Football Features

Lautaro dazzles in Sardinia but Leao and Theo wondergoals put AC Milan on the edge of first Serie A in a decade

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:07, 15 May 2022

It was a night for glorious goals as AC Milan and Inter both won to set-up a winner-takes-all showdown on the final day of the Serie A season.

Milan were up first and faced a difficult home tie against Atalanta, a match they haven’t won since 2014. Four draws and four defeats would have had Stefano Pioli sweating the result that the Rossoneri desperately needed to pick up.

That wouldn’t have changed after a goalless first-half where Atalanta were the equal of Milan, and it didn’t look like there would be any avenue for Milan to bag themselves the goal they needed.

Bet £10 & Get £30 in Free Bets with Bet365

Not signed up to bet365 yet? Here's how to claim one of the best bookmaker welcome offers around... 

  • Open an account (here's a link)
  • Make a qualifying deposit of between £5* and £10*
  • Claim the offer to receive three times your deposit in 'Free Bets'.
  • To release your 'Free Bets', place qualifying bets to the value of your qualifying deposit and allow those bets to settle.
  • Your 'Free Bets' will become available shortly after your qualifying bets have settled
  • To use your 'Free Bets', select 'Use bet credits' in the bet slip.

Min deposit requirement. Free Bets are paid as Bet Credits and are available for use upon settlement of qualifying bets. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply.

But just over 10 minutes into the second-half Rafael Leao latched onto a long pass from sub Junior Messias and showed sublime touch, strength and balance to pull the ball down and hold off the defender before drilling the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs.

Of course 1-0 didn’t guarantee anything, especially when Atalanta brought Duvan Zapata off the bench, but the Milan defensive efforts were impressive. Whether that was Franck Kessie’s 5 tackles, Pierre Kalulu’s 4 interceptions or the many composed interventions of Mike Maignan. The French goalkeeper has really proven a calming influence at the back.

The game was settled, however, by a player who is anything but calm. The combustible Theo Hernandez, arguably Milan’s best player this season, picked the ball up inside his own half and drove, George Weah style, through the heart of the Atalanta defence before finishing coolly inside the box to put the Rossoneri on the verge of title glory in the most spectacular style possible.

That result put Milan five points clear atop the title, meaning that if Inter Milan didn’t beat relegation-threatened Cagliari in Sardinia at the end of the night, the Rossoneri would be crowned champions.

Unfortunately for Milan, Inter were not in a gaming mood and were the dominant side from start to finish (well, mostly) with Coppa Italia final hero Ivan Perisic in devastating form. He first headed a Hakan Calhanoglu free-kick on for Milan Skriniar to bundle the ball home (via the post) only for it to be disallowed for an unintentional handball.

Perisic didn’t stop there and just short of the half-hour mark he peeled off a simply beautiful cross from the left-flank booming it to the far-post where Matteo Darmian rose highest to thunder the ball into the back of the net.

The second-half of the match belonged to Lautaro Martinez, as the Argentine scored twice to move onto 21 goals in Serie A this season, 25 goals across all competitions, these are both career highs for the striker as he has stood tall amid many departures to be Inter’s leading light in their fight to defend the Serie A title they won last season.

His first goal was a muscular effort as he ran onto a long-ball from Nico Barella and then slid the ball beneath the onrushing goalkeeper while his second was far defter as he gently lifted the ball over the keeper with his left. 21 goals despite enduring a 7 hour goal drought shows just how potent he can be as he comes into his prime as a footballer.

Inter have a reputation for choking, so for them to hold their nerve like this was supremely impressive especially after their exertions midweek in their Coppa Italian win over Juventus. 120 minutes against their hated rivals will take the energy out of anyone’s legs but Inter showed no signs of fatigue tonight.

Taking the title race to the final day of the season is not just a praiseworthy feat in and of itself, but given AC Milan face a tricky trip to play Sassuolo (a team who have beaten them in their last two matches) while Inter have a winnable home game against Sampdoria; this win could see Inter retain Serie A against all the odds. We’ve had final day drama go against Inter before, could it now swing in their direction?

Well, maybe.

AC Milan hold an advantage in the head-to-head with Inter so need only a draw against Sassuolo to be sure of the title, but playing for a draw is always a dangerous dance that can lead to some utter humiliation as you slip and fall.

Will Pioli’s men hold their nerve to end their decade-long title drought? Or will Inter shock everyone and retain the title? You’ll have to tune in and find out!