Milan returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Benevento at San Siro that moves them back up to second place in Serie A.
The Rossoneri dropped to fifth following defeats to Sassuolo and Lazio, but they battled to a much-needed win in Saturday’s clash with Filippo Inzaghi’s struggling Benevento.
Hakan Calhanoglu picked out the bottom-right corner inside six minutes to give Milan the lead and Theo Hernandez added a second from close range with an hour played.
That proved enough as Milan moved a point in front of Atalanta and three ahead of Napoli and Juventus, but all three sides have a game in hand to play on Sunday.
50 – @hakanc10 is the fourth Turkish player able to score 50 goals in the top-5 European leagues since 1/1/2000, after Mevlüt Erdinç (92), Nihat Kahveci (76) and Halil Altintop (67). Sprint.#SerieA #MilanBenevento pic.twitter.com/ibww1LUQTh
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) May 1, 2021
Milan have scored the most goals of any Serie A side in the opening half-hour of games this term, while Benevento have conceded the most, and this contest followed the script.
Calhanoglu exchanged passes with Franck Kessie, played the ball out to Alexis Saelemaekers and got on the end of the return pass to steer a shot past Lorenzo Montipo.
The Benevento keeper did well to save a powerful strike from Rafael Leao soon after and also denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic with his outstretched leg from a one-on-one.
Ibrahimovic was thwarted again by a couple more Montipo saves early in the second half, either side of Iago Falque firing one inches wide at the other end.
However, the next Montipo save on Ibrahimovic paid dividends for Milan as attacking left-back Hernandez was in the right place to turn in the rebound.
Benevento would have moved out of the bottom three with a point, but they could not offer much in response as Milan saw out a deserved victory.
3 points, 2 goals and a clean sheet. Good start to the month
— AC Milan (@acmilan) May 1, 2021
What does it mean? Milan back to winning ways ahead of tough run-in
Stefano Pioli challenged his Milan players to show their fighting spirit on the back of successive losses and they did exactly that with a fairly routine victory on home soil.
This win – just their second in nine home matches in all competitions – moves them into second place and puts pressure on the chasing pack to win their games on Sunday.
With a trip to Juventus next weekend, and a visit to fellow top-four rivals Atalanta also still to come, Pioli’s men need to use this win as a platform to rebuild some momentum.
Hakan at it again
The midfielder created and finished off a well-worked Milan opener, with Kessie also deserving of praise for dummying Saelemaekers’ pass for his team-mate to convert.
Calhanoglu, who became the fourth Turkish player to score 50 goals in the top five European leagues this century, ended the contest with a game-high 48 passes in the opposition half.
The veteran striker missed Milan’s last three games through suspension and injury but was deemed fit enough to start against Benevento.
He had a few good opportunities to score but could not find a way past inspired keeper Montipo from any of his seven shots, five of which were on target.
Key Opta Facts
– Milan have picked up 69 Serie A points this season, their highest tally since 2012-13 (72 points at the end of the campaign).
– Benevento have won only one of their ast 18 Serie A games (D7 L10).
– Milan had their joint-most shots on target in a Serie A game this season (11 also against Crotone last February).
– Calhanoglu found the net after five minutes and 36 seconds, the fastest goal scored by Milan in a Serie A match in 2021.
– Hernandez is the first Milan defender to have scored at least goals and delivered at least assists in a single Serie A season since Opta started to collect this data (2004-05).
Milan have that huge showdown with soon-to-be-dethroned champions Juventus a week on Sunday, while Benevento host Cagliari in an equally important clash the same day.