On Sunday, just six days after a 4-1 win over Lecce, AC Milan returned to the San Siro looking to continue their run of form against sixth-placed Roma. The Rossoneri kept the same starting line-up, with star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic still out with a calf injury.
From the start of the match, it was clear that Milan’s opponent was much more dangerous than Lecce, but the Milanese backline, and Simon Kjaer in particular, did well to hold off Roma’s slow but determined offensive advances.
The first true chance of the match came in the 20th minute, when a cross from Jordan Veretout nearly allowed Roma captain Edin Dzeko to head the ball into the back of the net, but the striker put it just wide.
Following a well-worked combination from Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Ante Rebić, Jack Bonaventura made his first noticeable impact on the match in the 26th minute, but the midfielder skied what should have been a good look on goal. After 30 minutes, Roma were clearly in control, but the Milan defense had deftly dealt with any threats.
Another great chance came for the Rossoneri just a few minutes after the cooling break. A cross from Théo Hernandez, who had an otherwise quiet first half, found the head of Çalhanoğlu, but the midfielder was unable to direct it into the back of the net.
The first half came to a close with the score still level. Milan did well to shut out Roma, but the visitors had controlled the match for the most part. One of the biggest differences between the two sides was how they defended. Milan tended to stop Roma’s offense in the final third, while Roma was able to snuff out Milan in the midfield, which led to Roma leading the shot count 4-2. The defensive affair had seen just one shot on goal (Roma’s Leonardo Spinazzola), and the prospects for offensive fireworks in the second half did not seem great.
This half really highlighted Milan’s desperate need for a talented CAM. Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessié are both decent players, especially defensively, but AC Milan need a player who can connect the midfield with the forwards, instead of relying on Samu Castillejo and Çalhanoğlu’s sporadic offensive surges.
The second half’s first chance came from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who easily dribbled Alessio Romagnoli before having his shot blocked at the top of the box by Simon Kjaer.
Milan, in dire need of an offensive spark, replaced Bonaventura and Castillejo with Alexis Saelemaekers and Lucas Paquetá in the 53rd minute. In the minutes surrounding the change, Milan began to bring the fight to Roma, regularly exploiting the final third of the field and earning several corners.
As the match dragged on and the players’ fitness levels dropped, counter attacks became much more prevalent, and Çalhanoğlu nearly put the ball between Roma goalkeeper Antonio Mirante’s legs, but to no avail. Moments later, Paquetá nearly scored on a deflected shot, but Mirante dove and was able to push the ball wide.
By the second cooling break in the 73rd minute, the match was beginning to swing in Milan’s favor, as the home side’s offense began to look more and more potent. Roma struggled to find open channels through Milan’s backline, and the Rossoneri’s forwards began the same successful pressing that served them so well against Lecce.
This pressure finally resulted in the first goal of the match. A poor pass that was gifted to Ante Rebić in Roma’s final third led to a Franck Kessié half-bicycle from six yards out, but the shot was saved by Mirante. The ball trickled back to Rebić, who took a shot that was deflected and bounced off of the right post. It came right back to the Croatian striker, who did not miss a second time, finishing with a powerful close-range strike to put Milan ahead 1-0. The 26-year-old now has 8 goals on the season, a ridiculous 0.88 goals per 90 minutes, good for sixth in the league among players who have played in at least 15 matches.
Roma, in desperation mode, threw players forward to try to bring the match level. It was not to be. In the 88th minute, Roma centre back Chris Smalling clipped Théo Hernandez in the box, resulting in a penalty for Milan. Hakan Çalhanoğlu easily slotted the ball by Mirante, confirming the result for the home side.
This was a much-needed result for Milan, who need all the points they can get before facing a murderers’ row of Lazio, Juventus and Napoli in the upcoming weeks. Before that stretch of matches though, the Rossoneri will look to keep their winning streak rolling against SPAL, whom they will play on Wednesday.