Leao on Different Level: Three Lessons as Milan Thump Lecce

Milan picked up a crucial three points in Sunday’s home clash against promoted Lecce to strengthen their top-four bid in Serie A. Rafael Leao stole the show at the San Siro, scoring on either side of halftime to fire the Rossoneri to a 2-0 victory. 

After reaching the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2007, Milan returned to Serie A seeking a much-needed win following back-to-back draws against Bologna and Empoli. With Juventus back in third after the cancellation of their point ban, the reigning champions’ top-four chances have dwindled. 

Stefano Pioli’s team started the round three points behind fourth-placed Roma. And after Inter’s 3-0 demolition of Empoli earlier in the day, Milan had to return to winning ways at all costs. Even though fatigue was a problem in the wake of their Champions League exploits at Napoli, the hosts had an ace up their sleeves. 

Leao went nuclear to catapult Milan to a ninth win in their last ten home meetings with Lecce in Serie A. As a result, the Rossoneri whittled down the gap on Roma, who will take on Atalanta in a daunting top-flight encounter on Monday night. With only seven rounds left, every point matters. Let’s look at three talking points. 

Tradition continues

Milan and Lecce shared the spoils in a goal-glutted 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture at Stadio Via del Mare, handing the Giallorossi a rare opportunity to go unbeaten in both seasonal duels against the Rossoneri in Serie A. The last time Lecce achieved that feat was in 1999/2000, but they’ll have to wait for better days to replicate that milestone. 

Sunday’s clash at the San Siro was the 34th meeting between Milan and Lecce, with the Rossoneri posting their 20th triumph against the Giallorossi’s two (D12). The head-to-head record is even more one-sided in Lombardy. The seven-time European champions have won nine of their last 11 league H2Hs on home turf (D2) since a 2-1 defeat in 1997. 

That remains Lecce’s only win in 15 away league matches at Milan since 1989 (W11, D3). 

Relegation looming for Lecce

Leao’s brace condemned Lecce to a seventh loss in eight Serie A games (D1), leaving Marco Baroni’s side flirting with the red zone. With 18th-placed Hellas Verona picking up the steam, the Giallorossi’s hopes of securing top-flight survival are now in jeopardy. Verona squeezed past Bologna 2-1 on Friday, extending their unbeaten league run to three fixtures (W2, D1). 

Only two points now separate the two sides, with Lecce experiencing their worst spell of form this season. Baroni’s men have failed to get on the scoresheet in six of their last eight Serie A outings and must turn the corner soon if they’re to stay afloat. They will take on Udinese at home next weekend in what could be a ‘make or break’ contest for Baroni if he remains at the helm by then.

Leao is something special

Last season’s Serie A MVP is undoubtedly the best player in Italy’s top flight when at the top of his game. With all due respect to Napoli’s dynamic duo Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, the Portugal international is on a different level. 

He scored a rare header to put Milan 1-0 up at halftime, but what he did in the second half was an absolute masterstroke. It’s a pity that his lofted finish after dribbling past three Lecce players failed to hit the target; otherwise, it would’ve been one of the goals of the 2022/23 Serie A season.

But it didn’t knock Leao off his perch as he displayed his blistering pace and tricky feet again to put clear daylight between the sides in the 75th minute with a brilliant solo goal. It’s no wonder he’s one of the most in-demand players in Europe, and Milan will have to fight tooth and nail to fend off foreign suitors in the summer.

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