It was an untidy victory but an important and historic one nonetheless. AC Milan ran out 2-1 winners in La Spezia out of sheer stubbornness after a truly eventful second half. Goals from Maldini and Díaz won it for the Rossoneri, who played with heart and character, without ever losing their heads. They really wanted all three points and got them through sheer willpower, reacting well to Verde's late equaliser. These three points are worth their weight in gold as Pioli's men look to keep pace at the top of the table. AC Milan are currently on 16 points after six matches (top of the league with Napoli and Inter yet to play this weekend).
This team continues to chug along, no matter who plays, racking up big stats. It was an afternoon that will go down in AC Milan history thanks to Daniel Maldini's first Serie A goal. Also noteworthy were the performances from Leão and Díaz - the latter proving decisive with his third league goal of the season - as well as Saelemaekers and Kalulu. Yet, it was the whole group that came through this test at the Stadio Alberto Picco. It was the best way to get up for matchday 2 of the Champions League, which will see the Diavolo host Atlético Madrid at San Siro on Tuesday 27 September (20:45 CEST).
CHECK OUT THE GALLERY FROM SPEZIA v AC MILAN
The big news ahead of the game was Díaz and Leão dropping to the bench and Rebić moving back out wide to accommodate a first Serie A start for young Daniel Maldini. It was a frantic opening period, but one devoid of many chances due to a lack of space. In the tenth minute, Tonali dragged his effort well wide after some good link-up with Giroud. Three minutes later, Nzola, fed by Antiste, burst into the penalty box but it was easy for Maignan at his near post. The game went by with very few breaks but also very few real chances; Hernández sent his free-kick over the bar (27'), Maggiore failed to test Maignan with a header (29') and Saelemaekers fired wide (34'). As the half wound to a close, after Hernández brought it forward, the Rossoneri lost the ball, allowing Spezia to set off on a threatening counterattack. Maggiore, Gyasi and Nzola all had the chance to pull the trigger but, eventually, Kalulu scrambled back to deal with the danger.
Pioli made two changes at half time; Leão and Pellegri for Rebić and Giroud. The Portuguese was immediately in amongst the action and created the opener; it was Maldini with a historic goal for the Rossoneri. Kalulu received the ball and served it up on a plate for Daniel to head past Zoet, who got his hand to it but couldn't keep it out. Spezia reacted well, even though Leão went close to doubling the Diavolo's lead with a brilliant curling effort (58') that struck the post. A few seconds later, Spezia almost got themselves level through Maggiore, who fired just over the crossbar. Rafa was at the heart of it all; in the 61st minute, his shot whistled just wide. Three minutes later, he was denied by Zoet - and against in the 73rd minute. AC Milan had control of the game but were stunned by Spezia's equaliser; Verde it was with the goal in the 80th minute with his shot taking a wicked deflection off Tonali and past a helpless Maignan. It wasn't over though; in the 86th minute, Saelemaekers did really well to wriggle free inside the box and lay it off for Díaz to grab the winner from close range. Pellegri and Leão both had chances in the additional time but it ended 2-1 to AC Milan.
SPEZIA 1-2 AC MILAN
SPEZIA (4-2-3-1): Zoet; Amian, Hristov, Nikolaou, Bastoni; Bourabia, Sala (65' Verde); Antiste (65' Manaj), Maggiore (65' Ferrer), Gyasi (79' Strelec); Nzola. Subs: Provedel, Zovko; Bertola, Kiwior; Podgoreanu, Salcedo. Coach: Thiago Motta.
MILAN (4-2-3-1): Maignan; Kalulu (72' Calabria), Tomori, Romagnoli, Hernández; Bennacer, Kessie (82' Díaz); Saelemaekers, Maldini (59' Bennacer), Rebić (46' Leão); Giroud (46' Pellegri). Subs: Jungdal, Tătărușanu; Ballo-Touré, Conti, Gabbia; Castillejo. Coach: Pioli.
Referee: Manganiello from Pinerolo.
Goals: 48' Maldini (M), 80' Verde (S), 86' Díaz (M).
Booked: 25' Sala (S), 57' Maldini (M), 89' Nikolaou (S), 90' Hernández (M).
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