After a dreadful 3-1 against Udinese before the international break, AC Milan managed to react with a massive performance against Napoli, which humbled the soon-to-be new champions at the Maradona.
The game started well for Pioli and his men as they had chances early on and eventually got the lead through Rafael Leao in the 17th minute, followed by a Brahim Diaz goal to make it 2-0 eight minutes later.
In the second half, the hosts tried pressing Milan and creating some pressure in front of Mike Maignan, but even with that impulse in their game they still failed to threaten the Frenchman in any profound way.
On the contrary, Leao dealt a blow to Napoli’s hope after leaving the defence for dead and scoring his second of the night. The nightmare did not end for Spalletti’s side as Alexis Salamaekers parted them like the red sea to make it 4-0.
It was, without a doubt, the best game Milan has had throughout this season, and hopefully it puts them on the right path for the last few games of the season and especially for the Champions League. Here are five things we learned…
1. Electric Leao
After a lot of criticism and mixed performances to say the least, Rafael Leao arrived at the Diego Armando Maradona with a bang, showing why he is one of the best wingers in the world.
The 23-year-old managed two goals and continuously beat his man to cause trouble for Napoli, who had no answer to his exploits as he looked way more comfortable on the wing compared to playing behind the striker in a more central position as he did when Pioli used a three-man defence.
.@RafaeLeao7's numbers from the game against Napoli.
[via @acmilan] pic.twitter.com/6aZo71dO7E
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) April 2, 2023
The brace also marked his 10th Serie A goal this season, on top of 7 assists, which certainly isn’t bad for a player who has struggled to find continuity. Hopefully, the former Lille man can build on this and continue in the same fashion to help Milan solidify their spot in the top four and potentially go further in the Champions League.
2. Captain’s performance
The clash between Kvaratshkelia and Calabria was always going to be crucial for the outcome of the game and we can safely say that the captain got the better of his opponent on the night. The doubling up on the Georgian with help from Krunic and Tonali also helped.
Like a true captain Calabria stepped up against Napoli, neutralising arguably the best player in Serie A this season, whilst also casually picking up an assist and creating a lot of space with his runs forward, especially on the first goal.
It would seem that the Italian was all fired up to be back in the starting XI and he did not disappoint as he and Tomori were superb on the night, taking nothing away from Kjaer and Theo who also did great.
3. A dream for Brahim
It’s so interesting to watch a Milan game with Brahim on the pitch as you are never quite sure what will he produce. Fortunately for Pioli, against Napoli he decided to be the game-changer we know he could be and provided a lovely assist for the first goal after some impressive dribbling to beat three men.
The Spaniard then followed up the assist with a goal to double his side’s lead and played probably his best game of the season, being heavily involved in Milan’s attacks and surprisingly subbed off early on in.
It will be intriguing to see what the future holds for him as he has proven decisive on several occasions, despite his ups and downs, but of course his loan deal runs out in June.
4. Key to success
It felt like the midfield of last season was out there Bennacer and Tonali simply dominated the middle of the park and left little for Napoli to work with.
Tonali in particular had an amazing night as he helped a lot in both phases of the game, won many duels and provided a great assist after bullying Zielinski off the ball.
🏃♂️ Tonali's heat map of the impressive display against Napoli.
[via @SerieA_EN] pic.twitter.com/iA7cRmqSxL
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) April 2, 2023
The Italian – similar to his team-mates – has been under fire lately but has managed to channel a magnificent response on the pitch which was crucial for the dominant display.
5. Super sub Saeledona
Alexis Saelemaekers replaced Brahim in the 57th minute after the Spaniard was one if not the best player on the pitch for Milan and it all seemed odd so early into the second half, but Saelemaekers made his mark he scored an amazing solo goal to make it 4-0.
His slalom run saw him ghost through three defenders, and the winger also had several other brilliant moments as everything seemed to align for him on the night and especially his dribbling as he glided past players with ease.
It’s a welcomed surprise indeed for Pioli who wouldn’t mind a bit of competition within the squad and players stepping up especially going into the final part of the season.
Great game all the way around by everyone.
But it’s interesting how assists are assigned in today’s football.
Love Davide but he doesn’t deserve an assist on the Saelemakers goal. That should be unassisted solo slalom goal by Alexis.
But then again, they actually gave Krunic an assist on the Theo coast to coast goal vs. Atalanta last season. Krunic wasn’t even passing the ball to Theo. He made a sliding tackle to disposes Boga, and Theo just picked up the ball and ran the entirety of the field passing everyone like traffic cones to score.
The tackle was so clean it deserved an assist 🤣
This win made me feel so wonderful that I felt I should do a remake of your Five things we learned, so here goes…..
1) Electric Leao
Whenever Leao contributes on both sides of the ball, it can only be an advantage for Milan. We all know how important he is for Milan in the attacking phase, but a very fundamental aspect of our game is the pressing and counter pressing, which also makes tracking back essential. Leao was outstanding in this regard and it’s important that he continues on this path, not just because it’ll undoubtedly help his teammates but also because it will help him to find his way in games where he might be finding difficulties. It’s honestly the one aspect of his game that makes me think that he’s not suitable to this Milan team and it’s tactics. Definitely want to see more of these types of contributions from him.
2) Captain’s performance
I honestly expected nothing less from a player who a couple of seasons ago had the best numbers in the league for 1v1 duels won. It’s his strong suit. He’s a player who understands the big moments and has tremendous character. I know he hasn’t been in the best form recently but I think we all know that form is temporary but class is permanent. Great job!!
3) A dream for Brahim
This wasn’t just a dream for Brahim, but also for his fans and critics alike. What we saw was some exceptional play from the Spaniard that many never expected or even knew was possible from him,and it begs the questions; is this his best position on the pitch, in what was arguably his best game in a Milan jersey? Does this performance warrant us trying to get a deal done with Real Madrid? Who knows, but if I were a gambling man, I’d say yes to both. To Diaz’s credit, though, even with his inconsistencies, he does have qualities that are very desirable to the modern game Milan plays.
4) Key to success
What was key to me was players being in their preferred positions as well as playing as a unit in both phases of the game but especially out of possession. We matched Napoli’s three man midfield with our own three man midfield and we all saw the results. Of course that doesn’t mean that we would dominate them every time but it should be clear by now that man v man, we have more quality in our starting three. Pioli however, has to find different solutions and pairings for the midfield duo of Bennacer and Tonali because I think it’s also clear that they need an extra body in midfield for them to be more effective. Depending on the opponents, they might need a more creative solution than what Krunic offers, but they definitely need an extra body there for support.
5) Super sub Saeledona
It should be well known by now that I’m one of his very few supporters in Milan online forums, so you can imagine how I felt when I watched him weave his way through the Napoli players and cap it off with a goal. I’ve always maintained my opinion that he has been an important part of the revival of Milan. I also believe that he can continue to be an important part of this team if he’s given the opportunity. He started well in the champions league this season before the injury, so I’m hoping he can rediscover some of that form in that competition as well. His qualities have always suggested to me that he could be very effective as a side midfielder, as was also seen in this game where he operated much more narrow than the conventional winger position would allow. Brilliant !!
One of the best matches I’ve seen from this team. Loved it til the end. When this team plays at it’s best, they’re very hard to beat. Would love to have the same the next two games vs them.
I must say though, I think Calabria is perfect for defending Kvar. He’s short and can turn as quickly as him. His agility is good due to his height so it helps in that sense. Plus when Krunic covers the right foot shot, all Calabria can focus on is the the left foot shot or pass.
midfield composition has been solved with this Krunic and Tonali as DM and Bennacer as AM. No head to head competition between Ben and Tonali again.
Very little is said about Krunic and he gives security and balance to the midfield. I agree with Milanito, only Benna and Tonali not enough for midfield, they need one more guy.
I hope Bennacer gets more games in the ”ACM” role or whatever he played this game. I think he has qualities better suited to be further up the field. Both his pressing and control of the ball is very impressive. As soon as CDK came on we lost momentum and forward drive. Maybe it was because it was 4-0 already but it could also be that CDK just isn’t very good in that position. I think he needs to be more of a winger.
Cdk should honestly be first sub off the bench for either diaz on the wing or for giroud at striker. Don’t know why pioli has only played him once at striker when giroud most season has needed the rest and he literally scored 21 goals last season. CDK IS NOT A NUMBER 10 either a striker or winger.
💯 agree..more as a striker