Milan were held to a 0-0 stalemate by Bologna on Monday, extending their lead as Serie A leaders by just one point, in a desperately disappointing performance.
The game had a high octane feel from the first whistle, with Bologna confident they could force a contest against Milan, despite having won just one of their last ten fixtures. They carved out chances on the counter, exploiting spaces left in wide areas by Milan, who lacked finesse with their passing and shooting, despite Olivier Giroud coming close towards the end of the half.
Following a similarly inspired start once more after the break, Bologna maintained a more disciplined shape as the second half drew on, instead focusing on keeping Milan out. The hosts were able to carve out chances, especially as defensive legs tired, but rushed finishing was the theme of the evening as the Rossoneri failed to truly test Lukasz Skorupski, or find Zlatan Ibrahimovic upon his introduction.
Just the one change was made to the starting XI that saw off Cagliari before the international break, with Ismael Bennacer coming in for Franck Kessie. And with Bologna not having won away to Milan since 2016, anything less than three points would’ve been disastrous. Decked out in the new fourth kit, Milan started brightly, containing Bologna within their own half and keeping the full backs high to create chances.
Bologna were able to find their wing backs in space early on, and particularly had joy when finding Aaron Hickey, with Milan so keen to push Theo Hernandez and Davide Calabria up high on the underlap. Milan always looked in control, though, and should’ve pulled ahead after 16 minutes when the ball fell to Rafael Leao on the penalty spot, only for the winger to lash his shot over the bar.
There was a fierce pace to the game as both sides bombed forward in transition. Musa Barrow – who scored in October’s reverse fixture – forced a save out of Mike Maignan after 26 minutes with an accurate shot from distance, after Bologna had caught Milan in possession.
Bennacer was key for Milan in maintaining a tempo, breaking up Bologna’s advances and playing a number of clever passes, all at different ranges and angles. The Rossoneri needed to sharpen up their passing as a whole, however, to stifle the visitors, who were enjoying the space being left to exploit on the break.
Referee Livio Marinelli was keen to let the game flow and reluctant to make decisions on a number of occasions, seemingly frustrating Milan more than Bologna throughout the first half. Giroud forced a full-stretch save from Skorupski on the cusp of half-time, ensuring Bologna went into the break on level terms. And while it was far from calamity for Milan, work needed to be done to contain the visitors, who often looked good for a goal.
Bologna refused to fade after the break, maintaining their shape all the same and looking to pick apart Milan with well-timed passing exchanges. Leao continued to struggle in possession, slipping and failing to generate the space for a shot or killer pass.
He found his golden touch on the hour mark, however, coming inside and reversing a pass beyond Bologna’s defence to the overlapping Calabria, whose shot was narrowly diverted off target by Gary Medel, although no corner was given. Hernandez then lashed a low cross across the penalty spot five minutes later, but Giroud was unable to latch onto a teasing delivery.
The visitors were beginning to tire, showing less intent to counter attack and allowing Stefano Pioli’s men more space in wide areas. Bennacer tested Skorupski with a curled effort from range after 68 minutes, as Pioli introduced Kessie and Ibrahimovic for the remaining 20 minutes.
Ibrahimovic’s impact was instant. After more tidy dribbling from an inspired Brahim Diaz, the Swede squared a low cross, only for Leao to fire wide once more – a summary of his wasteful evening.
The Swede’s physicality was felt with 10 minutes to go as he clashed heads with Medel when trying to control a cross, resulting in both men needing cuts patched up.
An accurate cross finally came Ibrahimovic’s way in the first of eight minutes of injury time, but he couldn’t turn it into a winner. Skorupski then tipped away a header from Ante Rebic, securing a draw for the Rossoblu.
One point is certainly better than zero for the Rossoneri, but leaves Napoli and Inter breathing down their neck once more, with their lead atop of Serie A down to just one point.