First-half goals from Juraj Kucka and Gerard Deulofeu helped AC Milan keep their Europa League qualification hopes alive with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Fiorentina at San Siro.
Kucka rose highest to nod home a Jose Sosa free-kick on 16 minutes, only for Nikola Kalinic to get the visitors back on level terms almost immediately as he bagged his 11th goal of the season from close range.
But on 31 minutes, Deulofeu claimed what proved to be the winner, bending home his first Serie A goal from the edge of the box.
The victory was a welcome one for Vincenzo Montella’s side who had picked up only eight points from their previous seven games and were seeking to avoid a third successive home defeat.
The result moved the hosts to within four points of Atalanta who currently occupy the final Europa League place.
Fiorentina, in contrast, had come into the game in decent form having lost only one of their last five games in all competitions but they missed the chance to climb above the home side.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) February 19, 2017
The visitors looked lively going forward right from the off, but it was Milan who took the lead with what was their first meaningful effort on goal.
Sosa delivered the outswinging free kick and Kucka took advantage of some slack marking to glance an unstoppable header past Ciprian Tatarusanu.
The hosts were to enjoy that lead for just four minutes, however, before Kalinic deservedly got the visitors back on level terms.
Borja Valero fed Federico Chiesa down the right, he checked inside to deliver a left-footed cross and Kalinic reacted quickest to prod the ball home at the far post.
Having played a key role in his side’s opener, Valero then undid his good work by giving possession away cheaply in the build up to Milan’s second goal on 31 minutes.
The Spaniard allowed himself to be robbed by Mario Pasalic who duly found Deulofeu and the on-loan Everton midfielder surged to the edge of the box before beating Tatarusanu with a superb curling shot.
And Milan came very close to taking a 3-1 lead into the break, Tatarusanu doing brilliantly to keep out a rasping drive from Pasalic.
It was the Tuscan side who began the second half on the front foot and Carlos Sanchez really should have made it 2-2 on 55 minutes, but instead, the Colombian blazed wastefully over from close range having been picked out by Valero’s free-kick.
And although the hard-working Chiesa then dragged two cross-shots across the face of goal as the home defence continued to creak, the visitors faded a little in the final quarter, perhaps feeling the effects of Thursday’s Europa League trip to Borussia Monchengladbach.
They were unable to seriously test Gianluigi Donnarumma late on, allowing Milan to hang on for a battling win against Montella’s former charges.
Key Opta Facts:
– AC Milan scored more than one goal in the first half for the first time this season.
– Fiorentina have lost five of their last seven Serie A away games (W2).
– In the last two Serie A seasons only Gonzalo Higuain (23) has scored more away goals than Nikola Kalinic (14).
– Gerard Deulofeu scored his first Serie A goal with his 10th shot in the top Italian flight (five on target): his last goal came in December 2015 (Everton vs Stoke City).
– Fiorentina conceded two goals in the first half for the fourth time this season: two of these coming at San Siro (vs Inter and Milan).
– Jose Sosa has provided two assists in his last two appearances, having never been involved in a Milan goal in his first eight outings.