If Milan’s recent defeat to Juventus came in the biggest game of the season so far, then Saturday’s clash against Torino was their second most important contest of this campaign.
I Rossoneri finally succumbed to their first defeat of the 2020/21 season against the Old Lady on Wednesday evening, losing 3-1 in a hard-fought encounter, albeit with a heavily depleted squad.
That defeat left Inter only a point behind the leaders, and Juve’s deficit had reduced to seven points, instead of Milan increasing it to a 13-point chasm with a win. A reaction was needed from the league leaders to show their mettle, having suffered such a painful setback against an inevitable and formidable foe like I Bianconeri.
What did we learn from Saturday night, then?
Well, Milan are in this title race for the long haul.
In honesty, their spirited display against Juve taught us just as much, going head-to-head with the champions, without the majority of their key figures. And even with that first blot on the copybook, Stefano Pioli’s men remained at the Serie A summit.
But they got back on the horse regardless against Torino, taking the game by the scruff of the neck and even in testing circumstances, loosening their grip.
Pioli opted to rest talisman Hakan Calhanoglu, while Davide Calabria was allowed to return to right-back, following his enforced cameo at the heart of Milan’s midfield against Juve. That relief would be short-lived however, after Sandro Tonali was stretchered off, having taken a heavy whack to the back of his calf in the second half.
But prior to that downer came a demonstration of all of I Rossoneri’s title-challenging credentials. The irrepressible Rafael Leao continued his lightning run of form, breaking the deadlock on 25 minutes to round off a stunning and fluid move.
Rock and roll full-back Theo Hernandez charged vertically infield with the ball, beat a couple of players, and then poked a pass into the path of Brahim Diaz. The on-loan Real Madrid wizard instinctively flicked the ball into space ahead of him, and Leao charged into the penalty area, took a touch, and stroked home the first goal of the game.
Beautiful, clinical stuff.
The second came soon after, with Diaz at the heart of the action once more, winning a penalty from a clumsy Andrea Belotti tackle. Franck Kessie rarely misses from the spot, and he did the business for Pioli.
The second half saw Il Toro begin to aim their horns at the hosts, first having a penalty decision overturned (an incident which caused Tonali to leave the field on a stretcher), and then forcing Gianluigi Donnarumma and his defence into some drastic action.
But having been forced into unwanted substitutions, and having added another name or two to the injury list, Milan still bounced back to claim maximum points, and put the pressure back on their rivals Inter to play catch up at the top of the table.
It wasn’t vintage, it was gritty, but it was a performance of potential champions.
Oh yeah. And Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back.