AC Milan secured a vital Serie A victory in their hunt for the Scudetto, as a late goal saw off Fiorentina 1-0 at the San Siro to open up a five-point gap over Inter Milan with just three games to play, with Stefano Pioli's side also making it 13 league games unbeaten in the process.
Milan thought they had taken an early lead after just eight minutes, but Theo Hernandez’s strike into the top corner from inside the area was ruled out for offside in the build-up as Junior Messias timed his run too soon.
Olivier Giroud then had a huge chance to give Milan the advantage their fans craved after 15 minutes, but his chipped finish over Fiorentina goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano went wide when it seemed easier to score.
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Milan came out the traps quickly at the start of the second half, and had yet another opportunity to go in front, but Rafael Leao’s close range strike sailed over the bar, and it was turning into one of those days for the Rossoneri.
The Viola then had a fantastic opportunity to win it themselves with just over 15 minutes to play, but Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan made a fantastic reaction save to keep out Arthur Cabral’s near-post header.
However, after much toil, Milan were gifted the lead with eight minutes to play, as Terracciano’s mistake from a goal-kick saw Rafael Leao take full advantage, as the Portuguese winger found the net from inside the box with a low effort to send the San Siro into raptures and seal a crucial three points in their title charge.
As for Fiorentina, a third successive league defeat for the first time this season means that their chances of European qualification took a significant blow.

TALKING POINT - Better late than never for Milan

After 80 minutes, the score remained goalless, and the thought in the stands was that it was turning into one of those days at the worst possible time. Milan knew they needed to capitalise on Inter's midweek late defeat away at Bologna to open up a bigger gap at the top of the table, and it was not looking likely.
The Rossoneri created quite a few clear-cut opportunities, but they were not taken. Olivier Giroud's miss in the first half from close range stands out, and the Frenchman did not have the best of games this afternoon.
With time ticking, the feeling was that the only way either side would go on to secure the victory was going to be through a moment of individual brilliance or from a glaring error, and that is exactly what happened.
Pietro Terracciano's shocking pass out from the back on 82 minutes was punished, as Rafael Leao pounced to finish well beyond the Fiorentina goalkeeper and give the crowd and the rest of his team mates the relief that they needed.
Milan now sit five points clear of their nearest challengers, Inter, with just three games to play. A first Scudetto in over a decade now sits firmly in their sights.

PLAYER OF THE MATCH - Sandro Tonali

Lo scontro fra Maleh e Tonali, rossoneri che hanno protestato molto chiedono il giallo per il centrocampista gigliato, Milan-Fiorentina, Getty Images

Image credit: Getty Images

The Milan deep playmaker was superb this afternoon for his side, and his passing ability and vision led to chances being created for his side.
He proved crucial in transition, as a lot of Milan's moves were instigated through him in the centre of the park.
In total, the 21-year-old made two key passes, made two successful dribbles and won a defensive aerial duel. He is a key part of how Stefano Pioli wants his side to play.

PLAYER RATINGS

AC Milan: Maignan 7, Calabria 7, Kalulu 6, Tomori 7, Hernandez 7, Tonali 8, Kessie 6, Leao 7, Diaz 6, Messias 6, Giroud 6. Subs: Ibrahimovic 6, Rebic 6, Krunic 6, Bennacer 6.
Fiorentina: Terracciano 5, Biraghi 6, Igor 7, Milenkovic 6, Venuti 6, Maleh 6, Amrabat 6, Duncan 6, Saponara 6, Gonzalez 6, Cabral 6. Subs: Torreira, Sottil 6, Bonaventura 6, Ikone 6, Martinez 6.

KEY MOMENTS

6’ - GOAL WON’T STAND! - Theo Hernandez has the ball in the net after a fantastic strike from inside the box into the top corner, but the referee flags it up straight away as Messias timed his run a touch early down the right and it won't stand.
15’ - GIROUD FLUFFS HIS LINES! - What a chance for Milan! Giroud tries to chip Terracciano in the Fiorentina goal with a deft effort over him from a couple of yards out, but the effort sails wide of the target! He'll be kicking himself.
47’ - WHAT A CHANCE! - Milan should be in front! Diaz does really well to play in Giroud to his right inside the box. The forward does not opt to shoot, but instead lays the ball off to Leao on the opposite side. After a couple of shimmies to create some space for himself, his effort from close-range is very poor and goes over the bar when it seemed easier to score!
75’ - WHAT A SAVE! - Outstanding from Maignan! That should've been 1-0 to Fiorentina! Cabral rose highest to head home Biraghi's superb delivery from the left, but the Frenchman makes an outstanding reaction save from point-blank range to keep the scores level!
82’ - GOAL! (Rafael Leao) - Milan finally have the lead they were looking for! It's a shocking mistake from Terracciano in the Fiorentina goal! His pass out the back from a goal-kick goes straight to Leao, but he still has a lot to do. The winger then runs at the defence, before finding the net with a low effort from inside the box! The fans are bouncing!

KEY STATS

  • AC Milan now have stretched their unbeaten run in Serie A to 13 games (W8, D5) - their best sequence of the season.
  • Rafael Leão has become the fifth Portuguese player to have scored 10 or more goals in a single Serie A campaign, after Cristiano Ronaldo, Rui Barros, Rui Costa and Beto. He is the only one to have done that before the age of 23.
  • Fiorentina lose three league games on the bounce for the first time this season.
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