Milan (AFP) – Sandro Tonali fired AC Milan closer to the Serie A title with a brace in Sunday’s 3-1 win at Verona which maintained their two-point lead over Inter Milan at the top of the league.
Italy midfielder Tonali struck with almost identical goals created by Rafael Leao either side of half-time before Alessandro Florenzi completed the scoring near the end to leave Milan needing four points from their final two games to claim a first Scudetto since 2011.
Their superior record in this season’s Milan derbies gives the seven-time European champions an advantage which would keep them ahead of champions Inter should the two local rivals end the season level on points.
“I’m in love with my players,” said coach Stefano Pioli to DAZN.
“I see the effort they put in every day and I know the journey we’ve been on… we’ve got to keep this concentration, determination and belief in the final two games.”
Milan overcame the toughest test of their run-in against ninth-placed Verona and now host Europe-chasing Atalanta next weekend before travelling to Sassuolo on the closing weekend of what has been an enthralling campaign.
Inter meanwhile are in Sardinia on Sunday against a Cagliari team fighting for its Serie A life, with their final opponents Sampdoria and the small matter of the Italian Cup final against Juventus on Wednesday further complicating matters.
– Tonali takes control –
Tonali’s double was the second time in three matches he has been crucial to Milan’s title charge after also netting a late winner at Lazio a fortnight ago.
The 22-year-old thought he had opened the scoring in the 15th minute when he raced onto a long ball from goalkeeper Mike Maignan and slotted past Lorenzo Montipo, only for the wild celebrations among the large contingent of away fans to be cut short by a tight offside ruling via VAR.
After also going close through Davide Calabria Milan fans started thinking about a Stadio Bentedgodi hoodoo — they have thrown away two league titles at Verona in the past — six minutes before the break when Davide Faraoni finished off a beautiful Verona move by nodding home Darko Lazovic’s floated cross.
However Tonali had a deserved goal deep into first-half stoppage time when after Leao burst into the box he met the Portugal attacker’s pass and pushed in the equaliser.
It galvanised Milan who were in front shortly after the restart thanks to a carbon copy effort, the only real difference being that Leao’s low pass for Tonali’s second was with his left foot.
From then on Milan were in almost complete control and Florenzi made sure Milan continued their charge for a first league crown since 2011 when he exchanged passes with Junior Messias before rifling home his second Serie A goal of the season.
– Altare saves Cagliari –
Giorgio Altare’s thumping header in the ninth minute of stoppage handed Cagliari a dramatic 1-1 draw at Salernitana which kept their survival hopes alive.
The 23-year-old’s last-gasp effort, which came just moments after his team had a penalty revoked following a long VAR check, ensured that Cagliari stay a single point behind 17th-placed Salernitana.
“That denied penalty would have killed off most people but they had the heart to get back up and keep everything alive,” said Alessandro Agostino, in charge of Cagliari for the first time following Monday’s sacking of Walter Mazzarri.
Davide Nicola’s Salernitana, who are attempting a miracle escape act after being bottom of the division for most of the season, face a fight in what will be an exciting run-in with the bottom six teams still not safe.
Among them are current bottom side Venezia, whose top flight status is secure for at least another week after Altare’s header and a 4-3 home win over Bologna which came thanks to another superb stoppage time finish from Dennis Johnsen.
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