Napoli 0-1 AC Milan: Five things we learned – relishing the battles and bucking the trends

By Ivan Stoev -

After some disappointing results against sides in the bottom half of the table, Milan travelled to Naples in a game they knew could prove to be crucial for the Scudetto race, and they got the job done.

The game started off in a fast-paced fashion with both teams trying to gain the upper hand. The hosts got on the ball a bit more, but Milan looked dangerous on the counter with Rafael Leao causing troubles on the left flank.

Despite the intensity though, the first half ended goalless which reflected the balance on the pitch, but early in the second half it was the Rossoneri that got the lead through Olivier Giroud, who finally managed to score away from San Siro and he couldn’t have picked a better game to do so.

Milan then managed to control the game really well, not giving many chances away as the defence managed to neutralise Osimhen, Insigne and later on Mertens. The Rossoneri had a couple of great chances towards the end of the game to seal the head-to-head advantage but didn’t take them.

The win puts Milan top of the table – despite Inter having a game in hand – and leaves Napoli three behind, which gives the Rossoneri a chance to gain some momentum in the next fixtures which should be a bit easier, on paper. Here are five things we learned…

1. Absolutely flawlesss

Milan managed to win the game by scoring just one goal and that would not have been possible without Tomori and Kalulu at the back. The duo neutralised Osimhen in a brilliant manner as the Nigerian tried to target the less experienced Kalulu, but the Frenchman stood his own and did not allow the striker to do much.

While Tomori has already established himself as one of the best in the league, it’s fair to say that Kalulu is doing exactly the same as he continues with his brilliant performances and it’s another clean sheet against a top side after the games against Juventus and Inter.

That definitely provokes a question as to where Kalulu stands in this squad, as he certainly doesn’t look like a player that will or should sit on the bench, especially since he’s just 21 with not even that much first-team experience.

The Frenchman looks special and whoever is brought in at the centre-back spot in the summer will have a hard time fighting off the competition from the youngster.

2. Right place, right time

Olivier Giroud has done some great things since joining Milan in the summer such as winning the derby virtually on his own, scoring 11 goals in total, but all of them were at the San Siro up until Sunday.

The French striker scored a lovely goal with an intuitive shot that found the back of the net. His hold-up play was also sharper than in recent games as he was not too worried about the physical presence of Koulibaly and relished the battle.

Giroud led the front line excellently and pressed right up until the moment he was subbed off, showing great desire and being the leader on the pitch for his younger team-mates. A marvellous display as he continues to impress against the big sides.

3. Getting the job done

On the flip side, Davide Calabria had somewhat of an off-day on that right flank, and so did Messias to be honest. The Italian had a couple of bad passes and dribbles, especially going forward as it didn’t seem like his day at all.

Fortunately, he remained solid at the back and kept Insigne quiet so his great defensive work hid the fact that he was struggling going forward. That being said, the right-back did pick up the assist on Giroud’s goal and just proves how well the players are growing as they are getting to that point where they can still contribute decisively and don’t make any mistakes.

That is also valid for Theo, who has had some bad games going forward recently, but his solidity at the back has balanced things out, but the Frenchman did significantly better in attack than Calabria this time around.

4. Unusually quiet

Sandro Tonali had a quiet night too at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona as he failed to impose himself on the game due to Napoli’s high press. The midfielder was forced to keep it simple and was involved in physical duels more than playmaking.

That being said he wasn’t terrible by any means and he did his part in the win and the midfield checkmate in particular, but he did seem a bit off compared to what we are used to seeing from him, which is good because he has set the bar so high that an average good performance seems bad for him.

The Italian will need to respond in the coming weeks and be a bit more active so he can help his team build momentum in the crucial ten games left to play until the end of the season.

5. Midfield warrior

While Napoli managed to shut down Tonali, Ismael Bennacer had no plans to slow down as he continued his good run of form and looks more and more like his former self. His defensive contribution was magnificent as always and he was involved a lot going forward, dribbling with the ball and even having a couple of dangerous shots on goal.

The Algerian has certainly found his rhythm after the unfortunate period of time he was constantly bothered by injuries. But now he seems full of confidence and ready to lead his team in the big games that are ahead.

Tags AC Milan Napoli-Milan

1 Comment

  1. If Kalulu continues to improve this quickly and we sign Botman (as it seems will happen), then I think most likely Kalulu would end up taking Calabria’s place at right back. Anyway, he is still so young and willing and able to play right back, left back and centerback, that i’m sure Pioli will ensure he will get good minutes on the pitch with the team in the years to come.

    Bennacer is fantastic and I’m happy this article finally is showing some serious love for his game — he contributes in so many ways defensively and offensively.

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