Brahim Diaz was the hero off the bench as AC Milan left it late to see off a spirited Spezia to lay down the gauntlet in the Serie A title race

Spanish midfielder Brahim Diaz was the toast of the night as AC Milan left it late to overcome Spezia, laying down their credentials for the Serie A title this season.

The Rossoneri went into the game as favourites but faced a tricky side coached by former Inter Milan star Thiago Motta. Having lost the corresponding match 2-0 last season, the trip to the Stadio Alberto Picco had the makings of a potential banana peel. The fact that they

Milan were the better side in the first half but had little to show for their efforts. Daniel Maldini making his first start for the Italians broke the deadlock in the 48th minute. He becomes the third generation Maldini to score in the Italian top flight, following in the footsteps of Cesare Maldini and Paolo Maldini.

The Rossoneri’s joy was short-lived as Daniel Verde brought Spezia level in the 80th minute. Stefano Pioli’s bold decision to take off Franck Kessie for Brahim Diaz however turned the tide of the game.

Diaz had been on the field for just four minutes before he rifled in a fine effort to send Milan into raptures. A worthy winner, the goal ensured Milan came away with all three points. The win took Pioli’s side to the top of Serie A least for the time being.

This was far from Milan’s best display and there is still a long way to go before the Scudetto is decided. As long as Pioli’s men discover ways to pull a rabbit out of the hat, the Rossoneri will be thereabouts when the season draws to a close.

The fact that the San Siro outfit could go to a difficult venue and come away with all three points shows the growth they have displayed over the past 12 months. There will be tougher challenges ahead but for now, they can be proud of coming away with yet another win. We now take a look at how the Milan players fared on the night.

Mike Maignan: 6/10

The French goalie did not have much to do. However, that was thanks to Spezia’s profligacy than Milan’s defending. The home side spurned a number of good chances to test the goalkeeper. He was however solid when called upon and even showed off his excellent distribution skills.

Pierre Kalulu: 7/10

The Frenchman once again excelled on the night and did his job on the flank well. Grabbed himself an assist for Maldini’s opener before being taken off in the 72nd minute. A solid outing.

Fikayo Tomori: 6/10

Did well in the absence of Simon Kjaer and held the fort at the back. A run of the mill performance by the Englishman who is becoming a consistent player for Milan. Failed to do any spectacular but got the job done with minimum fuss.

Alessio Romagnoli: 6/10

The skipper formed a good partnership with Tomori and the duo largely did their job with minimal fuss. Saw himself caught out at times but did well to maneuver his way out of trouble. Another player with an unspectacular but solid showing.

Theo Hernandez: 6/10

The 23-year-old was better going forward than in defence. Returned to the lineup after missing the midweek match against Venezia. The Frenchman made a number of promising runs down the flank but lacked the end product his effort deserved. He has certainly seen better days in a Milan jersey.

Franck Kessie: 6/10

The Ivorian international also returned to the starting lineup but hardly got pulses racing with his performance. he looks a far cry from the player who enthralled supporters last season. Taken off in the 82nd minute for Brahim Diaz, a managerial masterstroke.

Sandro Tonali: 6/10

Rather unfortunate for Spezia’a goal but was otherwise decent throughout the game. Can do much better and will need to step up his game on bigger occasions.

Alexis Saelemaekers: 7/10

The Belgian was the difference maker midweek and was amongst Milan’s best players tonight. Kept asking for the ball and moved inwards often. Created the assist for Diaz’s winner in the 86th minute. Increasingly becoming one of Rossoneri’s top players.

Daniel Maldini: 6/10

A perfect full debut for the 19-year-old, who scored his side’s opener on the night with a well-taken header. Applied himself well and could make a name for himself at a club where the title Maldini means so much more. It is fair to say that footballing ability runs in the blood. Taken off for Ismael Bennacer in the 59th minute.

Ante Rebic: 4/10

A disappointing display by the Croat who never quite got going. Started on the left-flank and looked completely out of sorts. He mislaid a number of passes and was unable to get himself into the game. Rightly pulled at the break.

Olivier Giroud: 4/10

A rushed return for the Frenchman who was also far from his best. Had several touches of the ball but could not make anything happen. The veteran will have better chances to showcase his ability but overall enjoyed a night to forget. Taken off at half-time alongside Rebic.

SUBSTITUTES

Rafael Leao: 8/10

A simply electrifying performance by the Portuguese attacker. Miles better than what Rebic brought to the plate. The difference-maker on the night and played a role in getting up both of Milan’s goals on the night. Almost got himself one as well but saw his shot bounce off the post.

Pietro Pellegri: 6/10

The youngster was an improvement over Olivier Giroud and caused trouble for the Spezia defenders. His movement created space for Maldini to head in Milan’s opener. A good option to have off the bench.

Ismael Bennacer: 7/10

Replaced goalscoring hero Daniel Maldini at the hour mark, adding more solidity and experience to the Milan midfield. Was all over the pitch and made himself available for a pass. Showed off his distribution and added much solidity to the Rossoneri side.

Davide Calabria: 6/10

The vice-captain looks to have overcome his injury and put in a decent shift. Overshadowed by his fellow substitutes who changed the tide of the game.

Brahim Diaz: 7/10

The Spaniard was the toast of the night and was on the field for just four minutes before he rifled home an 86th winner to get Milan all three points. Did not do much otherwise but his sole moment of magic was enough to decide the tie.

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