AC Milan kept their hopes of Europa League qualification alive with an impressive 2-0 win at home to AS Roma on Sunday.
After a tight and tactical first half, Milan finally made the breakthrough in the 76th minute through Ante Rebic, while Hakan Calhanoglu sealed the deal in the final moments from the penalty spot after Chris Smalling had felled Theo Hernandez.
The win moves Milan level on points with sixth-placed Napoli and just six behind Roma, who remain six points adrift of the Champions League places with 10 games left to play.
As always, there were individual winners and losers during the match, so let’s take a look at them.
Winner: Ante Rebic
If there is one player who has dragged this struggling AC Milan side along kicking and screaming (since Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury at least) it’s been Ante Rebic. Ahead of Sunday’s match, the Croatia international had scored seven of AC Milan’s 16 Serie A goals in 2020 — more than any other player at the club. That record was extended further against Roma.
After a largely attritional first half, Milan looked much the better side after the break and finally opened the scoring in the 76th minute. Franck Kessie’s first effort was saved by Antonio Mirante but the ball fell to Rebic. He also saw his first shot saved but the ball then bounced back off the post, with Rebic making no mistake at the second time of asking.
Rebic has now scored 44% of Milan’s Serie A goals this year. This one wasn’t the prettiest, and he was quite lucky to get another bite at the cherry in all honesty, but he continues to be decisive for the Rossoneri in their search for European football.
Loser: Justin Kluivert
Justin Kluivert’s struggles since switching Ajax for Roma have been well documented and the Dutchman has found 2019/20 just as tough as he did 2018/19. Just before the suspension of play, however, he managed two goals in his final two games against Gent in the Europa League and Cagliari in Serie A. On Sunday, he appeared very keen to build on those positive performances. In fact, he was a little too keen to make an impression.
You can’t fault Kluivert for constantly looking for possession, trying to assert himself on the game and make things happen for his side. However, all too often, he tried too hard, running himself into dead ends and cul-de-sacs of red and black shirts.
Kluivert was only able to complete nine passes before he was substituted in the 58th minute, the lowest amount of any Roma player, while he lost possession eight times and failed to truly test the Milan defence, despite a number of surging runs and intricate dribbles.
The quest to prove himself goes on for Kluivert.
Winner: Hakan Calhanoglu
He might have missed two big chances, but Hakan Calhanoglu was comfortably Milan’s best player in an attacking sense on Sunday.
The Turkey international was at the centre of everything the Rossoneri created in the final third, with his quick thinking and sharp passing causing the Roma defence problems all afternoon — his movement drifting inside from the left flank made him a nightmare to track. Calhanoglu was able to split the visitor’s defence open on a number of occasions, while his set-piece delivery remains second to none.
He's missed a couple of chances but Hakan Calhanoglu has easily been Milan's best player today.
— Chris Smith (@CJSmith91) June 28, 2020
On another day, had Milan’s forwards been a little sharper, Calhanoglu might have been walking away from this one with an assist but although that didn’t come, he was finally rewarded for his efforts with a goal from the penalty spot in the dying moments, sealing the game for Pioli’s men.
Loser: Antonio Mirante
What a strange day for Antonio Mirante, who toed the line between brilliant and baffling all afternoon.
In the first half, the veteran Italian was almost caught out when pulling off a Cruyff turn inside his own six-yard box. Rebic was agonisingly close to dispossessing Mirante, but the ‘keeper just about managed to turn away and clear the ball. Just after the break, he was almost caught out again as he came racing out for an underhit Leonardo Spinazzola backpass — a necessary action but one which saw him rounded. Luckily the ball rolled out for a goal-kick, no hard done.
— CALCIATORI BRUTTI (@CB_Ignoranza) June 28, 2020
And Mirante’s day was pretty much summed up as Milan opened the scoring, with the former Parma goalkeeper pulling off two brilliant saves from Kessie and Rebic, only to see the ball bounce back to the latter, who made sure it was third time lucky.
Winner: Stefano Pioli
The AC Milan managerial job is never going to be easy. It’s a huge club with equally huge expectations which just haven’t been met over the past decade or so.
But on Sunday, at least, Stefano Pioli demonstrated the brilliant effect those in the dugout can have on their side’s fortunes, using his substitute’s bench to full effect.
With the game stuck at 0-0 and neither side managing to force any serious openings, Pioli introduced Belgian wideman Alexis Saelemaekers and Brazilian playmaker Lucas Paqueta. Almost immediately, Milan took control of the match.
Saelemaekers hugged the right-hand touchline and stretched the play, creating space for those around him and finally providing Milan with a viable counter-attacking threat, while Paqueta combined brilliantly with the likes of Calhanoglu and Kessie to make the home side far more dominant in possession.
Neither scored the decisive goals but without their game-changing presence, you’d be tempted to say this game would have whimpered out as a 0-0 draw.