AC Milan teach naive Napoli lesson in counter-attacking football as Brahim Diaz sparks Champions League quarter-final first leg win
- AC Milan just beat Napoli 4-0 in Serie A
- Pioli replicates winning formula
- Napoli caught out on counter-attack again
TELL ME MORE: Napoli lead Serie A by 16 points but were outsmarted again by AC Milan on Wednesday, as they were forced to settle for long-range, low-probability shots while the hosts repeatedly swung back on the counter-attack with higher quality chances. Rafael Leao's winding run from midfield into the opposing area, which ended with a left-footed shot dragged just wide, should have been taken as a strong warning. Instead, Napoli allowed Brahim Diaz to carry the ball unimpeded half the length of the pitch and set up Ismael Bennacer's first career European goal. They were then fortunate not to go further behind when Simon Kjaer smashed a close-range header against the crossbar before half-time.
Midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa received a second yellow card in the 74th minute for a foul on Theo Hernandez on another counter-attack, making Napoli's task all the more difficult in the absence of top goalscorer Victor Osimhen. AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan was required for a late fingertip save from a shot from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, but otherwise went untested in the final minutes.
THE MVP: It was a sensational driving run from Diaz to engineer AC Milan's goal, made more impressive by him keeping his head up, exchanging passes with Leao and teeing up Bennacer for a rocket that goalkeeper Alex Meret got a hand to but could not keep out. Amid a flop of a debut season at San Siro for Charles De Ketelaere, others have needed to step up in creative areas.
THE BIG LOSER: Napoli sorely missed injured striker Osimhen, and Eljif Elmas was a misfit starting up front in his place. Whereas Osimhen could have potentially popped up in the perfect places and put away half-chances - as he has done all season - Elmas was a blunt, ineffective weapon. Napoli need Osimhen to return next week in the return leg, or else the best Champions League run in their history will likely come to an end.
MATCH IN THREE PHOTOS:
WHAT NEXT? When the clubs return to Serie A action this weekend, AC Milan will play Bologna and Napoli will meet Verona. Then, Napoli will host AC Milan in the Champions League quarter-final second leg next Tuesday.
MATCH RATING (OUT OF FIVE): ⭐⭐⭐