AC Milan vs. Napoli score: Elif Elmas’ early goal stands up as visitors jump into second place in Serie A

After losing three of their previous five matches, Napoli’s trip to the San Siro had to be a slight concern for manager Luciano Spalletti. AC Milan entered Sunday sitting second in the league while Napoli have been figuring out how to make things work while missing players due to injury. 

But only five minutes in on Sunday vs. Milan, Napoli got on the board from a corner. Pitor Zielinski’s delivery wove through Milan’s zonal marking to find the head of Eljif Elmas for his second Serie A goal of the season. And what a big goal it was, as Napoli would hold the lead from the fourth minute until the final whistle for a 1-0 victory.

Milan were unable to play through the middle of the pitch due to Napoli’s defensive setup but they did almost breakthrough via an Alessandro Florenzi shot from outside the box that just missed the target. Zlatan Ibrahimovic would force David Ospina into a tough save in the 50th minute but Milan’s best chance came almost at the final whistle. 

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After chaos in the box, Franck Kessie had the ball in the back of the net and it looked like a 90th-minute equalizer was coming until the goal went to a VAR review. It was judged that there was a handball from Pierre Kalulu while the ball was pinging around to wipe the goal out. 

Sunday’s result means that Napoli and Milan are even on points (39), but Napoli moved to second thanks to goal differential. Both teams trail first-place Inter Milan by four points.

Here are a few takeaways from the match.

Are Napoli finding their feet?

After losing Victor Osimhen, Kalidou Kolibaly, and Fabian Ruiz, Napoli have been struggling at both ends of the pitch falling out of first place in Serie A. Since the beginning of December, Napoli are 12th in the form table, scoring five goals and allowing six. It has been a struggle that saw Napoli draw Sassuolo and then lose to Atalanta and Empoli before winning this game. Keeping Milan out of the back of the net will help, but with a clash with Juventus on the horizon, there is a need for consistency from Spalletti’s side.

What is VAR?

On Milan’s equalizer, it’s tough to see why the goal was called off. As it was initially given, it shouldn’t have been ruled out unless it was deemed to be a clear and obvious error. And with the check being both for a handball on Kalulu and the position of Olivier Giroud on the ground not impacting the play. It didn’t seem like either had an impact on the goal, but due to it being called, it could be a season-defining moment with how tight the league is.

Milan in the middle

While rotation is needed during a long season Milan weren’t able to get anything going through the center of the pitch with Alexis Saelemaekers on the bench. The winger has been ever present in their creation this season and Rade Krunic wasn’t able to offer similar production. In 27 minutes on the pitch, Saelemaekers only took seven fewer touches than Krunic took in 60 while completing 14 of his 15 passes. Without that wide production for most of the match, Kessie was unable to get space to drive forward to make Milan go. To keep a serious title run going, Stefano Pioli will need to figure out how to mix and match the team to improve in spots like this, which could involve the need for a January transfer.

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