AC Milan welcomed Napoli to San Siro in round 32 of the 2017/18 Serie A season. Gennaro Gattuso’s team aim to finish inside top six and qualify for Europe, and they need every point they can get in that push. The same can be said of Napoli, even more so, as they strive to keep the pressure on Juventus and be in a position to take advantage of any potential mistake the Old Lady may make. Now, when Juventus are out of the Champions League, such opportunities aren’t likely to come often.
Both managers arranged their teams in the 4-3-3 formation.
Gattuso went with Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal, the centre-back duo of Cristian Zapata and Mateo Musacchio flanked by Davide Calabria and Ricardo Rodriguez. Lucas Biglia, Franck Kessie and Giacomo Bonaventura formed the midfield, while Suso, Hakan Calhanoglu and Nikola Kalinić were tasked with doing the damage up front.
Maurizio Sarri chose the back four of Elseid Hysaj, Kalidou Koulibaly, Raul Albiol and Christian Maggio ahead of Pepe Reina in goal. Jorginho anchored the midfield where he was joined by Allan and Marek Hamšik. Dries Mertens lead the line in attack, flanked by Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Maria Callejon.
A Bleak First Half
The game started as an even contest, with the two teams alternating in threatening one another. Milan striker Kalinić got himself in a good position a few times but wasted several good crosses, while Insigne, Callejon and Mertens all had a few decent attempts at the other end.
There were also a few moments when Milan’s defenders displayed a serious lack of communication with their goalkeeper, but the visitors were mostly unprepared for such lucky chances and couldn’t take advantage.
Napoli seemed more in control, keeping the ball and passing it around, while the Rossoneri pressed them and looked more determined, more willing to put in a tackle.
But there was no idea visible, nothing that would give off an impression of being especially prepared for this game in terms of strategy – no pattern to exploit any opposition weakness. It was like both managers had expected individual quality of their attacking players to outmatch that of the other team’s defence, and it never looked like working.
The only moment really worth noting came in the 39th minute. Hakan Calhanoglu smacked a low shot from range that Pepe Reina in Napoli’s goal had some trouble saving, and Mussachio slammed the rebound into the net only to be rightly ruled offside.
After the Break – More of the Same
Napoli came close two minutes after the break when Insigne sent a nice through pass for Hamšik, but from a close-range tight angle the Slovakian international dragged his shot across the goal and wide.
After that, the game went on in pretty much the same way as in the first half. Both teams played without much spark or creativity, and only occasionally developed half-chances that came to nothing.
With 66 minutes gone, Sarri tried to nudge their team forward with some fresh blood. Piotr Zielinski and Arkadiusz Milik came on for Hamšik and Mertens. Within a minute Milik had a good opportunity and saw his volley from around the penalty spot blocked.
As the game entered its final quarter, Napoli centre-back Koulibaly started making an occasional foray into attack, but even that brought nothing new at all.
However, the players grew tired and there were a fair few balls lost in their own half by both teams, and even though neither team had been able to exploit such a situation, there was a sense that might change before the game was over.
With 20 minutes to go, Milan striker Kalinić, who had grown completely invisible, made way for Andre Silva. Ten minutes later, Gattuso made his second substitution by replacing Bonaventura with Manuel Locatelli.
A few attempts from difficult positions at both ends followed, with no effect.
In the 87th minute, Allan was replaced by Marko Rog.
Just before the 90 were up, Insigne went down right on the edge of the box after possible contact from Calabria and asked for a penalty, but referee Luca Banti wasn’t interested.
The best chance of the game unexpectedly fell for Milik just as the injury time began. A cross by Insigne came in from the right and the ball somehow passed through a forest of players, eventually falling perfectly for the unmarked Milik six yards from the middle of the goal. His shot to the bottom corner was cool, well-controlled and well-placed, but Donnarumma displayed incredible reflexes as he read Milik’s intention, dived and diverted it around the post. The brilliant save by the 19-year-old AC Milan goalkeeper was undoubtedly the most exciting moment of the game.
Soon afterwards, the final whistle sounded.
Neither team will be happy with this result. Juventus were given the perfect opportunity to put some distance between them and Napoli in the table by beating Sampdoria later that same day, while Milan missed their own chance to do so in their top-six race, with Fiorentina dropping two points at home against SPAL 2013.
AC MILAN: Donnarumma 8, Calabria 6, Zapata 7, Musacchio 7, Rodriguez 7.5, Kessie 6, Biglia 6.5, Bonaventura 6 (80′ Locatelli N/A), Suso 6, Kalinic 5.5 (70′ A. Silva 6), Calhanoglu 6.5.
NAPOLI: Reina 7, Maggio 6.5, Albiol 7.5, Koulibaly 5.5, Hysaj 6, Allan 6 (87′ Rog N/A), Jorginho 6, Hamšik 6 (66′ Zielinski 6), Callejon 6.5, Mertens 6 (66′ Milik 6.5), Insigne 6.5.
YELLOW CARDS: Zapata 55’, Hysaj 64’, Calhanoglu 90’, Koulibaly 90’.
RED CARDS: None.
REFEREE: Luca Banti.
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