Hernandez Saves Rossoneri Christmas as Milan Beat Lazio

If numbers mean anything, those about Milan’s 2020 year are telling a big truth: The Rossoneri are back into the Italian and perhaps European aristocracy.

At the end of 3-2 thriller against Lazio in Serie A Round 14, Milan ended their year on a high note, wrapping their 16th consecutive match with two or more goals, their 15th consecutive seasonal Serie A game without a defeat. Milan’s winning run was close to come to an end multiple times this season, but the motto on the red and black side of the Navigli rivers seems to be “Not today.”

In the last test of this never-ending and exhausting year, the duty of Stefano Pioli and his band was not the easiest one against Lazio, especially after Inter’s away win in Verona earlier in the day. For the first time in 11 rounds, the Rossoneri started a match from the second place in the league table and were called to answer back to their crosstown rivals’ run.

After a long time, Stefano Pioli could smile as his injury list started to shorten, with Ante Rebic back on his beloved left-wing spot. Rafael Leao was confirmed as center-forward, with Hakan Calhanoglu and Alexis Saelemaekers supporting him from the back.

Simone Inzaghi also had his share of troubles, with Mohamed Fares, Lucas Leiva and Francesco Acerbi all unavailable.

With such premises, the San Siro was ready for a spectacular match. As it happened with Sassuolo on Sunday, the Rossoneri started aggressively and found their opener from the very first chance as Ante Rebic slotted the ball home with a perfect header from an Hakan Calhanoglu corner.

Lazio were not able to reply in a proper way, as Inzaghi’s team seemed trapped in a cage made of strenuous pressing and incisive counterattacks.

Rade Krunic, the last-man standing with Sandro Tonali in Milan’s maimed midfield, had a stroke of genius look as released Ante Rebic on the left side from an Hakan Calhanoglu pass. The Croatian incredibly missed an easy chance to convert, but Lazio’s Patric crashed into him with a late tackle and that was enough for referee Marco Di Bello to award the Rossoneri a penalty.

After seeing his goal against Sassuolo disallowed, Calhanoglu had a chance to score his first Serie A goal from the penalty spot. He did not waste it, beating his former teammate Pepe Reina with a stone-cold conversion.

Despite the 0-2 score, Lazio did not lose hope and resorted to their counterattack weapons as a main threat. Their plan was right, as they soon managed to make it 1-2, steering the match in a different direction than Milan was hoping. It took two minutes for the VAR to find a slight charge from Pierre Kalulu on Joaquin Correa’s in the box and prompt the referee to allow the second penalty of the match.

Biancocelesti penalty specialist Ciro Immobile saw his conversion attempt parried back from Gianluigi Donnarumma, but the ball bounced right on Luis Alberto’s head and the Spaniard was fast to pounce on it and push it back into the net to reopen the game.

The second half saw the Biancocelesti take control of the operations and aggressively look for an equalizer. Their ball possession peaked at 70% but the fort raised by center backs Pierre Kalulu and Alessio Romagnoli held.

It was in midfield, however, where the Rossoneri proved to be vulnerable. Sandro Tonali and Rade Krunic still cannot match the quality of coverage usually provided by Franck Kessié and Ismael Bennacer as Milan often found themselves taken over in the middle of the park by Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic Savic.

On 59 minutes, it was the Serbian midfielder to provide a brilliant assist for Ciro Immobile, whose volley to the far post with the outside of his foot had no answer from Donnarumma. It was 2-2 and back to square one for the home side, who were now being overtaken by Inter at the top of the table.

With 30 minutes still to play, and little fuel left in both sides’ tanks, the match became open to any possible outcome but both Pepe Reina and Gianluigi Donnarumma managed to keep the score unchanged.

Only a single episode could possibly change the fate of the match – and that’s exactly what happened on 93 minutes, when Theo Hernandez stole the stage by jumping higher than his marker and whipping the ball past Reina with a perfectly-timed header to set the score at 3-2 and save the Rossoneri’s Christmas.

Ironically, Milan will close a dreadful year for the world in the best possible way. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Serie A to stop back in March, there have mostly been good news for the Rossoneri. The red-and-blacks have tallied 79 points in 2020, and have collected 19 wins and 7 draws since the restart. Is this the mark of a – finally – reborn big team?



December 23, 2020 – Serie A 2020-21 Round 14

SCORERS: 10′ Rebic (M), 15′ Calhanoglu (M, pen.), 28′ Luis Alberto (L), 59′ Immobile (L), 92′ Hernandez (M)

MILAN (4-2-3-1): G. Donnarumma; Calabria, Kalulu, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Tonali, Krunic; Saelemaekers (64′ Castillejo, 91′ Maldini), Calhanoglu, Rebic; Rafael Leao (79′ Hauge) (Tatarusanu, A. Donnarumma, Colombo, Conti, Diogo Dalot, Brahim Diaz, Duarte, Frigerio, Musacchio) Coach: Pioli
LAZIO (3-5-2): Reina; Luiz Felipe, Patric (89′ Hoedt), Radu; Lazzari, Milinkovic-Savic (74′ Akpa Akpro), Escalante (46′ Cataldi), Luis Alberto, Marusic; Immobile (74′ Pereira), Correa (32′ Muriqi) (Strakosha, Alia, Adeagbo, Anderson, Armini, Caicedo, Franco) Coach: S. Inzaghi

REFEREE: Mr. Di Bello from Brindisi
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Krunic, Hernandez (M), Escalante, Luis Alberto, Muriqi (L); Extra Time: 1st Half 4′, 2nd Half 4′