The Rossoneri left it late, as they saw off stiff competition from Lecce at the San Siro, to ensure that they comfortably maintained their grip on third place in the Serie A.
Milan 2-0 Lecce
Heading into this match, Milan were certainly expected to win, and win it easily, despite the fact that they were without the likes of Ronaldinho, David Beckham and Massimo Ambrosini, all of whom were left on the bench for this match. Carlo Ancelotti opted to utilize Pato and Pippo Inzaghi up front for the Rossoneri, whilst Dida remained in goal, due to the absence of Christian Abbiati who is out for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, Lecce were almost at full strength for what seemed to be mission impossible, as they were only without the services of the injured Daniele Cacia. Luigi De Canio’s men were winless in seven matches prior to this contest; however three points in this clash would see them leap out of the relegation zone, as both Bologna and Torino went down in their respective fixtures earlier in the day.
Milan got the play underway in this match, and it certainly was a very opening, free flowing match early on, as both sides were confident to get numbers forward with the hope of breaking the deadlock early on. The home side managed to create the first major opportunity of the contest, as Pirlo’s brilliant long ball forward was met by Pato, who then placed the ball into the path of Inzaghi with his head, only to see the veteran smash the ball over the bar from close range.
The Rossoneri began to dictate the play, as the visitors struggled to impose themselves in the match. Having said this though, Lecce did have the chance to score on 10 minutes, after an impressive play between Giacomazzi and Tiribocchi, which saw the latter volley the ball first time out of mid air, after a perfect long ball forward from his team mate, only to see it sail over the bar.
The Giallorossi continued to play the traditional counter attacking game, and they saw themselves create their second glorious opportunity in the space of five minutes, as Caserta’s perfect through ball, was met by Tiribocchi, who easily got around Favalli; however Dida was up to the challenge of denying the hitman with a solid save between the sticks.
The match dropped a little in intensity as the half hour mark passed, however it was brought back to life at the 34 minute mark, when Pato beat two opponents and tested his luck from long range. The 19-year-old won the ball out of sheer will, and then powerfully struck a curling effort from all of 35 yards, only to see it curl just wide of the top right corner.
Ancelotti was forced to make the first change of the match with just five minutes remaining in the first half, as Senderos came on to replace the captain of the club Maldini, who picked up a heavy knock earlier on. Despite the premature switch, nothing changed from a Milan point of view, as they went about their business in the same manner, and continued to threaten the Lecce goal.
As the half neared an end, Pato amazed the fans, as he launched an incredible solo effort that deserved to end with a goal. Running at full pace, the young Brazilian managed to once again skip past two defenders, before chipping it over a third in Esposito, and then see his shot beat Benussi, however trickle inches wide of the target yet again. The wonder kid was certainly his side’s most dangerous player in the opening half; however he had not done enough to break the deadlock to this point, as it was scoreless at the break.
The visitors resumed the play in the second half, however unsurprisingly it was the home side that picked up from where they left off in the first half. Immediately Milan were given the space and time to move forward with real purpose, and it took them less than three minutes to create a brilliant opportunity on goal, as the likes of Kaka, Pato and Flamini all linked up, as the latter eventually tested his luck from the edge of the area. His effort was weak however and easily dealt with by Benussi.
Ancelotti made his second switch of the night, and it was a decision that was applauded by the Milan tifosi, as the out-of-sorts Seedorf made way for the Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho. It didn’t take the 2004 and 2005 FIFA World Player of the year long to make his mark on proceedings either, as he was involved in a number of impressive attacking plays as the hour mark approached. Most notably, a glorious switch by the Brazilian, led to Zambrotta crossing it into the area where he picked out Pato. The starlet failed to hit the target with his header though, as he saw it sail agonizingly close to the top corner yet again.
It was becoming a Brazilian show at the San Siro, as the inclusion of Ronaldinho seemed to lift Kaka and Pato, who both looked even more menacing than they already did. The latter in particular continued to threaten the Lecce goal on a countless number of occasions; however it seemed as if nothing was going right for him in this contest.
As the match entered the final 20 minutes of play, it was evident that the Rossoneri players were beginning to fear another disappointing draw was on the cards. Pato continued to dominate the match, as he initiated his umpteenth individual run, as he easily skipped around two opponents, before seeing his shot well saved by Benussi again. Something had to be done by Ancelotti, and it was, as the legend of the club Shevchenko was introduced on 78 minutes for Kaka.
The Rossoneri were absolutely dominant in terms of the statistics in the contest, as they had over 70% of the possession for the large majority of the match. Despite this fact though, they failed to lead on the scoreboard, and incredibly they almost saw themselves go a goal behind in the final ten minutes, when Munari’s glorious ball into the area was met by the head of Tiribocchi. The resulting header took a slight deflection however, and a corner was the result.
Milan won themselves a free kick in a wonderful position on 86 minutes, with Ronaldinho stepping up to test his luck. His free kick struck the wall, however the referee judged that the wall had crept forward prior to the kick being taken, so the Brazilian was given another chance from a dead ball situation, however this time it was taken from the edge of the area. Benussi was called upon to make a world class save to deny the Rossoneri, and once again a corner was the result.
Incredibly in the 91st minute of play, a free kick by Pirlo into the area was met by the head of Senderos, who celebrated what surely seemed to be the winning goal. Replays later showed that the ball deflected off the head of Ronaldinho, meaning that the Brazilian was credited with the goal. Astonishingly, Inzaghi doubled the home side’s advantage just two minutes later, when a glorious cross by Shevchenko, allowed the Milan veteran to head home his eighth goal of the season at the back post.
The referee’s final whistle meant that the Rossoneri recorded a crucial victory in order to maintain a comfortable buffer over the likes of Genoa and Fiorentina, whilst Lecce remain in 19th place, two points adrift of safety. It was a deserved result for Ancelotti’s men, as they were the better side from start to finish on the night.
Milan (4-3-1-2): Dida; Zambrotta, Maldini (Senderos, 40’), Favalli, Jankulovski; Flamini, Pirlo, Seedorf (Ronaldinho, 53’); Kaka (Shevchenko, 78’); Pato, Inzaghi
Lecce (4-4-1-1): Benussi; Polenghi, Esposito, Fabiano, Vives; Angelo (Giuliatto, 80’), Giacomazzi, Munari, Ariatti (Konan, 89’); Caserta, Tiribocchi (Papadopoulos, 89’)
91’ Ronaldinho (Milan)
93’ Inzaghi (Milan)
Adrian Del Monte, Goal.com