Sampdoria 1-2 AC Milan: Kessie and Castillejo move Rossoneri five clear in battling win

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan opened their lead at the top of the Serie A table back up to five points with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Sampdoria at the Marassi.

It was far from a classic despite the fact there were three goals, but Milan did go in at the break a goal up as Franck Kessie converted a penalty after a handball.

Samu Castillejo scored within two minutes of coming off the bench to double the advantage from Ante Rebic’s assist, and although Albin Ekdal did pull a goal back from a corner the Rossoneri would prove to have enough.

The result means that Milan are five clear at the top again and seven points above Sassuolo in fifth place, with a home game against Parma in a week’s time the next Serie A game on the slate.

Head coach Stefano Pioli made five changes to his starting XI from the team that beat Celtic on Thursday night, with Davide Calabria, Alessio Romagnoli, Sandro Tonali, Alexis Saelemaekers and Brahim Diaz all coming in.

Franck Kessie was forced to take one for the team after just four minutes as he went in the book after falling over and tripping Gabbiadini as the forward looked to reach a loose ball on the halfway line.

Sampdoria came close to breaking the deadlock when Milan failed to deal with a corner that was allowed to ricochet around the area before Lorenzo Tonelli’s header forced Gianluigi Donnarumma into a sprawling save from close range.

The Rossoneri then began to make their own inroads, and Ferrari’s excellent last-ditch block stopped Ante Rebic thumping home a feed from Saelemaekers after he was put in behind by Calabria.

Milan really should have taken the lead in the 18th minute when they won the ball back high up the pitch and had an overload situation going the other way, but Brahim Diaz delayed his pass to Rebic who failed to test Audero as his effort from the left side of the box was weak.

Pioli’s men deployed a familiar tactic in the first half of pressing hard and looking to spring chances on the break, and Rebic thought that he was through on goal after a neat pass from Calhanoglu but the Croatian was flagged offside, though Colley did make an excellent challenge too.

The game became very cagey around the half hour mark with lots of duels littered with sloppy passes and an absence of the crisp build-up play we have become used to. Donnarumma was called upon to make another save when Quagliarella shot from distance, but it was very straightforward.

Milan were however inches away from taking the lead at the other end as a long ball to Rebic was brought down superbly by the forward, and he lifted the ball over Audero and heading it towards goal but Tonelli cleared it spectacularly off the line.

There was danger for Samp yet again when Calabria toe-poked a ball to Rebic who was bearing down on goal, yet after his cut-back was blocked both he and Brahim got in each other’s way which killed off the opportunity.

A minute before the break though, Milan were given the chance to take the lead from the spot. A chipped ball from Tonali found the head of Theo Hernandez and then struck the arm of Jankto, with Gianpaolo Calvarese pointing for a penalty.

Franck Kessie took on the responsibility, and he left Audero with no chance as the Sampdoria keeper committed early, the Ivorian lifted it down the middle with a measured finish.

Pioli made a change at half-time as he pulled Brahim Diaz off after a difficult opening 45 minutes, choosing to role the dice by bringing on Jens Petter Hauge.

Hauge almost made an instant impact by getting an assist as he provided a perfect cut-back for Tonali from the left flank, but the midfielder was incredibly unlucky as his effort deflected and span onto the post before bouncing to safety.

The hosts began to push for an equaliser, and on the hour mark there was a somewhat lucky mistake for Milan as a near post corner was not dealt with by Calabria, though the ball ended up hitting Rebic and going out for another corner.

Saelemaekers knows that he should have done better when Rebic’s flick-on had him bearing down on goal as the Belgian failed to capitalise, but it must be said that Colley made an excellent recovery challenge too.

Candreva’s deliveries began to cause Milan more and more problems, and Thorsby should have done a lot better than heading over the bar when he met a ball on the edge of the six yard box.

Another change was made with 15 minutes to go as Saelemaekers was withdrawn in favour of Samu Castillejo.

It would prove to be an absolutely inspired substitution as well, as the Spaniard got on the scoresheet within two minutes of coming on. Hauge slide a perfect ball in behind to Rebic, who pulled back for Castillejo and his thumping finish nearly went straight through Audero to make it 2-0.

Rather than seeing out the remaining minutes, Milan went in search of a third and Rebic knows he should have done better than lofting his effort over the bar when found by a fantastic ball in behind, though the offside flag appeared to go up after anyway.

Calabria went on a bursting run down the right side and had an easy square to the Croatian it seemed, yet he was unable to pick him out with a good enough pass as Rebic ended up having to scissor-kick the ball wide.

Near post corners had threatened Milan all night and it would be through one of those that Sampdoria halved the deficit. Ekdal was the man who arrived to flick the ball on and Donnarumma almost managed to claw the ball back, though the goal line technology system showed it had gone over the line.

Pioli’s final change came as the clock struck 90 minutes with Rade Krunic coming on in place of Calhanoglu.

There would be one big final chance for the home side with the last action of the game as a cross from the right side was somehow headed wide by Ekdal, who was in acres of space. It was a let-off for the Rossoneri, who ended up with all three points.

Tags AC Milan Sampdoria Milan