AC Milan -- eager to bounce back from last weekend's defeat against Sassuolo -- stumbled yet again in the quest for European football next season with a 0-0 draw away to Chievo Verona. The Rossoneri clearly missed the injured M'baye Niang and Juraj Kucka -- who was replaced at the last minute by Jeremy Menez -- as they lacked in both creativity and aggression. While Milan grew in confidence bit by bit as the match progressed, they were unable to find a winning goal and were lucky not to have been punished in the final minutes of the match when Cacciatore saw his brilliant header ruled offside.
The 25,000 match of the Serie A started off as a very scrappy affair with Milan looking shattered, disjointed and unable to string together decent passes. The Milan defence, and Alessio Romagnoli, in particular, looked fragile and had to cope with some early pressure from Floro Flores. The first real sign of life from Milan, however, came in the 12th minute when Giacomo Bonaventura initiated a counter-attack and found Menez outside of the box. The Frenchman managed to weave himself into the penalty area but his attempted shot was blocked by Dario Dainelli.
Milan was forced into an early substitution in the 19th minute when Gianluigi Donnarumma and Fabrizio Cacciatore both went down injured after a corner. While the Chievo full-back was able to resume after treatment to his head, Donnarumma was taken off as a precaution, giving Christian Abbiati his first Serie A appearance for the season. The veteran goalkeeper was immediately called into action, making a good save from a Floro Flores shot. Again, Abbiati had to come to Milan's rescue, this time using his right foot to stop a shot from Riccardo Meggiorini who had evaded Luca Antonelli outside of the penalty box.
Slowly Milan began to find shape with Bonaventura and Carlos Bacca being more creative in the attack. However, their efforts failed to result in a final push for a goal and Milan headed into the half-time break without a single shot on target.
Milan's slight increase intensity and creativity continued into the second half and there was much better communication between the midfield and the attack. In the 52nd minute, Menez and Bonaventura exchanged one-two touches on the left wing and the Frenchman continued his run into the 6-yard box to exchange some more passes with Bacca, but Cacciatore was there to deny his shot. Moments later, Bacca's cross found Honda open on the right side and the Japanese returned the ball to the Colombian with a precise cross but the ball went just wide of the post.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, Milan's assistant coach Nenad Sakic -- who was in charge due to Mihajlovic's suspension -- replaced an ineffective and clearly unfit Menez for Luiz Adriano in the 61st minute. The Brazilian, however, proved to be even more useless that his French counterpart. Nonetheless, Milan continued to press for a winner and was very unlucky not to have taken the lead in the 74th minute when Ignazio Abate and Andrea Bertolacci both hit the woodwork. Abate left Chievo's goalkeeper Albano Bizzarri properly beaten with a powerful shot only for the ball to hit the crossbar. Mere seconds later, Bertolacci latched onto Abate's rebound but found the post as well.
Just as the Rossoneri were beginning to pile on the pressure, Chievo came close to taking the lead. Simone Pepe found himself free in the middle of the penalty box after a free-kick but both Abate and Alex -- who can consider himself lucky not to have conceded a penalty after a clear handball -- were there in the nick of time to avert the danger.
Milan's misfiring attack was almost severely punished for its wastefulness in the 89th minute when Cacciatore was certain that he scored a dramatic late winner after he connected brilliantly from a Simone Pepe free-kick. Luckily for Milan, the goal was disallowed for a clear offside.
While Milan eventually survived defeat, a draw does little to help the club's European ambitions. In fact, Milan may even be too far away to break into the top five and may very well have to settle for 6th place.
A.C. Chievo Verona: Albano Bizzarri; Fabrizio Cacciatore, Dario Dainelli, Boštjan Cesar, Massimo Gobbi; Përparim Hetemaj, Ivan Radovanovic, Lucas Castro; Valter Birsa (Simone Pepe, 73'); Antonio Floro Flores (Sergio Pellissier, 62'), Riccardo Meggiorini (Paul-José Mpoku, 88')
A.C. Milan: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Christian Abbiati, 19'); Ignazio Abate, Alex, Alessio Romagnoli, Luca Antonelli; Keisuke Honda, Andrea Poli (Josè Mauri, 85'), Andrea Bertolacci, Giacomo Bonaventura; Jeremy Menez (Luiz Adriano, 61'), Carlos Bacca