Spezia 1-2 Milan: Maldini and Diaz send Pioli’s men top of Serie A

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Daniel Maldini was on target in his first Serie A start as Milan relied on Brahim Diaz’s late winner to edge past Spezia 2-1 on Saturday.

Maldini, son of Italy and Rossoneri legend Paolo, enjoyed a dream maiden top-flight start as he headed Stefano Pioli’s side into the lead after the interval at the Alberto Picco Stadium.

However, Daniele Verde’s deflected effort levelled things up with just over 10 minutes to go before Diaz restored the visitors’ lead in the closing stages.

Milan banished their demons from the shock 2-0 defeat in this fixture last term to move a point clear at the summit, though the chasing pack do have a game in hand.

M’Bala Nzola tested Mike Maignan twice early on, first from range and then from distance, but the Milan goalkeeper parried both away before Theo Hernandez whipped a free-kick narrowly wide.

Ante Rebic should have opened the scoring from Sandro Tonali’s corner but his free header was wayward as Milan failed to make their 62 per cent first-half possession pay.

However, Maldini – appearing 12 years and 117 days after his father Paolo’s last league appearance – powered a header home three minutes after the break from Pierre Kalulu’s delivery to open the scoring.

Rafael Leao – one of Piolo’s two-half time changes – looked to have added a second but he was denied by the right-hand post before Giulio Maggiore turned over from point-blank range following Simone Bastoni’s teasing cross.

Leao again went close moments later as he dragged an effort wide to the right and Milan’s failure to kill the game off came back to haunt them.

Verde twisted and turned before firing a low left-footed strike, which hit Tonali and left Maignan powerless to stop Spezia from drawing level in the closing stages.

Diaz proved the late hero as he ghosted into the area to turn home Alexis Saelemaker’s low delivery and secure the win for Milan.

What does it mean? Milan leave it late to top Serie A

Milan have kept a clean sheet in eight of their last 11 top-flight fixtures since the beginning on May, more than any other team In Europe’s top five leagues during that period.

Their failure to record another shutout did not matter in Saturday’s clash, however, as they continued their unbeaten run after last losing against Lazio in April.

Indeed, since the start of May, no team has gained more points than Pioli’s men in the division (29) and they temporarily reap the rewards as they sit at the summit with Napoli to play on Sunday.

Tonali sets the tone

Tonali could not do much about Verde’s deflected equaliser and that did not taint another complete midfield performance.

He enjoyed a game-high 91 touches, recorded the most successful opposition-half passes (35) and made a team-high three clearances as he protected Pioli’s defence.

Rebic struggles

Rebic was withdrawn at half-time after failing to make an impact during the first 45.

The Milan forward managed just three passes in his first-half outing and gave the ball away 12 times as he struggled for the visitors.

Key Opta Facts

  • Daniel Maldini scored his first Serie A goal, 13 years and 179 days after the last league goal of his father Paolo (v Atalanta in 2008) and 60 years and 22 days after the last Serie A goal of his grandfather Cesare (v Catania in 1961).
  • Spezia have lost three consecutive home games for their first time in Serie A; last season they lost the third home league game in December.
  • Brahim Diaz found the net only four minutes and 19 seconds after coming off the bench.
  • Diaz scored his first Serie A goal as a substitute (out of seven goals in the Italian top flight).
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