Sunday Napoli – Milan Stalemate Favors Roma in Europa League Run

Sunday night game at San Paolo Stadium between Napoli and Milan ended in a spectacular 2-2 draw which delighted the virtual attendance but was of little help for both clubs – who are still in contention for a Europa League spot next season.

Gennaro Gattuso – facing Milan for the first time as an opponent after leaving the Rossoneri at the end of last season – and Stefano Pioli both confirmed to be on a positive trend as their sides have been playing some of the best football seen in Serie A after the post-COVID restart. The San Paolo stalemate, however, only favored Roma – who regained the fifth spot in the table after toppling Brescia on Saturday.

Gattuso operated a massive turnover among the Partenopei lines, placing David Ospina between the sticks, Stanislav Lobotka in midfield, and deploying the “three tenors” – Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, and José Callejon – on the front line. Only one change for Pioli comparing to his winning blitz against Juventus as the Emilian coach recovered full-time Hakan Calhanoglu after an injury.

The first half ended on a 1-1 which seemed unfair to Napoli, as Milan took the best out of the only chance they had, while the Partenopei had to challenge Gianluigi Donnarumma four times before finally finding the back of the net.

Dries Mertens chased by Simon Kjaer. The Belgian was once again one of the best among the Partenopei, while the Danish defender is proving to be a reliable addition to the Rossoneri’s lineup

Napoli had the best of their chances from the left side, where Andrea Conti seemed to suffer Dries Mertens’ initiatives. Just a few minutes after the start, the Belgian dribbled him, along with Lucas Paquetà, to penetrate the Rossoneri’s area for the first time and force Donnarumma to dive and defuse his sharp pass attempt.

Then, it was Lorenzo Insigne’s turn to move inward from the left and explode a vicious snapshot which hit Milan’s left post after a slight deflection.

Napoli continued to attack and find the right spot again from the left, with Dries Mertens serving a golden assist to José Callejon. The Spaniard’s conclusion, however, didn’t live up to his name as a striker and ended in Donnarumma’s big hands easily.

The first rule of football – goal sbagliato, goal subito (“you miss a goal, you get a goal”) – proved true in the 20th minute as Milan put their heads ahead the first time that they came to challenge David Ospina. From Ismael Bennacer’s long-range pass, Ante Rebic did some great work in the box, as he pivoted on himself and serviced Theo Hernandez with a fine lob pass. The French full-back made no mistake with a brilliant volley to tally his 6th seasonal goal – he would be the best Rossoneri “striker” this season, if it weren’t for Rebic himself.

The Partenopei didn’t lose faith, however, and continued to bombard Donnarumma. Piotr Zielinski was the next to challenge the Milan goalkeeper with a shot from 30 meters. Good for Gigio that the Pole’s screamer ended its run a few centimeters away from his left post.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo drew level for Napoli after Theo Hernandez’s opener as he took advantage of Gianluigi Donnarumma’s defective save

It was too much honestly for Napoli not to finally collect the fruit of their siege. In the 34th  minute, Lorenzo Insigne whipped the ball in Milan’s box from a free kick and Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s header found again Gianluigi Donnarumma’s opposition. The ball took a weird effect, however, slipped away from the goalies’ hands, and ended back onto Di Lorenzo’s foot. Napoli’s right-back only had to push it in to seal a deserved equalizer for the Azzurri.

Napoli then took the lead a few minutes after the half-time break when a combination among Fabian Ruiz, José Callejon, and Dries Mertens was finished by the Belgian, who took advantage of a slight deflection by Alessio Romagnoli to pierce Gianluigi Donnarumma.

But Milan eventually drew level in the 74th minute thanks to a penalty converted by Frank Kessié. Nikola Maksimovic’s tackle on Giacomo Bonaventura was clumsy and prompted referee Federico La Penna to point at the penalty spot with no hesitation. Milan’s Ivorian midfielder was ice-cold with his conversion.

Frank Kessié buried the spot to wrap Milan’s equalizer and set the score at 2-2 (Photo: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

That’s all that happened in the second period of the game as the match momentum progressively faded despite the multiple changes operated by both trainers. Gattuso replaced his full attacking line, pulling off his “three tenors” and replacing them with Hirving Lozano, Arkadiusz Milik, and Matteo Politano. Gattuso also sent in Diego Demme and Elif Elmas to ignite his midfield line with fresh forces.

Stefano Pioli resorted to his usual “relay” between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Rafael Leao – a substitution that Zlatan didn’t seem to fancy, judging by the treatment he reserved to a poor bottle of water on his way out of the pitch – also adding Giacomo Bonaventura and eventually Rade Krunic to cover himself up when Milan remained with one less man.

The only emotion in the last quarter of the match was indeed Alexis Saelemaekers’ expulsion as the 21-year-old Belgian collected two yellow cards in the space of five minutes.

The draw at the San Paolo ended up being of litte use to both squads as Napoli were passed over by Roma in the fifth spot of the table, while Milan saw Sassuolo getting closer, with the Neroverdi now only four point behind the Rossoneri in the race for the last Europa League spot available.



July 12, 2020 – Serie A 2019-2020 Round 32

SCORERS: 20′ Hernandez (M), 34′ Di Lorenzo (N), 60′ Mertens (N), 73′ Kessié (M, pen,)

NAPOLI (4-3-3): Ospina; Di Lorenzo, Maksimovic, Koulibaly, Mario Rui; Fabian Ruiz (65′ Demme), Lobotka (65′ Elmas), Zielinski; Callejon (84′ Politano), Mertens (84′ Milik), Insigne (74′ Lozano) (Meret; Ghoulam, Hysaj, Luperto, Manolas, Allan, Younes) Coach: Gattuso
MILAN (4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Conti, Kjaer, Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez; Kessié, Bennacer; Paquetà (46′ Saelemaekers), Calhanoglu (61′ Bonaventura), Rebic (88′ Krunic); Ibrahimovic (61′ Rafael Leao) (Begovic, Soncin; Calabria, Gabbia, Laxalt; Biglia, Brescianini, Maldini) Coach: Pioli

REFEREE: Mr. La Penna from Roma
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Di Lorenzo, Mario Rui (N), Hernandez, Conti (M); Red Card: Saelemaekers (M); Extra Time: 2′, 2nd Half 5′