It was a game of two halves at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, as Napoli waged a second-half comeback to earn a 2-2 draw against AC Milan on Sunday.
Milan, who came into this game on the back of a dreadful week following defeats against Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, took a 2-0 half-time lead thanks to a brace by Olivier Giroud. The hosts, however, avoided a third home defeat of their Serie A season with goals from Matteo Politano and Giacomo Raspadori after the break.
Both teams set up in a 4-3-3 formation, and the one-on-one battles all over the pitch made for an open and exciting game of football.
The first big chance of the game came in the 2nd minute itself, with Amir Rrahmani needing to put in a last-ditch challenge to block Giroud’s goal-bound volley.
Napoli were using every opportunity to find their talisman Khvicha Kvaratskhelia on the left-hand side, and isolate the winger against Milan captain Davide Calabria. Similarly, the away side were looking to get Rafael Leao one-on-one with Napoli skipper Giovanni Di Lorenzo.
Stefano Pioli was handed an injury crisis at centre-back with 19 minutes gone, with Pierre Kalulu needing to come off with a knock. With Malick Thiaw already out, the only option was 21 year-old Argentine Marco Pellegrino, who came on for his senior debut.
His presence certainly worked as a good-luck charm, because two minutes later, Milan were ahead. Christian Pulisic floated in a cross from the right and Giroud did brilliantly to lose his marker and head home. This was the 37 year-old’s first goal since early September, but it certainly not his first in Naples.
Napoli responded five minutes later with a chance of their own, as Kvaratskhelia went past Calabria and drove in a low cross to the back post. Politano was able to escape Theo Hernandez, but his effort from a tight angle hit the side-netting.
On the half-hour mark, Giroud’s clinical finishing was on show yet again. This time it was Calabria who delivered from the right, and the French striker rose above Rrahmani before finding the corner with a pin-point header.
Pioli’s men continued to dominate even after doubling their lead, and had chances to go even further in front before half-time. Hernandez found Tijani Reijnders unmarked in the box, but the Dutchman blazed his effort over the bar. With barely minutes to go before the break, Alex Meret did well to get down to save from Yunus Musah, at his near post.
Rudi Garcia made changes in personnel and to his tactical setup at half-time. There were two like-for-like substitutions, with Mathias Olivera and Leo Ostigard replacing Mario Rui and Rrahmani, respectively. He also brought on Giovanni Simeone for Elif Elmas, to switch to a two-striker formation.
The impact was almost instantaneous, as Napoli started the second period on the front foot. Four minutes in, they pulled one back with an inspired solo effort. Following some neat interplay between Di Lorenzo and Politano down the right, the latter beat Pellegrino with a sombrero and then dribbled past Hernandez before unleashing a left-footed effort high into the goal. This was a special goal, and Politano’s first at home in the league for over two years.
The momentum had completely shifted, and the home side looked set to find an equaliser sooner or later. On the hour-mark, Mike Maignan dropped a cross that came into the box, and Kvaratskhelia pounced on the loose ball. The Georgian looked set to score, but Rade Krunic put in a heroic block to deflect the ball over the bar.
Five minutes later though, the game was level. Substitute Luka Romero gave away a free-kick for a foul on Piotr Zielinksi 25 yards from goal. Raspadori stepped up, and curled the ball around the wall and past Maignan into the far corner.
Milan were shell-shocked and tried to respond through Leao at the other end, but Meret got down well to save the Portuguese winger’s low effort.
There were goal-mouth scrambles at both ends, but neither team was able to bundle the ball over the line to get the decisive goal.
Napoli ended the match with ten men, as centre-back Natan was sent off for a second bookable offence, after using an arm to impede Romero’s progress.
The man advantage almost paid off for the Rossoneri, in the first minute of injury time. They had a 4 vs 3 overload in the box for a cross from the left, and a flick-on found Calabria unmarked at the back post. The full-back was unable to conjure a famous winner though, as his header hit the side-netting.
The last chance of the game fell to the ten men of Napoli, who almost snatched all three points with the last kick. Kvaratskhelia, who had done everything but provide the final product in the match, beat Calabria and had a free shot at goal. His effort was firm but straight at Maignan, who saved with his left leg.
This result sees Milan end the week at third in the table, three points behind city rivals Inter at the summit. Napoli currently occupy the last of the Champions League spots, but both Fiorentina and Atalanta can go above them by winning their games in hand.
Alex Meret – 6
Giovanni Di Lorenzo – 7
Amir Rrahmani – 6
Natan – 6
Mario Rui – 6
Stanislav Lobotka – 7
Piotr Zielinksi – 7
Elif Elmas – 6
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia – 7
Giacomo Raspadori – 7
Matteo Politano – 7
Mathias Olivera – 7
Leo Ostigard – 6
Giovanni Simeone – 6
Mike Maignan – 6
Davide Calabria – 7
Pierre Kalulu – N.A. (substituted after 19 minutes)
Fikayo Tomori – 6
Theo Hernandez – 7
Rade Krunic – 7
Tijani Reijnders – 6
Yunus Musah – 7
Rafael Leao – 6
Olivier Giroud – 8*
Christian Pulisic – 7
Marco Pellegrino – 7
Luka Romero – 6
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