
In the second half, however, Milan looked better and managed to press high up the pitch forcing their opponents to commit errors. That resulted in some dangerous moments for Milan and around the hour mark, after a lovely sequence, Christian Pulisic found himself on the end of a pass by Rafael Leao and did not disappoint picking up his third goal of the season.
In the 88th minute, it was Leao again with the assist this time for Noah Okafor, who came off the bench and got his second goal after scoring just days before against Cagliari, sealing the three points for his side. Here are five things we learned…
1. Leao to the rescue
The Portuguese winger was rather quiet in the first half but picked up the pace in the second, providing two crucial assists to help his side pick up the win.
He managed to use his explosiveness on both goals and left the defenders for dead, proving just how unstoppable he is when he gets going. Pioli will be counting on the winger to lead Milan against Dortmund in the Champions League on Wednesday after he was criticised for his display against Newcastle.
2. Midfield dominance
Whilst dominating the middle of the park against Cagliari and Verona is expected, it’s much harder to do so against Lazio, but Milan didn’t disappoint. Adli got his second start and although he started rather slow, the Frenchman improved in the second half and had a crucial part in the opening goal, continuing to showcase his vision and passing range.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek also played well before picking up an injury, while Reinders was regarded as the MOTM by many as he had his part in the first goal and could’ve scored himself on a couple of occasions. It will be interesting to see if Pioli changes the formation against Dortmund or sticks with Adli in front of the defence allowing the Dutchman to go forward more often.
3. Quality depth at last
Adli was given his chance after a long, long wait and has been impressive thus far, whilst Tommaso Pobega had a part in the second goal off the bench and Okafor scored the goal to seal the win after replacing Olivier Giroud.
Yunus Musah and Alessandro Florenzi also played well, with Chukwueze also getting some minutes towards the end. At the back, Pioli had the luxury to rest Thiaw in favour of Kjaer and in the past two games, we also saw that Milan have a backup goalkeeper whom they can count on in Sportiello.
In the squad, Pioli also has Luka Jovic who is not fully fit and Luka Romero, who is just 18 years of age but is starting to get some playing time. Most importantly, Bennacer will be back from his injury at the end of the year and bring even more quality in the middle.
The bottom line is that Pioli has a great group of players that he can rely on and most of them have room for improvement, so the quality is there and it’s up to him to rotate and put up a fight for silverware. Thus far he has done well it’s fair to say.
4. The future is now
Yunus Musah arrived this summer from Valencia and a lot of people were sceptical as to how much he will be able to contribute given his tender age (20 years). Add to that the fact that he played in a struggling Valencia side with no experience in Europe.
The American didn’t get much playing time in the first few games but has featured against Newcastle and the three Serie A games that followed, showing a lot of quality and maturity. He has a good work rate and isn’t afraid to involve himself in the defensive work whilst also finding himself a couple of times in the penalty box.
All in all, it seems that Musah is ready to have an impact now and Pioli will count on him more and more if he continues to perform like he has.
5. A leader at the back
Fikayo Tomori missed the game against Inter, but since then he has helped his team keep three clean sheets out of the last four games and has proven himself to be a leader at the back.
He works well with both Kjaer and Thiaw and compared to last season, when he barely had a few good games in a row, the Englishman has been really solid this time out and the defence really looks different without him in it.
The centre-back is still just 25 years of age which means he has plenty of time to improve given his position, and he’ll be looking to continue this trend against Dortmund on Wednesday.