Cagliari 0-1 AC Milan: Bennacer’s volley wins it as the Rossoneri remain top

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan ensured they kept top spot in the Serie A table heading into the international break as they secured a hard-fought 1-0 win over relegation-threatened Cagliari.

The game was not blessed with countless moments of quality and this was testified by a goalless first half, but Ismael Bennacer was the hero of the night as his volley inside on the hour mark sealed another huge three points.

It is also a fourth clean sheet across all competitions for Milan and the defensive effort was fantastic even if they did ride their luck at times, especially when Cagliari struck the crossbar as the clock hit 90 minutes.

The result means that Milan are three points clear above Napoli at the top of the table and also six points above their city rivals Inter after they dropped points against Fiorentina, though they do have a game in hand.

Pioli made two changes to the starting line-up from the team that beat Empoli last Saturday night as Theo Hernandez came back in at left-back while Sandro Tonali dropped out having had a fever in midweek and Brahim Diaz came in, with Franck Kessie shifting back to the double pivot.

It was the home side who made the biggest impression on the game in the opening two minutes, but the Rossoneri who had a huge chance to take the lead in the seventh minute. A deep cross from Theo Hernandez was nodded back into a dangerous area by Junior Messias, yet Olivier Giroud somehow missed the target from around eight yards out with the goal gaping.

Six minutes later Milan came very close to getting themselves on the scoresheet with two opportunities in quick succession. The first was a long shot from Kessie who let fly from 25 yards and saw his effort swerve and hit the base of the post, and then the ball bobbled through to Brahim Diaz on his own inside the box after possession was recovered by Theo Hernandez but he bent his effort wide of the far post.

Messias saw the field open up for him as a long ball from Pierre Kalulu found him down the right flank but after cutting back inside onto his right foot his shot was weak considering the options to his left.

There was a moment of controversy midway through the first half when Theo Hernandez went down inside the box as he tried to burst onto a feed near the byline and while there was clearly no contact and the Frenchman held his hands up, several Cagliari players surrounded the referee asking for a yellow cards for a dive.

Milan continued to enjoy the bulk of the possession and tried to break down a resolute Cagliari defence, and in the 34th minute Brahim Diaz was found by a lovely angled ball in behind yet he failed to bring it down and the chance went begging.

The hosts provided a reminder of the threat they pose when a long throw-in wasn’t properly dealt with and the ball fell to Grassi 20 yards out who dragged his effort wide.

Theo was a protagonist of the first half as he was constantly being bundled over with the referee not giving anything his way after the earlier theatrics. He should have done better with the final chance before the break though, instead dragging his shot well wide after a run down the middle.

The first chance of the second half was wasted by Milan as the rain poured down on the Sardegna Arena, with Leao cutting in onto his right foot and bending an effort that was nowhere near testing Cragno.

Pioli’s men continued to press for the opening goal and a surging run from Theo found Leao inside the box who turned and got a shot away that was heading for the far corner before being deflected into Cragno’s grateful hands.

Moments later the French left-back let fly from 25 yards with what was an absolute howitzer of a shot that was flying into the top corner but was well tipped over.

Just before the hour mark it was Milan who got the opening goal that their pressure deserved. The best passing move of the game involving several one-twos with Giroud the quarterback fittingly ended with him laying the ball into the path of Bennacer, who hit the sweetest of volleys from the edge of the box past a motionless Cragno inside the far post.

With just less than 20 minutes left on the clock Pioli decided to make two changes to freshen things up as Ante Rebic and Rade Krunic were the ones who came on in place of Leao and Brahim Diaz respectively.

With 15 minutes left Cagliari came close to levelling the scores with what would have been a bizarre goal. A shot from distance rolled through to Joao Pedro who cut it off in the area and he looked offside when he shot, though Kalulu blocked brilliantly too.

A third change then followed for Milan as Alexis Saelemaekers came on for a hobbling Messias who had just been taken out from behind by Bellanova moments prior.

The Rossoneri had a golden chance to make sure of the three points with a fantastic counter-attack that saw Calabria put through on goal by Rebic but he shot straight at the keeper, and then Giroud flicked an effort into the side netting as Saelemaekers tried to rescue the move.

With five minutes left on the clock Lovato provided a vital intervention to deny Rebic’s sharp low shot after a corner had been flicked to the far post. Giroud was then withdrawn by Pioli, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic coming on.

There was more drama inside the final minute of the 90 as Cagliari hit the crossbar. Pavoletti’s diving header was deflected up onto the woodwork via the hands of Maignan and then Marin charged onto the rebound but saw his effort heroically blocked by Bennacer.

Saelemaekers could have put the game to bed when he was found in space after Kessie won possession back, yet an amazing dive prevented the second goal. Milan would go on to seal the win and ensure they move six points clear of Inter.

Tags AC Milan Cagliari-Milan

7 Comments

  1. A crucial win it was.

    Up to the next game.

    But, can Diaz please start from the bench, please.

    Very pathetic seeing him play😞😞😞

  2. If the finishing wasn’t lacking we could scores 4/5 goals

    But hey a win is a win and it’s a very crucial point too with Inter draw and Napoli won 👍👍

    Kudos to Bennacer and Maignan 👏🏻

    Next month we face Bologna while Juve Inter Napoli and Atalanta kill each other 😁

  3. Wtf. Normally I defend pioli, but holy shit what was up with him telling the team “don’t let kessie or leao get the ball”.
    Seriously, what the hell was the point. Bright side, Diaz wasn’t *completely* useless today. Got into good positions, but messias is… weird?

  4. Theo’s brilliant sliding tackle near the end sealed the deal, broke their will. I would like to see Rebic at the 10, Diaz had one of his better games, however still easily man handled off the ball by the bigger defenders. With Rebic at the 10 you have a much stronger player, good on the turn and with both feet, but the main reason is his presense next to Leao which would prevent/hinder Rafe from being marked by two defenders which is now the case most of the time. Think that was Pioli’s thought with Kessie at the 10, but he(Kessie) instinctually tends to lay back in his “comfort” zone at the double pivot. Teams are “up” for us now, our offense was way better, however still cannot finish…. Glad Tonali got some rest. Forza A.C.M.

  5. I really see great things for Leao, especially with an offensive minded Theo behind him presenting a double edged sword on the left side. My only critisism of him is that he needs to be moving around, be more proactive, watch Ibra and Giroud, they are always moving maybe not fast, but positioning as the play develops. When the ball is on the right side he is motionless, or when he loses the ball, no reaction other than to mope. Down in, close to goal near the box you cannot expect to get clear if you are static.

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