Pierre Kalulu stepped up with a defensive masterclass as AC Milan edged out Sassuolo to remain top of the Serie A table.
AC Milan retained their place at the top of the Serie A table with a narrow 2-1 victory over Sassuolo on Saturday despite playing with a hugely depleted squad.
The Rossoneri were on the front foot early – too early, in fact, as Rafael Leao, leading the line on the afternoon, scored the fastest ever goal in Serie A history when he put the ball past Andrea Consigli – in just 6.2 secs. The visitors scored another goal within the ten-minute mark through Hakan Calhanoglu, but it was disallowed due to Alexis Saelemakers being offside during the build-up.
The young Belgian then made amends for his slightly mistimed run as he fired the ball into an empty net in the 26th minute, with the goal originating from an excellent counter-attack. Milan were heading into half-time with a healthy 2-0 lead, but things weren’t over just yet for Stefano Pioli’s men.
Sassuolo improved greatly in the second half as they pushed forward for a potential comeback. However, the Milan defence, despite missing their two prime centre-backs, remained remarkably strong until Domenico Berardi pulled one back for the hosts in the 89th minute. It was too little too late for Sassuolo, however.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the AC Milan players in their narrow win over the Neroverdi this weekend.
Gianluigi Donnarumma: 6.5/10
Despite all of Sassuolo’s pressure in the second half, Gianluigi Donnarumma wasn’t really forced into making any extraordinary saves, though the AC Milan ‘keeper did remain strong in between the sticks. Should have had a clean sheet if Berardi’s late free-kick hadn’t deflected off Hauge.
Davide Calabria: 7/10
Davide Calabria was once again assigned a more defensive role in the side this afternoon. The right-back tried to provide additional cover for the two centre-backs, and he didn’t disappoint either, keeping check of Filip Djuricic for the most of the game.
Pierre Kalulu: 8.5/10
In the absence of Simon Kjaer and Matteo Gabbia, someone clearly had to step up, and it was Pierre Kalulu this afternoon. The young AC Milan defender was almost flawless, especially with regard to his ability to win duels. His imposing presence made it difficult for the likes of Gregoire Defrel and Co. to make any impact in the final third.
Pierre Kalulu vs Sassuolo
82% pass accuracy
4 tackles won
4/5 duels won
20 years of age. Another superb performance by the French wonderkid. 🔴⚫️ pic.twitter.com/StjP2QrnQG
— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) December 20, 2020
Alessio Romagnoli: 8/10
Alessio Romagnoli did well to marshal his side’s defence. He showcased excellent leadership, work-ethic and commitment while the Italian international’s intimidating frame made it difficult for the Sassuolo attackers to cause any trouble. He was unlucky to miss out on the clean sheet, though.
Theo Hernandez: 8/10
Theo Hernandez did what he does best – attack the opposition from the left flank. His pace and willingness to march forward kept Sassuolo on their toes throughout the first-half, with the ex-Real Madrid ace even assisting Saelemaekers’ goal around the first quarter of the game. Did well to avoid a yellow card as well, meaning the left-back can feature in the important game against Lazio.
Sandro Tonali: 7.5/10
Sandro Tonali showed excellent presence of mind to avoid touching the ball, which led to the defence-threading counter-attack, with Saelemaekers ultimately scoring Milan’s second of the game. The youngster, however, was unfortunate to pick up an injury and was thus subbed off at the start of the second half. He will likely miss the upcoming game against Lazio.
Franck Kessie: 7.5/10
Franck Kessie showcased his usual skills of winning the ball back for his team and creating turnovers in the middle of the park. However, his yellow card around the hour mark muddled the mood a little in the AC Milan camp as the Ivorian will be suspended for the game against Lazio, leaving Pioli devoid of any reliable central midfielder.
Next game on Wednesday vs Lazio:
— Forza Milan (@Acmilani99) December 20, 2020
Alexis Saelemaekers: 7.5/10
Saelemaekers had a bright first-half as he linked up well with his attacking teammates and made life difficult for the Sassuolo defenders. The Belgian also scored Milan’s second goal, which proved to be the winner. He will be disappointed not to score a second, though while his influence faded a little during the late stages of the game.
Brahim Diaz: 6/10
Brahim Diaz made the right movements as Milan scored an early goal. But, that was his only real contribution in an otherwise average display from the on-loan Real Madrid playmaker. He was taken off around the hour-mark.
Hakan Calhanoglu: 8/10
Hakan Calhanoglu threaded the pass that led to Leao’s opening goal inside six seconds. The assist characterised his quality, but it certainly wasn’t his only contribution as the Turkish international offered the creative spark in the final third. He was also unfortunate to have been denied his first goal of the Serie A campaign with Saelemaekers getting caught offside by VAR.
Nevertheless, Calhanoglu may need to work on his defending a bit, as the ex-HSV star might be asked to operate in central midfield against Lazio, in the absence of Kessie, Tonali and Ismael Bennacer.
Brilliant from AC Milan on the kick-off: Hakan Calhanoglu carries the ball assists Rafael Leão for what should be the fastest goal I'll ever do (six seconds!). #ACMilan #SerieA pic.twitter.com/ffkIcmtF1b
— Last Row (@lastrowview) December 20, 2020
Rafael Leao: 7/10
Rafael Leao was asked to lead the Milan attack in the absence of Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A goal inside six secs certainly boosted his confidence, and the striker went on to enjoy a great game, though his influence did fade a little.
Rade Krunic: 5/10
Rade Krunic came in for the injured Tonali at the start of the second half. The Bosnian certainly found it difficult to replace his Italian teammate, especially in terms of his passing. It led to a more nervy half for the visitors, and the midfielder certainly has a task on his hand as he looks forward to starting against Lazio in the next game.
Jens Petter Hauge: 6.5/10
Replaced the ineffective Diaz around the hour-mark, in what was a classic switch from Pioli. The Norwegian offered the necessary spark going forward, even testing Consigli on one occasion.
Samu Castillejo: N/A
Replaced Saelemaekers during the final phase of the game. Did not play enough to warrant a rating.
Daniel Maldini: N/A
A late replacement for Calhanoglu. Did not play enough to warrant a rating.