AC Milan ended their four-game winless run at home by beating Genoa 2-1 at San Siro on Sunday lunchtime in what was a very cagey encounter.
Things started off very well for Milan when Ante Rebic fired in his sixth league goal of 2021 to give the hosts an early lead with a fierce finish on the half volley.
However, the usual concerns appeared to be rearing their ugly head again when Mattia Destro scored for the third time this season against his old club, levelling before the break with a header from a corner.
Despite a resolute Genoa defence Milan found a way, though it needed an own goal from Gianluca Scamacca to restore the Rossoneri’s advantage and ensure that Stefano Pioli’s men stay second for another week.
Pioli had to do without suspended centre-forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic so Rafael Leao led the line with Rebic, Calhanoglu and Saelemaekers in support. Pierre Kalulu was preferred as the right-back over Diogo Dalot.
The first half-chance of the game went to the home side as Calhanoglu pulled a teasing ball back towards the penalty spot from the byline that split the onrushing Leao and Rebic, and Theo Hernandez dragged his effort wide from the edge of the box.
Milan continued to probe in the early stages against a Genoa defence happy to sit deep, and Tomori was very close to finding Saelemaekers with an an aerial ball in behind, but Perin came out to claim well.
It was the Rossoneri who took the lead in the 14th minute and Rebic added to his tally for the season with a fantastic finish. A blocked free-kick from Calhanoglu found its way to Rebic after Kalulu shielded well, and the Croation fired a half-volley off balance across his body and into the far corner.
Milan came close to doubling their lead less than five minutes later when Saelemaekers fed the ball to Calhanoglu who found Leao, but the Portuguese forward saw his effort saved by Perin when in truth he should have scored.
Leao had another huge chance to open some breathing room a few minutes later as he latched on to an excellent through ball and jinked his way into the box but tripped over himself when about to shoot from around 12 yards out.
There was a moment of worry for Milan just before the half hour mark as Goldaniga went through the back of Bennacer and received a yellow card. The Algerian was slow to get up, but ultimately was able to continue.
Donnarumma was called into action for the first time when Destro – who scored in the return game – tried to beat his compatriot at the near post but the keeper parried well before Kjaer was kicked in the rebound attempt. Not long after, Badelj fired over the top with a first time attempt from the edge of the box.
However, Destro would bring his side level and it came from a corner kick as the Rossoneri’s set piece worries continued. The delivery landed on the penalty spot where the striker was waiting to head inside the far post having beaten a static Tomori to the ball.
There were two big opportunities in the opening exchanges of the second half. The first fell to Milan as a wonderful bit of link-up play between Kalulu and Saelemaekers on the right flank saw the former square to Rebic, who inexplicably fired over from no more than seven yards out. Moments later, a cross to the far post from Genoa found the head of Destro, who headed straight at Donnarumma.
Milan continued to try and push for the lead again and Calhanoglu should have done much better than shooting well over the bar having been found by a lovely lay-off from Saelemaekers.
Genoa brought Pjaca on as part of a double change and the winger got involved immediately, curling an effort just wide of the far post in the 57th minute.
Kjaer spurned yet another huge chance for the Diavolo as he headed wide of the far post in what would have been a very similar goal to Destro’s equaliser had it gone in. A triple substitution followed from Pioli, with Diogo Dalot, Brahim Diaz and Mario Mandzukic coming on for Kalulu, Saelemaekers and Leao.
Midway through the second half Milan did take the lead and it came through a stroke of fortune. A corner from the left side was put into a dangerous near post area with Mandzukic and Kjaer attacking it, and the ball hit the back of Scamacca to deflect past a stranded Perin.
A fourth change came not long after the goal as Sandro Tonali came on for Bennacer.
With less than five minutes on the clock, Genoa had two huge chances to level. A dinked cross from Masiello was dropped by Donnarumma, giving Pandev a chance to fire into an almost unguarded net but Kjaer cleared off the line. The ball rebounded back to Behrami, but then Tomori was on hand to heroically block too.
The final change came in the moments after as Rade Krunic replaced Calhanoglu, and Milan would see out the remaining minutes without incident to secure a big win.