Milan regained top spot in Serie A as they returned to winning ways in timely fashion with a 2-0 victory over struggling Genoa.
Inter’s 3-1 win over Spezia earlier on Friday had sent the reigning champions to the top of the pile, but Milan responded in San Siro to restore their two-point lead.
Rafael Leao’s early volley put Stefano Pioli’s team ahead and a first win in three games was secured late on when Junior Messias struck.
Alexis Saelemaekers and Olivier Giroud passed up presentable opportunities, but 19th-placed Genoa were unable to make Milan pay for that profligacy as they slumped to a third straight defeat.
A late switch to Milan’s line-up saw Pierre Kalulu shifted to right-back in the absence of Davide Calabria, and the defender produced a moment of real quality for Leao’s 11th-minute opener.
Leao had not scored since the end of February but kept his cool to steer Kalulu’s inch-perfect cross into the right-hand corner on the volley.
On the opposite flank to Leao, Saelemaekers struggled to get involved and his rustiness showed when he lashed over from Franck Kessie’s cutback nine minutes before half-time.
Saelemaekers nearly had a free run at goal after pouncing on a defensive mistake early in the second half, only to slice wide.
The winger turned provider just prior to the hour, but Giroud could not keep an acrobatic attempt down.
Yet Milan’s faltering attack finally crafted another opening in the 87th minute, with Messias hitting home at the second time of asking following Salvatore Sirigu’s fine save, the goal standing despite a VAR check for handball.
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What does it mean? Title charge built on solid foundations, if not sparkling attacking
It was another wasteful showing from Milan up top, though at least Leao’s early goal had eased their nerves before Messias finally settled the contest.
A poor Genoa side could do little to test them going the other way, however, and Milan have now kept six successive clean sheets in the league, making Pioli just the third coach in Rossoneri history to collect at least six clean sheets in a row in a single Serie A season. That defensive structure is the bedrock of their title challenge.
Leao likes his San Siro home comforts
It had been a long drought for Leao, who had gone six games without scoring. However, he showed plenty of quality to direct his volley beyond Sirigu.
The Portugal forward has scored more goals (five) in home games than any other player in Serie A since the turn of the year.
One downside for Pioli was an accumulation of issues when it came to the health of his squad.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic remains sidelined for the foreseeable future, while Calabria withdrew due to a stomach issue and his replacement, Matteo Gabbia, went off with an apparent hamstring issue midway through the second half.
Title rivals Milan and Inter do battle on Tuesday in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie. It is level at 0-0 on aggregate after the first game. Genoa face Cagliari five days later in a huge clash at the bottom of Serie A.
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