Pierre Kalulu made the difference as AC Milan eked out a 1-0 win over Empoli to consolidate their place atop the Serie A table on Saturday.

AC Milan dominated the proceedings for much of the first half, but were not clinical enough in the early exchanges. The first goal came out of nowhere as Pierre Kalulu unleashed a picture-perfect finish from the rebound off Olivier Giroud’s free-kick midway through the opening period.

After that, the Rossoneri remained on top but could not capitalise on their dominance, with Giroud and Alessandro Florenzi being particularly wasteful. Empoli started the second half strongly, and AC Milan needed Mike Maignan to make a stunning save to deny Sebastiano Luperto.

But Milan wrested control of the proceedings after the hour mark. The game followed a similar pattern to the first half, as Empoli weathered the storm to keep the score down to 1-0. That was enough to hand AC Milan a crucial 1-0 win to consolidate their place atop the Serie A table. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Stefano Pioli’s men.

Mike Maignan: 7/10

Maignan barely had anything to do in the first half, with Milan completely in control of the game. But the Frenchman made two brilliant saves to earn his clean sheet, helping AC Milan eke out a narrow win. What an asset!

Davide Calabria: 7/10

Calabria was in his element on Saturday, particularly when foraying up the pitch. The AC Milan skipper played a game-high four key passes, although his creative outlook came with a few wasteful passes. He also held his own at the back, containing Liam Henderson well for the most part.

Pierre Kalulu: 8/10

Kalulu retained his spot at the heart of the AC Milan defence despite Alessio Romagnoli being available. The 21-year-old justified the faith that Pioli showed in him, staying strong at the back by making numerous important interventions. The cherry on top was his delightful finish for the match-winning goal.

Fikayo Tomori: 7/10

Tomori was a rock at the heart of the AC Milan defence, completing several clearances (three), tackles (three), and interceptions (two) in the face of Empoli’s resistance in the second half. The English international also helped build up play efficiently, completing most of his attempted passes.

Alessandro Florenzi: 6/10

Despite Theo Hernandez’s absence, AC Milan’s left side remained strong, with Florenzi supporting Rafael Leao well. But while the Italian defender was a constant outlet on his flank, his finishing left a lot to be desired on Saturday. He did not have much to do defensively.

Sandro Tonali: 7/10

The two AC Milan midfielders were immense in their performances on Saturday. Tonali put in the hard yards, winning six duels and completing several crucial tackles and interceptions. He also retained an impressive 90 per cent passing rate, pushing Milan forward with purpose.

Ismael Bennacer: 7/10

Bennacer pulled the strings masterfully on Saturday, ensuring AC Milan controlled the proceedings for most of the ninety minutes. The Algerian international barely misplaced a pass and was solid off the ball as well, winning 12 duels and completing six tackles. He has been tremendous in the second half of the season thus far.

Junior Messias: 6/10

Junior Messias was a bundle of energy on Saturday, looking to take the game to the opposition defenders whenever he saw the opportunity. He also troubled Guglielmo Vicario with a couple of efforts, but his end product was lacking in the game.

Franck Kessie: 6/10

Kessie has been largely impressive when asked to play the no. 10 role this season. But he largely endured a game to forget on Saturday, even though he created a couple of half-chances. That was because some of his touches were wasteful, and he lost the ball cheaply under pressure.

Rafael Leao: 7/10

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Leao was the Player to Watch in our preview, and he lived up to the billing. While the Portuguese international did not carry a goal threat, he took it upon himself to carve out the openings from the left flank in Theo Hernandez’s absence. Two of his passes deserved better finishing, but he would be happy with his performance.

Olivier Giroud: 6/10

Giroud was wasteful in his performance on Saturday, as he either found an Empoli player with a shot or directed his effort wide. Vicario was at hand to deny him when he did find the target. Meanwhile, it was Giroud’s free-kick that rebounded towards Kalulu for the match-winner.

SUBSTITUTES

Alexis Saelemakers: 6/10

Saelemaekers did not dazzle in his cameo, but ensured he did not lose the ball cheaply to keep the danger away from Mike Maignan.

Brahim Diaz: 6/10

Diaz was not overly creative after replacing Kessie but helped keep AC Milan in control in the game’s dying embers.

Ante Rebic: N/A

Rebic barely got a touch on the ball after replacing Leao.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: N/A

Zlatan Ibrahimovic hardly had anything to do after replacing Giroud, but helped Milan remain on top.

Rade Krunic: N/A

A late introduction, Krunic helped see the game out.

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