AC Milan moved level on points with second-place Roma in Serie A after a pair of wonderful individual goals from Juraj Kucka and M’Baye Niang sent them on their way to a 3-1 away victory against Chievo.
Kucka and Niang each fired in from outside the area either side of half-time, helping to secure Milan’s victory and condemn Chievo to their first home league defeat since January.
An exceptional free-kick from Valter Birsa against his old club with 15 minutes left led to a nervy conclusion to the game, but Milan sealed victory in stoppage-time when home captain Dario Dainelli scored an own goal as he tried to block substitute Carlos Bacca’s shot.
Vincenzo Montella’s men are now unbeaten in five and host champions Juventus at San Siro next Saturday hoping to apply pressure at the top of the table.
Milan handed a first start of the season to 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli in place of influential captain Riccardo Montolivo, who has been ruled out for six months through injury, but he was overshadowed by the exploits of Kucka and Niang.
Chievo played neatly throughout, but were unable to create any clear-cut chances of their own aside from Birsa’s free-kick and were caught out by two costly defensive errors.
The hosts began at a breathless pace, bombarding the Milan area with a series of crosses within the opening few minutes which had the visitors scrambling to clear.
After surviving the early onslaught, Milan grew into the contest and created a great chance when Niang looked set to convert Suso’s in-swinging cross, only for Fabrizio Cacciatore to hack clear off the line.
The hosts’ chief threat came from Birsa, who was a constant thorn in the side of Milan, and a firm strike which was well held by Gianluigi Donnarumma represented his best effort of the first half.
There was little between the sides until a piledriver from Kucka gave Milan the lead just before the interval.
A loose ball from Cacciatore allowed the midfielder to collect possession 25 yards out and belt his shot into the top corner past the despairing dive of Stefano Sorrentino.
Kucka almost repeated his feat just moments later, this time his long-range drive whistling inches wide.
But Niang did extend Milan’s lead 44 seconds after the restart with another fabulous goal, latching onto a Giacomo Bonaventura interception from another loose piece of Chievo defensive play, before cutting onto his left foot and firing past Sorrentino.
Niang celebrated by holding aloft a Milan shirt displaying the name of the absent Montolivo.
With a two-goal cushion, Milan began to play with a degree of swagger and continued to open up their hosts.
Gianluca Lapadula was denied his first goal for the club by a sprawling Sorrentino save before Niang nodded over the rebound.
Lapadula, determined to break his duck, then saw a low drive from just five yards out smartly parried wide by Sorrentino.
The lively Birsa then pulled one back on 75 minutes, curling a beautiful left-footed free-kick into the top corner beyond Donnarumma’s dive to ensure some tense late moments for Milan.
But as Chievo pressed forward for an equaliser, which always left them vulnerable to a Milan counterattack, it was Bacca who inspired the final goal in the fourth minute of stoppage-time.
He bent the ball with the outside of his right foot and saw his shot take a wicked deflection off Dainelli to wrong-foot Sorrentino to seal three valuable points.
Key Opta Stats:
– The last time AC Milan won 16 or more points in their first eight Serie A games was in 2010-11, when they went on to win the Scudetto.
– AC Milan have lost none of their last 20 Serie A clashes with Chievo (W17 D3).
– Prior to Valter Birsa’s goal, Chievo had not scored for 778 consecutive minutes against AC Milan in the top-flight.
– Chievo’s loss ends a streak of 11 consecutive Serie A home games without defeat.
– The Rossoneri have scored four goals from outside the box in their last two Serie A games – as many as they netted over the previous 39.
– Andrea Poli made his 100th Milan appearance in the match.
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