Milan progress after draw against Napoli

Having lost 1-0 in the Lombardy region in last week’s first leg, Serie A leaders Napoli hosted Milan in the third meeting of the two sides in the last fortnight – looking for revenge to overturn their deficit. Having won both games to nil, Milan came into the tie as slight favourites despite Napoli’s domestic dominance. Much depended on the fitness of talisman Victor Osimhen with the Partenopei scoring only one goal in his four-match absence. 

NAP: Meret, Di Lorenzo, Rrahmani, Jesus, Rui, Ndombele, Zielenski, Elmas, Politano, Osimhen, Kvaratskhelia

ACM: Maignan, Calabria, Kjaer, Tomori, Hernandez, Krunic, Tonali, Diaz, Bennacer, Leao, Giroud

Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti came into the tie with food for thought, with his side experiencing their worst run of the season. Without a win in the last four games in all competitions, Spallatti’s side have found goals hard to come by.  Although it is inevitable that the Scudetto will be heading to Naples come May, the frustrating 0-0 against minnows Hellas Verona at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium was not ideal preparation for the match with the Rossoneri

Spalletti chose to make five changes from the weekend, bringing back the rested Kvaratskhelia into the attack alongside fit-again Osimhen. Both defensive rock Kim Min-jae and energetic midfielder Frank Anguissa missed the tie through suspension, providing opportunities for centre-half Amir Rrahmani and on-loan Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. Mario Rui was be preferred at full-back. 

Milan’s inconsistent season continued once more on the weekend in their disappointing 1-1 draw with Bologna. With chances of retaining their domestic title all but over, the Champions League looks like manager Stefano Pioli’s main priority. A heavily rotated lineup up started in northern Italy on Saturday with many starters from the first leg of the tie rested to the substitutes bench. 

Napoli, unbeaten in the last 12 fixtures in Europe at home, started the brighter with a sustained spell of possession. Rui struck a free kick from 25-yards narrowly over Mike Maignan’s crossbar after dangerman Kvaratskhelia had been fouled by Tonali. 

The tricky Georgian looked to be the instigator for another Napoli attack, finding room on the left-hand side to dribble past his marker and cut inside. The attacker’s shot from an acute angle was dealt with by Maignan comfortably though. Napoli continued to press hard high up the pitch and maintained their early onslaught. It was Politano who tried his luck next, cutting in from the right before driving a shot into the side netting.

The visitors though would get the first opportunity to open the scoring against the run of play, after a rare counter attack ended in a penalty being awarded to the Rossoneri. Leao was rashly brought down by Rui in the centre of the box leaving the referee with no choice but to award a spot kick. Giroud’s penalty was poor though, with home keeper Alex Meret guessing the right way to palm the shot to safety – much to the delight of the raucous home support. 

Napoli would come closest next through midfielder Piotr Zielinski as they looked to build on their reprieve. The Polish international gathered Di Lorenzo’s cut back from the right to fire an effort toward goal. Composure let the midfielder down though, as Maignan easily gathered the shot. 

The visitors had another golden opportunity to take the lead as poor defending culminated in Tonali picking out Olivier Giroud. The French forward got the better of Rrahmani, but his low strike was directed straight at Meret.

Milan defended deep, looking to stifle and frustrate the Napoli attack wary of the pace from the hosts on the flanks. Ndombele wildly struck a powerful effort from the edge of the box high over the bar after good work from Di Lorenzo. 

With Napoli committing numbers forward, there were more gaps left at the back. Ndombele was found guilty of being casual in possession, losing out to forward Rafael Leao 25 yards out. The Portuguese international showed a burst of pace to race toward the byline before squaring to a grateful Giroud – and this time, the former Chelsea striker calmly finished past Meret to give Milan a crucial lead on the night and a two-goal cushion for the tie. 

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Napoli came out of the traps well in the second period and nearly found a way back into the tie. Kvaratskhelia managed to get the better of Calabria, before cutting inside and smashing an effort toward goal – but his strike flashed just over the horizontal.

Frenetic in pace, the game became stretched as the home side foraged forward. Kvaratskhelia once again found room in the box, dribbling through two defenders but the Georgian was let down by his wayward finishing. 

It was the story of Napoli’s night as the clock started to tick down. Their lack of the necessary cutting-edge had cost Spalletti’s side. Lozano was the next to squander an opening, driving an effort over the crossbar. Napoli thought they had a breakthrough ten minutes from time, as the second penalty of the game was awarded after Tomori’s handball stopped Lozano’s cross from reaching Osimhen. Kvaratskhelia was unable to beat Maignan from the spot though, with the Frenchman guessing the right way to crucially save the Georgian’s spot kick. 

The missed penalty completely seemed to knock the stuffing out of Napoli as heads dropped momentarily. Milan looked to rub salt in the wounds, almost getting a second goal as the hosts passing became ragged. Substitute Saelemaekers teasing in-swinging ball was almost prodded home by fellow replacement Divock Origi at full stretch – but the Belgian couldn’t quite control the strike.

The game had a tense finale, as Osimhen’s bullet header from Raspadori’s crafted cross levelled the scores on the night deep into stoppage time. Pioli’s side though held firm in the last few moments, to remain triumphant over the two legs. They now advance to the semi-final stage for the twelfth time in their history, to face bitter city rivals Inter or Portuguese league leaders Benfica in just under a month’s time.