Copious injuries, late positive COVID-19 tests and a suspension; a highly anticipated clash between Serie A leaders Milan and defending champions Juventus at San Siro on Wednesday threatened to seriously underwhelm.
There was no Alvaro Morata for the Juve, while full-backs Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado were forced to sit out after returning positive coronavirus results.
Milan were without star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and their midfield was decimated by the absences of Sandro Tonali (suspension), Ismael Bennacer (injury) and Rade Krunic (coronavirus). The dire situation forced Stefano Pioli to start right-back Davide Calabria alongside Franck Kessie in the central pivot.
Yet despite the difficulties faced by both teams, a thriller was served up in Milan, and Federico Chiesa took centre stage as Milan’s unbeaten streak in Serie A was ended at 27 by a 3-1 loss to Juve.
— Lega Serie A (@SerieA_EN) January 6, 2021
The last time Milan held a superior position to Juve heading into a meeting of the sides was in November 2015, and on that occasion the Bianconeri emerged triumphant thanks to a goal from Paulo Dybala.
While the Argentina international, who has been struggling for consistency and dealing with a fever, was not the man to open the scoring on this occasion, he still played a pivotal role.
After drifting across the pitch to offer support to Chiesa, he held up a pass from the winger before returning it by dragging the ball back behind his standing leg and flicking it around Alessio Romagnoli.
It was weighted perfectly for Chiesa’s dart into the box, which was not tracked adequately by Theo Hernandez, and he drilled a shot across Gianluigi Donnarumma into the bottom-left corner.
A thoroughly entertaining first half saw Juve control possession but Milan get more shots away. There were 21 in total during the opening 45 minutes, 12 for the Rossoneri and nine for Juve, a number only two Serie A games this season have exceeded (Sassuolo v Cagliari – 22, Cagliari v Napoli – 23).
Wojciech Szczesny kept out Samu Castillejo, Rafael Leao and Hakan Calhanoglu, as well as stopping Aaron Ramsey from scoring what would have been an incredible own goal, before he was finally beaten by the unlikely source of Calabria.
Juve did not appear happy the goal was allowed to stand, with Calhanoglu putting in a contentious challenge on Adrien Rabiot to launch the counter-attack from which Leao fed Calabria to guide a fine finish into the top-right corner.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) January 6, 2021
It ensured Milan found the back of the net for a 36th consecutive Serie A game – a run only bettered by Juve (43 in 2014 and 44 in 2017) – with Leao involved in an eighth goal in 12 league appearances this season, one more than he managed across the entirety of the previous campaign.
Unsurprisingly the game was far less open after the interval, but Chiesa was able to separate the teams once more.
Again it was Dybala leading the supporting cast, spotting his team-mate in space on the right and drilling a pass across for him to attack Hernandez once more.
Just as in the first half, Chiesa’s feet proved too quick as he shifted the ball to his left and threaded a curling shot between Hernandez and Romagnoli and into the bottom-left corner. It was his sixth goal involvement (three scored, three assisted) against Milan in Serie A, which is more than he has managed against any other side.
The 23-year-old is proving himself to be a man for the big occasion. Since the start of last season, he has been thoroughly impressive against the best teams in the league. In that time, he has had a hand in three goals against Milan (two scored, one assisted) and Atalanta (two scored, one assisted) and also scored in meetings with Inter, Napoli and Lazio.
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