AC Milan vs Napoli was a game full of big chances pretty much from the first minute to the last, but the only goal came towards the end of the first half as Ismael Bennacer thundered a shot in at the near post to finish off a counter.
AC Milan vs Napoli: Summary
Napoli were dealt two big blows in the second half however, as Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa received two yellow cards within minutes and was sent off, and then Kim Min-jae also got a booking which rules him out of the second leg.
It is a slender margin to take back to the Maradona, but on the balance of play it is one that the Rossoneri will absolutely be happy with and it sets up a scintillating second leg.
Stefano Pioli insisted before the game that his side could not ‘photocopy’ the same approach as during the 4-0 win at the Maradona 10 days ago, but he chose the same line-up from that game with Simon Kjaer, Rade Krunic, Brahim Diaz, Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud all coming back in.
The first huge chance of the game fell to the visiting side less than a minute into the game as Kvaratskhelia was inches away from opening the scoring. A mix-up at the back saw a cross from Anguissa get past Mike Maignan and Rade Krunic’s clearance fell to the Georgian winger, who saw his effort cleared off the line by the Bosnian.
Napoli certainly started the better of the two sides and had two more half-chances as Anguissa forced Maignan to tip over with a shot from 25 yards and then Elmas glanced a near-post header wide from the resulting corner.
Milan then upped the intensity and began winning the ball back in Napoli’s half just as they did in Naples, yet it was Kvaratskhelia who caused more problems at the other end as he skinned Calabria before receiving the ball back from Elmas and shooting wide via a deflection.
The Rossoneri played themselves into trouble in the 12th minute and Maignan was again called into action to tip a powerful shot over the bar, this time from Zielinski’s 25-yard shot after Bennacer’s giveaway. Moments later, Di Lorenzo headed a cross onto the roof of the net.
Leao scored a couple of fantastic goals against the Partenopei at the Maradona, and he came so close to topping both with an incredible solo run that saw him glide between two men starting from the half way line, surging into the box and shooting with his left foot but inches past the far post.
There was a bit of worry ten minutes before the break when Olivier Giroud went down in a heap on the right side after a strong challenge that was not given as a foul, though he did eventually get to his feet.
Against the run of play, it was Milan who took the lead five minutes before the break. Brahim Diaz did superbly to squeeze between two markers and bear down on goal, and though his pass to the right was behind Leao he fired it back across the box to Bennacer, who finished in off the boot of Meret.
Then pressure towards the end of the half all came from Milan, as a ball into the box found Giroud with his back to goal and he laid it on a plate for Tonali, whose shot was deflected wide for a corner.
Pioli’s men were inches away from doubling their advantage when an outswinging corner was met by the head of Simon Kjaer, who thundered it off the underside of the crossbar. On the replay it seemed as though Krunic might have been dragged down also.
The first chance of the second half of AC Milan vs Napoli, went to the away side as Kvaratskhelia cut inside onto his right foot and clipped a cross to Elmas, whose header was looping and got tipped onto the bar by Maignan, who also saved well from Di Lorenzo’s near post header.
Napoli racked up corner after corner in the early stages of the second half, with Milan unable to get out of their own half as the intense press from the first 30 minutes came roaring back.
The first change from Pioli came with 66 minutes on the clock as Bennacer was withdrawn from his role in the midfield trident and Alexis Saelemaekers was brought on, with Brahim playing more centrally off Giroud.
The fractious nature of the game continued as Napoli got two bookings within seconds of each other. Theo was brought down on the break which saw Anguissa go into the book for the foul but also Lozano after his protests.
Anguissa’s stay on a yellow card would not last for long as he was given his marching orders not long after. Theo was again the man to draw the foul, charging onto a loose ball down the left and attracting a high boot just as he did from Romero in the second leg against Spurs.
Milan set about making their advantage count, as Saelemaekers attempted to recreate his solo goal from the 4-0 win before having the ball cleared. Eventually Leao picked it up and burst to the byline, cutting a cross back that ended with Krunic pulling a first-time shot wide.
Kim charged into the back of Saelemaekers with just over 10 minutes left and his dissent earned him a yellow card that sees him suspended for the return leg, while moments later Ante Rebic came on for Diaz.
The ten men of Napoli had the brighter of the exchanges towards the end of the 90 minutes, with Maignan producing a fine stop at his near post to thwart a shot from Raspadori, then from the corner a the ball was recycled for a cross which Olivera somehow headed wide.
Leao shot into Meret’s hands and then fired well over the bar inside the five minutes added on at the end of normal time. There was another late flare-up when Saelemaekers went down softly in the box, though that would be the last real incident of the game.
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