Napoli missed the chance to cut the gap to Serie A leaders Juventus to just six points, as it was held to a 0-0 draw by a spirited Milan side at San Siro.
In a high-tempo opening period, both sides were guilty of some poor passes in the final third and letting down some impressive build-up play. Hakan Calhanoglu went closest for the hosts with a couple of speculative efforts, whilst Napoli’s Jose Callejon drew a good save out of Gianluigi Donnarumma with a fine volley.
The second half started off like the first, but the game’s clearest chance saw David Ospina making a fine save from Milan center-back Mateo Musacchio with less than a quarter of an hour to go.
Despite half-chances for both sides in the final ten minutes and Napoli’s Fabian getting himself sent off for a second bookable offense in injury-time, it was the two defenses that stood firm and ensured the clash ended in a deserved draw.
Key Talking Point
Coming up against his former Milan mentor Carlo Ancelotti, Rossoneri legend Gattuso would have wanted to show the current Napoli boss that he can go on to enjoy a similarly successful managerial career.
Having finished behind the Partenopei in each of the past six seasons, and already 13 points behind them this campaign, Milan’s demise from its glory days had perhaps never been clearer.
But in a resolute and gritty display that perfectly encapsulated its manager in his playing days, Milan showed there could well be a slow revival for the sleeping giants of Italian football. With Krzysztof Piatek having arrived from Genoa to add some firepower, the Rossoneri could very well have brighter days sooner rather than later.
Starting XI: Donnarumma (8); Calabria (7), Musacchio (7), Romagnoli (7), Rodriguez (6); Kessie (6), Bakayoko (8*), Lucas Paqueta (5); Suso (6), Calhanoglu (6); Cutrone (7).
Substitutes: Borini (6), Piatek (7)
STAR MAN – Just where was this Tiemoue Bakayoko at Chelsea? The Frenchman was a shadow of his Monaco self at Stamford Bridge, and was cast away to Milan with a sense of relief on all sides.
At the San Siro, however, the 24-year-old has begun to regain his long-lost confidence and delivered another fine display at the heart of midfield. Strong in the tackle, but far more composed with the ball than he ever was in a Blues shirt, Bakayoko is finally beginning to prove the doubters wrong.
WORST PLAYER – A €35m signing from Brazilian side Flamengo, Lucas Paqueta had many of the biggest clubs in Europe interested in securing his signature. A technically gifted attacking midfielder, the 21-year-old seemed to struggle with the intensity of the game and was often caught in possession whilst facing his own goal.
Despite showing glimpses of the touch and quick train of thought that has seen him earn comparisons with Milan legend Kaka, Paqueta was substituted after the hour mark and will hope to adapt to Italian football as fast as possible.
Key Talking Point
After prevailing 3-2 in the reverse fixture, all expectations coming into this game were that Ancelotti’s side would head back to the Stadio San Paolo with all three points. With Juventus firing on all cylinders and still unbeaten, Napoli has proven to be the only side in Serie A even close to the levels Massimiliano Allegri’s side are reaching.
With Juventus away at Lazio tomorrow, I Partenopei had the perfect opportunity to reduce the deficit to the league leaders to just six points on Saturday night.
However, in a rather uninspired display, the Naples side failed to really showcase the attacking talents they have at their disposal. If they had any hopes of claiming an unlikely Serie A title, then they really needed a win on Saturday evening to at least put on a bit of pressure on the Old Lady. But after managing just a draw, Ancelotti’s men may have to settle for second best once more.
Starting XI: Ospina (7), Malcuit (8), Albiol (7), Koulibaly (7), Rui (6); Callejon (7), Zielinski (8), Ruiz (7), Insigne (6); Mertens (7), Milik (6).
Substitutes: Ghoulam (6), Ounas (N/A)
STAR MAN – Keeping veteran full-back Elseid Hysaj out of the side, Frenchman Kevin Malcuit produced another fine showing for Napoli. The 27-year-old signed for the Naples side last summer, and was a constant threat against Milan with his marauding runs forward.
Blessed with an ability to pick out a player from his crosses too, Malcuit provided Ancelotti’s side with a valuable attacking outlet.
WORST PLAYER – In games like this, sides desperately need a piece of magic from one of their bonafide stars to claim a hard-fought win. Unfortunately for Napoli, local hero Lorenzo Insigne struggled throughout the game to impose his play, and was pretty expressive in his frustrations, often throwing his hands up in the air. It was an off night to say the least for Naples’ hero.
After facing off in Serie A on Saturday evening, Milan and Napoli will renew their rivalry just three days later as they compete for a semi-final place in the Coppa Italia.
Gattuso’s side then face another crunch league game against fellow Champions League-chasing hopefuls AS Roma at San Siro, whilst Napoli also face a tricky home game against high-flying Sampdoria.