Milan trail leaders Napoli by nine despite fightback at Lecce

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Milan (AFP) – AC Milan’s Serie A title defense took another hit as the champions fell nine points behind frenzied league leaders Napoli, despite Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Lecce, two goals behind.

Rafeal Leao and Davide Calabria took a hit to pull Milan back from a dismal halftime show that left them behind with Theo Hernandez’s own goal and Federico Baschirotto’s well-placed header.

Stefano Pioli’s team showed an even fight against rising Lecce, beating Atalanta and Lazio in their last two matches at Stadio Via Del Mare.

But the draw, which put second-placed Milan one point above Juventus, who were smashed by Napoli on Friday night, concludes a bad week that seriously jeopardizes Scudetto retention offers.

This came after they scored a two-goal lead in the final minutes against Roma last weekend, and then was kicked out of the Italian Cup in the last 16 stage by the 10-man Torino in the middle of the week.

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When asked if Milan still have hopes of defending their title, midfielder Ismael Bennacer said: “We will believe it until the end. Now we have to look at what we did badly and what we did better.”

“We are a good team, when we have these problems we can solve them on the field.”

Heading to Saudi Arabia for the Italian Super Cup against Inter Milan on Wednesday, Milan lead their local rivals by just one point as Lautaro Martinez beat Verona 1-0.

The seven-time European champion was lucky to be only two goals behind in the middle of a fun match, as Lecce had two great chances to secure an undisputed lead.

Federico Di Francesco slid wide at close range early before making a perfect cross for wide-headed Valentin Gendrey with a goal at his mercy in the 26th minute, with the hosts already two ahead at this point.

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‘Everything is wrong’

“We did everything we could possibly do wrong in the first half,” Pioli told DAZN. “We made some stupid mistakes and it was a tough fight from that point on.”

And after Calabria leveled up to Milan in the 70th minute, rarely threatening to grab three points, Fikayo Tomori nearly surrendered the win to Lecce as Antonino Gallo was about to turn the middle into his own goal.

“We had the Italian champions ahead of us… if you don’t go after them and put pressure on them, you’re going to be in trouble,” said Lecce coach Marco Baroni.

“We’re a newly promoted team, we want to create a space for ourselves… With these results, we’re getting closer to doing that.”

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Lecce is in 12th place and one point behind Monza, who saw the lower team Cremonese 3-2 to continue their outstanding first season in Italy’s top flight.

Monza was in third place when former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi bought the club for three million euros in 2018.

After their seventh win under 38-year-old Raffaele Palladino, who took over in mid-September, they are now 11th thanks to Patrick Ciurria’s eighth-minute opening and Gianluca Caprari’s goals in every half.

Monza are undefeated in four games and look good bets to stay afloat, unlike Cremonese, who has yet to win in their first Serie A campaign since 1996 and then sacked manager Massimiliano Alvini to save his season.

Italian media reported that former Genoa, Cagliari and Palermo coach Davide Ballardini lined up to fill the vacant position.


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