SPORTS DESK : 4 APRIL, 2023, 2:31 AM
AC Milan hammered runaway Serie A leaders Napoli 4-0 on Sunday in an incredible performance which slammed the brakes on their opponents’ charge to a first league title in over three decades. –BSS
Rafael Leao outshone Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in the battle of the wing wizards with a brilliant brace while Brahim Diaz and Alexis Saelemaekers netted the other goals for the rampant defending champions who move up to third.
The biggest win of the Serie A season for Stefano Pioli’s side was also a third league defeat for Napoli, whose huge lead at the top of the table has been cut to 16 points after second-placed Lazio beat Monza 2-0 earlier on Sunday.
A difficult 2023 has left Milan 20 points off the pace but they have struck first blood in a trio of matches against Napoli which will conclude this month with the Champions League quarter-final between the two Italian teams.
“It’s an incredible feeling, but even if I hadn’t scored today, we still played very well,” said Leao after his first goals since mid-January.
Napoli were without injured star striker Victor Osimhen but an otherwise first choice line-up was humbled by Milan who have boosted their chances of qualifying for next year’s edition of Europe’s top club competition.
Milan are however only a point above local rivals Inter Milan and Roma, who sit fifth on goal difference following their 3-0 win over Sampdoria.
“It’s only the first step… we have another 10 matches left in the league in which we need to have the same attitude,” Pioli told DAZN.
“We threw away chances in the past and that can’t happen any more. I’m happy with the win but it’s only one game.
“For this to be a good season we need to be playing in the Champions League next season.”
Diaz was at the heart of Milan’s fast start and it was his delightful pass which slipped through Leao and allowed the Portugal winger to dink the away side ahead in the 17th minute.
And the home fans was stunned into near silence eight minutes later after more brilliant play from Diaz, who collected Ismael Bennacer’s cross before cutting inside Mario Rui and then lashing in from close range.
Napoli struggled to get anything out of a well-drilled Milan and Leao struck again just before the hour mark, showing why he is so important to his team by bursting past Amir Rrahmani and smashing a powerful finish into the top corner.
With Napoli reeling, Saelemaekers took advantage of more sloppy defending, dribbling through weak tackles and nutmegging goalkeeper Alex Meret to cap a perfect night for the seven-time European champions.
– Lazio consolidate second –
Pedro’s low finish in the 13th minute and a sensational free-kick from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic 10 minutes after half-time gave Lazio their fifth win in six league matches at Monza.
Milinkovic-Savic’s goal was his first since scoring against Milan in January and his 65th for Lazio, making him the club’s highest ever foreign goalscorer.
“It’s been a few months that I’ve not played as well as I could have, it’s been a hard period for me, but I give all I can to improve and today finally I scored a goal,” Milinkovic-Savic said.
Roma overcame 10-man Sampdoria in Rome thanks to Georginio Wijnaldum’s header six minutes into the second half and two late goals from Paulo Dybala and Stephan El Shaarawy.
Netherlands midfielder Wijnaldum struck five minutes after Jeison Murillo was sent off for two bookable offences and then won the penalty from which Dybala scored his 10th league goal of the season with a minute remaining.
El Shaarawy swept home a fine stoppage-time finish to hand Samp their 19th defeat of the season and leave them 10 points behind Spezia, who sit just above the relegation zone and drew 1-1 with fellow strugglers Salernitana.
Earlier, eighth-placed Bologna increased their hopes of European football next season with a 3-0 win over Udinese.
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