Napoli and Milan both stall ahead of Champions League decider

AFP , Saturday 15 Apr 2023

Napoli and AC Milan both dropped points ahead of the Serie A sides' Champions League showdown following respective draws with Verona and Bologna on Saturday.

AC Milan s Croatian forward Ante Rebic (C) is challenged by Bologna s British midfielder Lewis Ferguson (R) during the Italian Serie A football match between Bologna and Milan AC at the Renato-Dall Ara stadium in Bologna, on April 15, 2023. (AFP)


Italy's champions-elect Napoli have had their imposing league lead cut to 14 points after a second-string XI could only manage a goalless stalemate with Verona and second-placed Lazio won at Spezia on Friday.

As it stands Luciano Spalletti's side still need 11 points from their final eight matches to seal their first league title since 1990, but all eyes are now on Tuesday's second leg of their quarter-final clash with Milan in Naples in which they have to overturn a 1-0 deficit.

Not even the second-half introduction of returning star striker Victor Osimhen -- who smashed a volley off the bar in the 82nd minute -- and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia could force a breakthrough at the Stadio Maradona, which made a mighty racket.

Hardcore fans got behind the team after a truce in their feud with owner Aurelio De Laurentiis which had made the atmosphere at Napoli's recent home matches toxic and threatened to take the shine off the colourful title festivities already getting into gear.

On Saturday film mogul De Laurentiis posted on Twitter a photo with a number of the club's "ultras" with the message "We are Napoli. Fans and president together for victory!".

The ultras had ostensibly been protesting about being prevented from bringing drums, flags and banners to the stadium to create an atmosphere worthy of a remarkable season, which should now come against Milan.

The draw was a fine result which puts struggling Verona three points behind Spezia, who sit just outside the drop zone.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli dropped every single outfield player from Wednesday's win over Napoli at the San Siro and it backfired at Bologna, the champions only managing a 1-1 draw in which Nicola Sansone slammed the hosts ahead after just 33 seconds.

Milan recovered from the early shock, quickly took control of the match and, after Ante Rebic and Alessandro Florenzi both forced decent saves from Lukasz Skorupski, Tommaso Pobega crashed the leveller in off the post four minutes before the break.

Pioli began to bring on his more trusted players midway through the second half but form forwards Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao failed to find the breakthrough which would have ensured them a spot in the Champions League places for at least another week.

Instead his side can be overtaken by Inter Milan, who sit two points behind their local rivals and host fellow Lombardy outfit Monza in Saturday's late match.

"We shouldn't have conceded a goal like that so early, we controlled the match, we didn't let Bologna play their usual way and we created a lot," said Pioli to DAZN.

"We weren't accurate enough with the chances we created... we're not satisfied because we did everything possible to win."

Bologna, who survived a penalty shout for handball by Jhon Lucumi to the bafflement of Milan, stay eighth and four points from the Europa Conference League spot held by Atalanta, who are at Fiorentina on Monday.

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