Milan moved into fifth in Serie A after Zlatan Ibrahimovic secured a 2-1 victory away to 10-man Sassuolo on Tuesday.
The Rossoneri edged above Roma and Napoli in the table thanks to a first-half double from their veteran striker either side of Francesco Caputo’s penalty, before Mehdi Bourabia was sent off late in the first half.
It marked the ninth league game in a row in which Milan scored at least twice and further highlighted their progress under Stefano Pioli, who could well be staying in charge for next season.
Sassuolo were surprisingly slack with their customary passing out from the back and paid the price 19 minutes in, with Hakan Calhanoglu’s exquisite cross nodded in by Ibrahimovic after Franck Kessie had won back the ball.
Milan were dealt a double injury blow, losing Andrea Conti and Alessio Romagnoli, before Caputo levelled for Sassuolo from the penalty spot after Calhanoglu was penalised for handball following a lengthy VAR review.
Calhanoglu and Ibrahimovic combined again to restore the lead in first-half injury time, though, the striker gathering a throughball and rounding Andrea Consigli to finish, having earlier missed another good headed chance.
Sassuolo’s hopes of another comeback were ruined when Bourabia lunged in on Ante Rebic to earn a second yellow card with seconds left in the first half.
Ibrahimovic just failed to get a shot away after combining with Kessie, and Ismael Bennacer clipped the post as Milan sought a decisive third, although Gianluigi Donnarumma – making his 200th appearance for the club at the age of just 21 – was largely a spectator at the other end.
By contrast, Consigli had to produce a brilliant triple save to deny Kessie and Giacomo Bonaventura twice to keep it at 2-1.
2 – Prior to today, the last time Zlatan #Ibrahimovic has scored multiple goals during a first half #SerieA game was on March 2012 (hat-trick against Palermo, with #ACMilan). Divine.#SassuoloMilan pic.twitter.com/3qCQj3KORx
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) July 21, 2020
What does it mean? Pioli efforts paying off
Milan are a point above Roma and three ahead of Napoli in fifth place, and few would bet against them doing enough to seal a top-six finish even if their closest rivals have a game in hand.
In the longer term, the evidence of their improvement under Pioli becomes clearer by the game and any new deal for the coach would represent a wholly sensible move by the club.
The only concern for Milan will be facing Atalanta next with potential injury absentees and Theo Hernandez and Bennacer suspended.
Hakan and Zlatan weaving a pattern
Calhanoglu’s recent form has rivalled any attacking player in Serie A. Ibrahimovic is the seventh player to receive an assist this season from the Turkey playmaker, and their combination play pointed to a few more goals to come.
Brainless from Bourabia
Bourabia’s first booking was for a poor lunge on Ibrahimovic. His second, for a reckless challenge on Rebic with seconds of the first half remaining, was probably worse. Roberto De Zerbi will have been furious.
Key Opta Facts
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) July 21, 2020
– The previous time Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored multiple goals during the first half of a Serie A game was March 2012 (a hat-trick against Palermo).
– Hakan Calhanoglu has delivered the joint-most assists in Serie A since the restart of the league in June (seven, alongside Alexis Sanchez).
– Milan have scored more than a goal in nine consecutive Serie A games in a single season for the first time since 1964 (10).
– Calhanoglu has delivered eight Serie A assists this term, a personal record in a single season in the top-five European leagues.
– Prior to Calhanoglu, the last player to deliver an assist in three consecutive Serie A games for Milan was Robinho, in 2012.
Milan host Atalanta on Friday in what could be key to their European hopes, with Sassuolo heading to Napoli on Saturday.
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