Milan moved level on points with Inter at the top of Serie A after Theo Hernandez came off the bench to inspire a 2-0 win over Venezia.
Stefano Pioli rung the changes following the draw with Juventus on Sunday and the Rossoneri endured a frustrating evening until Hernandez set up Brahim Diaz for the opening goal midway through the second half.
Neither side had registered a shot on target until Diaz volleyed home from point-blank range at San Siro on Wednesday, but Hernandez added a second goal to seal all three points.
Victory for Milan continued their impressive start to the Serie A season despite being depleted by injuries, with this their fourth win out of five matches without defeat.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) September 22, 2021
Fode Ballo-Toure made his first start in a new-look defence for a Milan side that dominated possession from the start and should have been in front when Ante Rebic headed Sandro Tonali’s corner wide from close range.
Pierre Kalulu came close to a brilliant opening goal when he intercepted the ball before surging forward and playing a one-two with Rebic, but placed his right-footed shot wide of the far post.
Kalulu was posing a real threat darting forward from right-back and Alessandro Florenzi nodded his cross wide, before Dor Peretz came agonisingly close to heading Venezia in front against the run of play late in the first half.
The Rossoneri cut Venezia open with a flowing move early in the second half, but Tonali was unable to finish it off, firing off target with his right foot from 20 yards out.
Díaz volleyed over the crossbar off balance as the opening goal continued to elude Milan, with Pioli bringing Hernandez, Fikayo Tomori and Alexis Saelemaekers on just before the hour-mark.
Promoted side Venezia’s resistance was finally ended after 68 minutes when Ismael Bennacer picked out Hernandez with a pinpoint pass and his first-time cross was turned in by Diaz.
Hernandez tested Niki Maenpaa with a free-kick before doubling Milan’s lead, rifling home with his left foot after Saelemaekers had slipped him in eight minutes from time.
Maenpaa tipped Saelemaekers’ long-range strike onto the roof of the net as Milan cruised to an ultimately comfortable win.
What does it mean? Relief for Pioli
Milan head coach Pioli would no doubt have come under scrutiny for the changes he made if his side had failed to secure all three points.
They lacked the quality going forward to break battling Venezia down until Pioli was forced to make changes.
The injury-hit Rossoneri have matched their tally of 13 points from five matches last season and are only behind their city rivals on goal difference.
Hernandez steps up
Marauding full-back Hernandez made just the sort of impact Pioli was looking for, laying on Diaz’s opener less than 10 minutes after coming on.
He became the first Milan defender to have both scored and delivered an assist in a Serie A match since Opta collected such data (2004-05), finding the back of the net with a sweet strike.
Florenzi falls short
It was not the best of nights for Florenzi, who made way for Saelemaekers.
The midfielder showed flashes of his ability, but Pioli would have been expecting more from him as Milan struggled to break the deadlock.
Milan travel to Spezia on Saturday, while Venezia are not back in action until they take on Torino at home on Monday.