Sandro Tonali scored a late goal as AC Milan defeated Hellas Verona 2-1 on the road to move up to third in Serie A and keep pace with early leaders Napoli.
The visitors took the lead early on when Rafael Leao’s cross was diverted into his own net by Miguel Veloso, but the lead lasted only 10 minutes as Koray Gunter’s effort bounced off Matteo Gabbia and nestled in the back of the net.
Milan appeared to be doomed to a draw until Tonali’s calm finish in the 81st minute proved crucial.
Milan’s fourth consecutive Serie A victory over Verona lifts them up to the third place, only three points behind champions Napoli as Pioli’s side attempt to maintain their title.
Within nine minutes, Milan had taken the lead thanks to a burst of pace from Leao, whose cross was turned in by the unfortunate Veloso as the Verona captain awkwardly attempted to clear.
Verona drew level by chance when Gunter’s shot bounced off Gabbia, catching Ciprian Tatarusanu off guard and sending him flying in.
In the second period, Roberto Piccoli headed off the crossbar before Gunter’s powerful volley from the rebound sailed barely beyond.
Substitute Ante Rebic came near with a header that Lorenzo Montipo saved before playing a key role in his team’s winning goal.
Rebic’s ball as Milan countered was inch-perfect for Tonali to calmly sweep in and give the Rossoneri a lead they would not surrender.
Verona came dangerously close to stealing a point, with a handful of goalmouth scrambles resulting in desperate clearances by Milan as last-ditch defending ensured the points for the reigning champions.
What does it imply? Milan battles to a crucial three points
Tonali’s late intervention provided Milan a boost in the early stages of the Serie A title battle, ensuring the champions earned all possible points on a weekend in which leaders Napoli and second-placed Atalanta both triumphed.
The victory will be especially delicious given that Verona was a difficult opponent, with the hosts scoring 2.2 expected goals (xG) to Milan’s 2.14 while having three more shots (19) than Pioli’s men (16).
Rebic’s impact off the bench
While Tonali’s winning goal will garner the most attention, it is crucial to note the role of replacement Rebic in both the goal and Milan’s second-half performance.
Despite coming in at halftime, Rebic finished with the joint-highest amount of critical passes (three) among Milan players, while also providing an excellent assist for Tonali’s goal.
Giroud is struggling.
Olivier Giroud was substituted at halftime after failing to make an impact in the first 45 minutes.
Giroud failed to find the target with any of his three efforts before the interval, including a wonderful opportunity to make it 2-0 just moments after Veloso’s own goal. Pioli saw enough of the former Chelsea striker after only six passes and replaced him with Divock Origi.
What comes next?
In Serie A, Milan will host Monza on Saturday, while Verona will travel to Sassuolo two days later.