AC Milan cruised into the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia thanks to a 3-0 win over SPAL at San Siro on Wednesday evening.
The signs were good for Milan heading into the game having qualified for the final eight of the cup in each of their last ten years, and also having won all five previous meetings against the Biancoazzurri.
And there was to be no banana skin as the Rossoneri got the job done in a professional manner thanks to first half strikes from Krzysztof Piatek and Samu Castillejo plus a brilliant goal from Theo Hernandez.
The win sets up a tie against Torino for a chance to get to the semi-finals for what would be the fourth time in five seasons.
Stefano Pioli was forced into a number of changes from the starting XI that beat Cagliari on Saturday, with injuries to key players decimating the squad.
Antonio Donnarumma started over his younger brother Gianluigi in goal, with Andrea Conti and Simon Kjaer – on debut – in for the injured Davide Calabria and Mateo Musacchio.
Franck Kessie was dropped for Rade Krunic while Giacomo Bonaventura got the nod over Hakan Calhanoglu who has a knock, with Ante Rebic and Krzysztof Piatek up front.
Milan had a chance 20 seconds in when Samu Castillejo cut in from the right side and whipped a cross towards the far post which just evaded Piatek’s head and drifted wide. Moments later, the Spaniard teed up the Pole yet again, though this time his shot from the edge of the box on the break was sliced wide.
Ismael Bennacer came close in the eighth minute as he charged on to a loose ball 25 yards out, unleashing a thunderbolt on the half volley which whizzed narrowly wide. Castillejo headed a cross over 40 seconds later as the home side continued their early pressure.
The winger was guilty of two bad bits of control in quick succession: the first coming on a three-on-three break which saw him through on goal, but SPAL Etrit Berisha was able to scramble clear after coming off his line, the second a handball inside the opposition box which would have given him a free shot if controlled better.
Piatek was the man who gave Milan a deserved lead moment after that though; yet another ball recovered in midfield allowed the Pole to spring the offside trap and convert a perfect through ball from Bennacer.
GOOOOAALLLLLL! PIATEK! pic.twitter.com/5T2g2d7VCE
— MilanGifs (@MilanGifs) January 15, 2020
Conti and Castillejo both went into the book between the opening goal and the end of the half as Pioli’s side persisted with a method of winning the ball high up in the midfield and attempting to spring counter-attacks on the visitors, though the final balls were often wasteful.
Just before the break though, Castillejo did get his goal. Piatek was the architect this time; going on a battling run to get to the edge of the SPAL box before squaring to the former Villarreal man, who took his time before bending a finish into the top corner with style.
GOOOAALLLLL! CASTILLEJO WITH A CURLER! pic.twitter.com/a0h43jERB9
— MilanGifs (@MilanGifs) January 15, 2020
After registering the assist just before the interval, Piatek should have doubled his tally immediately after. A nice bit of muscle and pace allowed Rebic to burst free down the left and he found his strike partner with the pull-back, but his first-time effort was straight at Berisha.
The Pole missed yet another chance in the 52nd minute after being slid through on goal by Rebic. Time seemed to stand still as he waited to pull the trigger, and that allowed Tomovic to come in and block what would have been an almost certain goal.
Rebic and Castillejo continued to be at the centre of most of Milan’s threatening, and the pair linked up again as the latter provided his Croatian team-mate with a chance to pull the trigger inside the area after a precise feed, though Berisha produced a smart low save.
The SPAL stopper was called into action two minutes later, producing a good catch from a stinging Bonaventura shot that was heading like a tracer bullet into the top right corner.
Milan made their first change two minutes after the hour mark as Castillejo made way for Suso, who came on to a chorus of boos and jeers.
Not long after, the Rossoneri got their third goal. Rebic missed yet another chance with a curling effort, but it wasn’t to matter as Theo Hernandez charged down a stray pass and ran the ball 30 yards before unleashing a thunderbolt into the bottom right corner to make it 3-0.
With just over 15 minutes to go Milan made their second change, with Lucas Paqueta coming on for Giacomo Bonaventura.
Inside the final ten minutes Matteo Gabbia was brought on as the final sub in place of Simon Kjaer, who impressed on debut, dealing effectively with what little came his way.
Another man who had little to do was Antonio Donnarumma in goal, but he was tasted by a late header from Murgia inside the area, producing a good reaction save.
Paqueta got involved in the closing stages to set up fellow substitute Suso with a low ball inside the area, however the Spaniard dragged his first time effort wide of the far post.
There was still time for some late controversy as referee Davide Ghersini awarded a penalty for what he perceived to be a handball from Paqueta – though VAR intervened and correctly overturned the spot kick.