AC Milan 3-1 Roma
Rafael Leão marked his return to action after a month out injured by coming off the bench to score the clinching goal as Milan beat Roma 3-1 at San Siro in Serie A on Thursday.
In an eventful evening for Portuguese, Seleção no1 Rui Patrício also caught the eye when saving Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s penalty late on, but by that time the Rossoneri had long secured all three points against José Mourinho’s side after Leão’s introduction.
The match was defined during the early stages, with Roma gifting Milan a two-goal lead in the first 16 minutes. First Tammy Abraham’s handball was punished with a penalty converted by Olivier Giroud, before Matias Vina’s dreadful back-pass led to Junior Messias doubling Milan’s lead with a little over a quarter of an hour played.
Mourinho’s side responded well, going close twice through Nicolo Zaniolo and Abraham, ahead of halving the deficit when Abraham made up for his early mistake by diverting in Lorenzo Pellegrini’s shot five minutes before half time. The second half was nicely poised, but a lacklustre Roma saw their hopes of a leveller severely impaired when dutchman Rick Karsdorp was sent off for a second bookable offence on 74 minutes.
By the time of the sending off, Milan had already thrown on Rafael Leão, missing since early December with a muscle injury. The former Sporting man duly made the points safe with a little under ten minutes remaining, latching onto Zlatan’s chest lay-off and racing through to beat Patrício with a thunderous finish and make it 3-1 to the hosts.
Milan could have added a fourth in stoppage time when they were awarded another penalty, with Leão’s pace forcing a panicked Gianluca Mancini into a trip, for which he was issued Roma’s second red card of the night. Zlatan stepped up to take the penalty, but Patrício responded with a brilliant one-handed save which deserved greater significance on the outcome.
After the match, Mourinho was critical of both his team and the officiating. “When Rick Karsdorp was sent off, it was over,” Mourinho told DAZN. “Having said that, the performance was of such a low level. If you look at the two opening goals, we gave the ball away so cheaply. The quality was really lacking today. I didn’t like the referee or my team today.
“The quality was also lacking for the referee and the VAR. I saw Tammy move his arm, but it was not a voluntary gesture to stop the ball. If you give this as a penalty, then also give a penalty for the fouls on Zaniolo and Ibanez. Give all three or don’t give any of them.
“We want consistency in decisions, this is why I think the quality level is low and we are unlucky with referees too. The referee didn’t have character today. I understood everything perfectly well straight away. I’ve been at Roma for six, seven months, I’m getting used to it, but this isn’t something we should be getting used to. You can’t tell if Abraham touches the ball with his arm or not. How was the second Milan penalty different to the Zaniolo incident?
“Having said that, I won’t deny our performance was not good. This is a medium level squad, so we are mid-table, where we belong. We made a lot of mistakes today, it wasn’t a tactical issue, it was all individual errors.
“I don’t like to do this, but I have to say that I do not understand what the referee and VAR were doing today. At this moment, the result is the worst thing, because it brings us zero points, but when I leave my mind will already be on the next game and it’s going to be tough. We have some difficulties and will try to improve.”
Leão, meanwhile, told reporters: “I'm very happy, I helped my team to win today, but everyone did a great job. [The coach told me] to stay wide on the left, take the ball and go one-on-one because Karsdorp was booked, he knows the qualities I have to make a difference.
“We showed that there was no difference between those who played and who entered, a round of applause to everyone because we did a great job. We also have others who were missing, but we showed that we’re a great team.”
By Sean Gillen