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05 March 2024

Milan go top after come-from-behind win

AC Milan's Maxi Lopez (centre) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Serie A match against Udinese at Stadio Friuli on Saturday in Udine, Italy. (GETTY)


Youngster Stephan El Shaarawy was the hero as AC Milan hit back from a goal down to beat Udinese 2-1 on Saturday and take over at the top of the Serie A table.

The rossoneri leapfrogged Juventus, whose game at Bologna on Sunday night has been called off due to the snow, although they have played two games more than their rivals.

Antonio Di Natale had given fourth-placed Udinese, who came into the game unbeaten at home this season, a first half lead but Maxi Lopez equalised before El Shaarawy snatched the winner five minutes from time.

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri was understandably delighted with the result, which ended a run of three games without a win, particularly given how the game seemed to be going at half-time.

However, he was coy about the significance this result would have in the title race.

“It was a great game for us, although I don’t know whether it will be decisive (in the title),” he said.

“Everybody played very well, like Maxi Lopez. He gave us depth and substance in attack and he also scored the equaliser.

“Now we’re top but we have to wait and see what Juventus will do, although we’re now five points above Lazio and six ahead of Udinese.

“In the first half we didn’t manage to create much danger. We were worried about our recent results and the importance of this game.

“They (Udinese) were much more aggressive but in the second half we showed our true spirit.”

Milan were without star forward and top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic but Allegri insisted this result proved they’re not a one-man band.

“Ibrahimovic is a great player, you notice when he’s there. But this time other players with different characteristics have played very well.

“Maxi Lopez was very good, like every one else and when there’s the right attitude the results follow.”

It was the first time in four years that Milan had won at Udinese who could have joined their opponents in joint-second had they won.

Instead they missed the chance to move into the third and final Champions League qualifying place which is occupied by Lazio, who beat Cesena 3-2 on Thursday.

Udinese controlled the first half but the loss of Di Natale and Mauricio Isla to injury contributed to Milan being reborn in the second period.

In a freezing Stadio Friuli the match took it’s time to warm up and it was the hosts who created the first chances.

On 19 minutes Serie A top scorer Di Natale played a quick one-two with midfielder Gelson Fernandes, splitting the Milan defence, and then shot home via a deflection off Thiago Silva.

The goal sparked a good period for the home team who invited Milan onto them only to hit their visitors with rapier counters.

Milan were more aggressive and quicker after the break while Udinese lost Isla, who left the pitch on a stretcher after a collision with Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini.

Udinese wasted two glorious opportunities to extend their lead and then lost Di Natale to injury before Milan equalised.

Urby Emanuelson picked up the rebound from an Udinese corner and fed El Shaawary whose cross shot was too hot for goalkeeper Samir Handanovic to handle and Maxi Lopez scooped up the loose ball to score with 13 minutes left.

By now Milan had taken command of the midfield battle and poured forward in search of the winner.

Pablo Armero missed the chance to snatch it for the hosts on the counter-attack but then with time running out, Maxi Lopez set up El Shaarawy to steal it for the champions.

In the day’s late game Cagliari won the battle of the islands as they beat Palermo 2-1.

Mauricio Pinilla put the Sardinians ahead against his former employers before Daniele Dessena doubled the hosts’ advantage.

Uruguayan forward Abel Hernandez pulled a goal back for the Sicilians with a late penalty.