AC Milan sparked yet more life into a mediocre season with a hard-fought 2-1 home win over third-placed Lazio in Serie A on Sunday night.
Striker Patrick Cutrone headed home the opener in the 15th minute following Hakan Calhanoglu’s curling delivery into the penalty area from the angle but the away team levelled the match just moments later when Adam Marusic cut in from the right and sent a powerful drive past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
However, on the brink of half-time, Milan’s Italian midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura met Davide Calabria’s cross with a bullet header in what proved to be the winner.
Here, we look at three things we learned from the match.
GENERAL GATTUSO PROVING THE DIFFERENCE FOR MILAN
It would be hard not to be motivated by a man like Gattuso, especially if he was giving out the hairdryer treatment in the dressing room.
It’s been exactly two months since the famous midfield general took up the managerial reigns at his beloved club and thus far, the Milan hierarchy have got the reaction they were looking for from under-performing stars.
The Red and Blacks are now unbeaten in five matches under his tutelage, with four of those being victories.
LAZIO CAN’T BUY A WIN AT THE SAN SIRO
Amazingly, Milan are unbeaten against Lazio at home in Serie A since September 1989 – having now won 17 and drawn 11 of the past 28 matches.
Victory for the hosts under the lights on Sunday also ended the Biancocelesti’s eight-game unbeaten run, putting a spanner in the works so far as their title challenge goes.
It was a sweet victory for Milan, after they were thumped 4-0 in the corresponding fixture earlier on this season and denied Lazio the chance of a first Serie A league double over their rivals in 40 years.
SERIE A CLASH DRESS REHEARSAL FOR CUP
Interestingly, Sunday’s match-up acts as a pre curtain-raiser to this week’s Coppa Italia semi-final first leg between the two sides, with the match again taking place at the San Siro.
Indeed, the pair are going to get to know each other pretty well over the course of the next month with the return tie happening on February 28.
Chelsea-target Edin Dzeko grabbed a late 1-1 draw for Roma at Sampdoria on Wednesday as Lazio powered past Udinese 3-0 to boost their push for a Champions League spot next season.
Roma sporting director Monchi had earlier denied a deal had been reached with Chelsea over the sale of Bosnian striker Dzeko.
And the 31-year-old showed his worth when he nodded in a crucial injury time goal to grab a point after Fabio Quagliarella’s penalty had given Sampdoria the lead just before the break.
Roma stay fifth after missing the chance to join Inter Milan in fourth, the final Champions League spot next season, in their game pushed back from September 10 due to weather warnings in Genoa.
“Dzeko is here and as long as that is the case, I will play him,” said coach Eusebio De Francesco. “He proved himself to be a great professional, a decisive player and someone who is good for this team.”
Earlier third-placed Lazio overran Udinese in a game rescheduled from November 5 because of rain in the capital to pull three points clear of Inter Milan.
Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio are eight points behind leaders Napoli after 21 games and seven adrift of champions Juventus in second.
“Lazio have surprised many people. We are up there now and they’re starting to talk about us a little more,” said Inzaghi.
“At the start of the season, nobody expected this.
“We’re third and we must try to stay there until the end, even if it will be difficult to maintain this pace.”
Despite the absence of leading scorer Ciro Immobile through injury, Lazio followed on their 5-2 win over SPAL and 5-1 win over Chievo in their last two games.
The first goal came after 22 minutes when Brazilian Samir accidentally turned the ball into his own net.
Brazilian Felipe Anderson set up Portuguese winger Luis Nani two minutes after the break and then scored the third himself with three minutes to go.
Lazio kept their Champions League alive with their fourth win the last five matches, as Udinese’s two-month unbeaten streak ended to keep them ninth.
“The 3-0 doesn’t reflect the game,” said Udinese coach Massimo Oddo. We were always in the game, but their second goal knocked the wind out of our sails. I’m sure they’ll fight to the end for a place in the Champions League.”
DZEKO’s 10TH GOAL
Roma had been looking to return to winning ways for the first time in five games to join Inter on 43 points.
But despite a string of chances De Francesco’s side had to settle for a point which leaves them two points behind Milan in fifth.
Sampdoria opened with a penalty awarded after a look at VAR (Video Assistant Referee) showed an Aleksandar Kolarov handball.
Roma dominated possession but without getting the breakthrough until Dzeko picked up a cross from teenage substitute Mirko Antonucci.
It was the Bosnian’s tenth goal of the season and comes amid reports that a move to the English Premier League is imminent.
“At this moment I don’t like the offers that we have received, so we do not take them into consideration,” Monchi said before the game.
“All the clubs in the world listen to the offers that come, we are ready to listen and then decide.
“Now Edin is here and we are happy. This means that what arrived (bids) was not good.”
Roma play Sampdoria, one place below in sixth, again on Sunday in the Stadio Olympico, with Lazio visiting AC Milan.
Every weekend we pick out one under-23 player from around Europe and analyse their performance to provide you with an in-depth scouting report.
This week, we focus on Lazio‘s 3-0 win against Udinese in the Serie A with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who has been linked with a move to Manchester United and Manchester City, being the subject of our analysis.
Lazio closed the gap on Serie A’s top two to seven points following the comfortable win.
The Biancocelesti led 1-0 at half-time through Udinese defender Samir’s own goal and added further strikes in the second period through Nani and Felipe Anderson.
Here’s a look at Milinkovic-Savic’s performance.
Shots – 3
Assists – 1
Shots on target – 2
Touches – 59
Passes – 43
Key Passes – 1
Pass Accuracy – 83.7%
Aerials Won – 2
Dribbles – 1
Tackles – 0
Interceptions – 1
With his formidable frame, it’s no surprise that Milinkovic-Savic has a commanding presence in midfield. He’s strong in a tackle, although he didn’t display that in this encounter. The 22-year-old took a bit of time to make his mark on the game but was an imposing figure when he did.
He’s difficult to shake off the ball, protecting it well. Despite his physique, he’s surprisingly good on the ball, boasting an excellent first touch and showing off some quick feet.
Milinkovic-Savic is a powerful runner and with the ball at his feet, will drive at the opposition, as he did on a couple of occasions on Wednesday night.
He often makes late runs into the box and one such venture led to the opening goal as he latched on to a cross beyond the far post and drilled it back in for an Udinese defender to knock it into his own net.
Predictably, he is a dominant force in the air and perhaps should’ve had a goal to his name as well when his strong header from a corner in the second half was blocked ahead of the line.
His passing left a lot to be desired though. Not because he’s not capable of good distribution but because in this game in particular, he tried to force the issue, looking for penetrative passes.
22nd minute ASSIST: An over-hit cross evades a swarm of blue shirts in the box before Milinkovic-Savic arrives unmarked and drills the ball back across the six-yard box where Samir heads it into his own net under pressure from Parolo.
56th minute HEADER: The Serbian uses his towering figure to good effect, rising highest from a corner and is unfortunate to have his powerful header blocked Stipe Perica. Shout for handball but referee dismisses the claims.
61st minute CHALLENGE: The midfielder makes a run forward and bravely contests a cross from the right with the keeper but comes off second best.
63rd minute CHANCE: Milinkovic-Savic gets more involved in attack and after a good passing move, receives the ball on the edge of the box. However, with little pressure on him, he mishits his effort which sails well off target.
He lacks a level of composure but has all the raw material to make it big, particularly in the Premier League. He poses a genuine attacking threat and is capable of growing into an imposing midfielder.
In certain aspects, the Serbian bears a resemblance to Paul Pogba in the way he strides forward, protects the ball and possesses a fine first touch although lacking the Frenchman’s phenomenal flair and technique.