June 6, 2023

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Bennacer goal gives AC Milan first-leg advantage over Napoli

3 min read

AC Milan will take a slender aggregate lead into the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Napoli after securing a narrow 1-0 win at San Siro on Wednesday, already a second victory over their Serie A rivals this month.

Ismael Bennacer scored the only goal of the game against the run of play in the first half, with Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan emerging as a hero and Napoli stung by a red card shown to Anguissa when they were in the ascendancy looking for an equaliser.

Hoping to avenge a surprising 4-0 thrashing by Milan only 10 days earlier, Napoli almost made an absolute dream start inside the first minute. Anguissa’s scuffed cross from the right wasn’t dealt with and made its way to the back post where Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s shot was blocked on the line. Mario Rui then lacked composure in blazing the rebound over.

It was high tempo stuff from the visitors, with Maignan tipping a vicious shot from Anguissa over the top not long afterwards. A much more spectacular save from the Frenchman also denied a rasping drive from Piotr Zielinski, while Giovanni Di Lorenzo only narrowly missed with a header.

Milan had really struggled to get going, creating nothing of note until Rafael Leao surged from halfway through a gap in the Napoli defence. But he dragged his left-footed finish wide of the far post, taking out his frustration on the corner flag, which promptly shattered.

Despite the miss, that appeared to give the Rossoneri some confidence and they began to compete much better. But as the game began to near half-time, it became somewhat bitty and tetchy, lacking rhythm amid a few crunching tackles flying in.

Leao’s chance had shown Napoli’s vulnerability to a quick counter and that was exactly where the Milan breakthrough came from. Brahim Diaz ran into space, laying off to Leao, whose first-time pass across the box, perhaps not intended to get all the way to Bennacer, was lashed in all the same.

Milan probably could have doubled their lead in first half stoppage time, with Sandro Tonali lacking conviction in the middle of the box after good hold up play from Olivier Giroud. Simon Kjaer also smacked a bullet header off the underside of the crossbar and out at a corner.

Napoli seemingly regrouped during the break and again had the early chances when the second half began. Eljif Elmas’ first genuine involvement saw a looping header tipped onto the bar by Maignan.

But, as had been the case earlier in the contest, they couldn’t make the dominance count and Milan were handed a significant advantage midway as the game ticked towards its conclusion. Anguissa, a driving force for Napoli, was booked twice in under four minutes, the second a clumsy and probably avoidable challenge on Theo Hernandez.

There were late changes from both sides as each manager looked to respond to the flashpoint. There was also still time for Di Lorenzo to force a good late save from Maignan, while substitute Mathias Olivera only just missed with a header from the resultant corner.

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