A Rafael Leao stunner meant AC Milan kicked off the New Year with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Benevento to continue their unbeaten start to the Serie A season.
AC Milan began proceedings in an unfamiliar second place after Inter Milan thrashed Crotone, but regained their throne by the end of the night. Despite the long list of injuries for the Rossoneri, they started the game strongly.
Milan took the lead via a Franck Kessie penalty after Ante Rebic was brought down by a dirty collision with Alessandro Tuia. Kessie made no mistake from the spot when he slotted the ball into the top corner. The away team looked comfortable until Sandro Tonali committed a rash foul for which he was deservedly sent off.
It was a moment of sheer laziness from the prodigal playmaker, which allowed Benevento to dominate the remainder of the half. Benevento expectedly had large portions of the ball post the interval and looked to dominate the game. However, it was a moment of brilliance from Rafael Leao that gave Milan space to breathe.
The Portuguese latched onto a through-ball by Rebic and beat the Benevento goalkeeper. Just as Lorenzo Motipo was repositioning himself on the goal line, Leao sorted his feet and lobbed a curler past him from a difficult angle. Benevento then had a chance to get back into the game when Gianluca Caprari won a penalty, only from him to put the ball wide of the frame from the spot-kick.
Another win despite all the adversities! ?❤️?
Come iniziare bene il 2021. Dai Milan! ??⚫#BeneventoMilan #SempreMilan@emirates pic.twitter.com/8MdF35RwD2
— AC Milan (@acmilan) January 3, 2021
It was truly a poor attempt that could have given Benevento a good chance to get something out of the game, but Milan’s defence showed a lot of character from then on as Benevento took 19 shots in the second half, 10 of which were blocked. The hosts ended the night with three successful points and won the game with the mentality of champions. Here is how The Hard Tackle rated Stefano Pioli’s men.
Gianluigi Donnarumma: 7/10
Thanks to a resolute performance by his defence, Donnarumma was not called upon as much as expected. Despite that, Donnarumma was a commanding presence in the Milan goal. He made 2 key saves from within the box and dealt with the crosses with aplomb. 21 years old but still an immense leader, it’s no wonder that the AC Milan number 1 is being linked to a move to Chelsea.
Davide Calabria: 7/10
Calabria played a key role in defence, winning 5 ground duels. Although he lost the ball 14 times, the Italian international was a key presence on the right side, especially after Brahim Diaz was sacrificed as he provided width and became an outlet for Milan to get out of trouble.
Simon Kjaer: 8/10
Kjaer’s first Serie A start since November, in which he proved why he is so important to AC Milan and that it is not yet time to replace him with the younger centre-backs. The Dane complimented Romagnoli well, making 7 clearances and 2 blocks and interceptions each. Kjaer, too, was good on the ball and even registered a key pass from defence.
Alessio Romagnoli: 8/10
Captain and leader, after a difficult few matches in early December, Romagnoli has shown why he is still one of the best in Europe. The AC Milan skipper blocked 4 shots and made 8 clearances in an immense defensive performance. He was also composed on the ball, completing his passes at a success rate of 96%. He led Milan well from the back.
Diogo Dalot: 7/10
Dalot faced a tough challenge against Roberto Insigne but ultimately came out on top. The Manchester United loanee won all three of his aerial duels and lost possession just 4 times throughout the evening. Dalot made key clearances and replaced Theo Hernandez well in an important game.
Franck Kessie: 8/10
Milan did not see as much of the ball as they would have liked thanks to the numerical disadvantage, but Kessie was solid. He scored the all-important penalty with great composure and completed 35 passes at an accuracy of 93%. Kessie came close to doubling his tally for the night when he struck the upright. An attempt that probably should have resulted in a goal. Nonetheless, it was a fine performance by the Ivorian.
Franck Kessie ? Benevento
? A goal and a dominant performance.
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) January 4, 2021
Sandro Tonali: 4/10
Tonali’s first red card of his career and one that he ought to learn a lot from. It was a lazy challenge from the youngster as he left his boot dangerously high despite being late to the duel. He truly left his team in a pickle for the rest of the game.
Ante Rebic: 7/10
Rebic started the game very well, running hard and getting into good positions. He even won the penalty, that was converted by Kessie, from an unlikely situation. However, after Tonali’s dismissal, his role was a lot more reserved and he was unable to get into goalscoring positions often. Despite that, Rebic also earned the assist for Leao’s wonder goal.
Hakan Calhanoglu: 6/10
A rare off-day for the Calhanolgu as he failed to register a single key pass through the night. It was not the best of evenings for the Turk as Milan failed to see enough of the ball. Nonetheless, Calhanoglu worked hard for his team and put in a quality shift.
Brahim Diaz: 6/10
Sacrificed after Tonali’s red card for Rade Krunic to increase defensive cover. An unlucky night for Diaz, who had earned a rare Serie A start. The youngster even showed encouraging signs as he came to close to scoring from a long-range effort at the starting of the game.
Rafael Leao: 8/10
The star of the day for Milan for his wonderful game, Leao truly pulled a rabbit out of his hat with the finish. It was a terrific performance by the Portuguese, who covered a lot of ground for his team, making sure to defend and also provide an outlet on the counter. His hold-up play was superb and he even set up a great chance for Kessie late in the second half. An important performance by an important player for Milan.
Rafael Leao has become the 2ND YOUNGEST foreign player to score 10 or more goals for AC Milan in Serie A at 21 yrs & 207 days ?⚫️
The only one ahead of him is Alexandre Pato at 19 yrs & 19 days ?
? stat via Opta pic.twitter.com/rsX6rhTSQY
— Italian Football TV (@IFTVofficial) January 3, 2021
Rade Krunic: 6/10
On for Brahim Diaz to fill in for Tonali in midfield, Krunic put in an important shift, making a few key interceptions. He also only lost the ball twice which is praiseworthy considering the numerical disadvantage. However, he did concede the penalty that was fortunately missed by Caprari.
Samu Castillejo: 7
Came on for Rebic in the second half and made an instant impact. Castillejo did not start because he had just returned from injury, but had he got more minutes on Sunday, he could have impacted the game further. The Spaniard completed 2 key passes and all three of his attempted dribbles in his short cameo.
Andrea Conti: N/A
Did not play enough to warrant a rating.
Pierre Kalulu: N/A
Did not play enough to warrant a rating.
Thank God kjaer is back