Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao played crucial roles as Milan comfortably beat 10-man Venezia 3-0 on Sunday to return to the summit of Serie A.
Stefano Pioli's men never looked in danger of dropping points at Stadio Pierluigi Penzo and were good value for a third straight Serie A victory.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – teed up by Leao – got the ball rolling inside two minutes as he equalled Cristiano Ronaldo's record of scoring against 80 different teams in Europe's top five leagues this century.
Leao released Hernandez to make it 2-0 early in the second half, with the French defender wrapping the win up soon after with a penalty – which resulted in Michael Svoboda's dismissal – for his third goal of the season against Venezia.
Milan swiftly took charge as the lively Leao raced into the left side of the box and played the ball right across the face of goal for Ibrahimovic to tap in.
80 - Venezia are the 80th different team against which Zlatan #Ibrahimovic has scored in the Big-5 European leagues: since 2000, the Swedish player became only the 2nd player to reach this milestone, after Cristiano Ronaldo (on December 30 v Burnley). Multiplicity.#VeneziaMilan pic.twitter.com/yUkJbAIxDH— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 9, 2022
Further chances arrived for Milan, with Leao, Hernandez and Alessandro Florenzi forcing Sergio Romero into saves, though there was little the Venezia goalkeeper could do when it came to the visitors scoring their second.
Leao was involved again, feeding Hernandez's run in behind the defence and the left-back smashed past the helpless Romero.
Hernandez put the game beyond Venezia just before the hour, expertly picking out the top-right corner from 12 yards after Michael Svoboda handled – seemingly accidentally – on the line, earning himself a red card.
It sealed a routine win for Milan, with Pioli marking his 400th Serie A match as a coach in style. He is the eighth manager to reach the milestone in the competition in the three points per win era.
What does it mean? Milan keep pressure on Inter
This was very much a case of Milan getting the job done with minimal fuss – they were very comfortable throughout and impressed despite being without numerous important players.
As such, they open up a two-point lead at the top of the table. Of course, Inter – who face Lazio later on Sunday – have two games in hand, but there is no denying Milan's position is a nice one to be in.
There is no guarantee Inter will win their two bonus games. Even if they do, a four-point deficit is by no means impossible to claw back.
Hernandez leads from the back
Several Milan players impressed but Hernandez was the standout. He got forward so often from left-back that his five shots ended up being more than anyone else – similarly, his expected goals (1.86), shots on target and big chances (both three) were highs for the match, while only Leao (seven) and Ibrahimovic (six) had more than Hernandez's four touches in the box.
Add to that his two key passes (bettered by just Leao), and it shows him in a very good light indeed.
A difficult day for Svoboda
It was a strange game for Svoboda. One moment he would show great composure, cleverly spinning away from Ibrahimovic, but then the next he would do something clumsy.
While the red card may have been slightly harsh, as the ball seemed to hit his thigh first, it was his error – passing the ball to Ibrahimovic on the edge of the box – that led to the situation anyway.
Key Opta Facts
- Milan have won three Serie A games in a row for the first time since October (a run of seven wins).
- Venezia have lost five of their last seven league matches and have not scored three times across this run.
- Seven of Ibrahimovic's eight goals in this campaign have come away from home: the Swede is the top scorer in matches played away in Serie A this season. For the second time in his career, he has scored in six consecutive Serie A away games, with the first streak ending in January 2021.
- Hernandez is the first defender to score at least three braces in Milan's history in Serie A. Since joining the club, he has been directly involved in 30 goals (17 goals, 13 assists) in the league.
- Venezia are one of only two teams to have conceded at least two goals within the first two minutes of play in a Serie A game this season.
Milan are in Coppa Italia action on Wednesday as they host Genoa, before then welcoming Spezia to San Siro in Serie A four days later. Venezia continue their fight against relegation in a week's time at home to Empoli after visiting Atalanta in the cup in midweek.