With a chance to move into fifth place and close the gap to a Champions League position to six points, AC Milan blew early chances en route to a 2-0 defeat to Sassuolo at Stadio Citta del Tricolore on Sunday morning. The Rossoneri played phenomenal attacking football for about twenty minutes, but simply fell apart after that, often looking lost in defense and unable to create in the final third.
Milan went with a 4-4-2 look as usual, with Mario Balotelli getting a start next to Carlos Bacca. The partnership failed to produce on the day, and while Keisuke Honda and Giacomo Bonaventura produced throughout the match on the wings, there was a lack of cohesion within the side that presented itself often. The attacking pace of the trio of Nicola Sansone, Gregoire Defrel, and Domenico Berardi gave Milan's back line problems the entire match, and if not for the stellar play of Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Rossoneri could have lost by twice as many goals as they did.
The match started ominously when Bonaventura was booked less than thirty seconds into the match when he took down Sansone from behind just outside the box. However, it was all Milan for the next ten minutes, which honestly should have seen them put the match away. They had a terrific chance seventh minute, when a Bonaventura shot from long range was stopped by Andrea Consigli, with the rebound falling right to the feet of Honda at the edge of the six yard box, but Consigli made a great recovery to keep that shot out as well. A minute later, Honda again missed a great chance as he got free down the right side of the box, but his shot went right into the keeper from eight yards out.
The Rossoneri would continue to get multiple chances in first half and simply were unable to finish. A great set piece saw Antonelli get a free header at the top of the 18 yard box, and Consigli had to make a sprawling save to keep it from looping just under the bar.
Against the run of play, it was Sassuolo who first got on the board in the 27th minute. Berardi played in a corner from the right, curling it low along the ground to the top of the box. It was a beautifully worked set piece, as Alfred Duncan came storming in from outside the box and rifled one past a diving Donnarumma into the upper 90. It was a spectacularly-worked goal that the young keeper could do nothing about.
Donnarumma would keep it at 1-0 after making a phenomenal save to deny Berardi just before the break. The second half saw Milan's defense continue to be exposed by the young Italian winger, as Berardi again forced Donnarumma into yet another spectacular save. Berardi was easily the man of the match, as he put pressure on the back line throughout and created numerous chances for his teammates.
Balotelli, who was a non-factor in the match, was subbed off in the 55th minute for Jeremy Menez, but little changed for the visitors. Milan threw bodies forward searching for the goal but simply could not get any quality chances. Then in the 72nd minute, the hosts made it 2-0 when Sime Vrsaljko got the ball out on the right flank and sent a cross towards the penalty spot, and Nicola Sansone blasted it home. Yet again, Donnarumma was helpless to stop it and his defense was nowhere to be found.
Moments later, Sinisa Mihajlovic was given his marching orders, sent to the stands by the referee after he simply blew up in the technical area. A few minutes later, Defrel was shown a second yellow for a late channelge on Kucka, but Milan did nothing to take advantage of being up a man. They continued to produce little and seemed resigned to their fate. The most notable event in the final minutes was that Honda was substituted off after a very hard-working performance, and he looked very upset about the change.
The loss proved to be costly, not just in the standings but in the locker room as well. Reports on Tuesday point to manager Sinisa Mihajlovic parting ways with the club after this season, after he yet again watched his players perform poorly. The loss also drops the Rossoneri to nine points off the pivotal third-place position, and with only ten matches left to play it appears Europa League might be their best hope for continental football next season.
The Rossoneri now turn to a trip to Chievo on Sunday, a match that they surely must win if they hope to hold onto any chance of playing in Champions League next season. With the locker room in turmoil and Milan apparently having to once again look for a new manager, it will be interesting to see how the team handles the match and if their focus and performance will be good enough to take home three points.