Serie A: AC Milan 2-1 Empoli
Luiz Adriano’s thumping second-half headed goal gave AC Milan a much-needed 2-1 win over Empoli, but Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side were made to work hard for their first three points of the Serie A season.
Carlos Bacca scored a superb breakaway goal to give Milan a first-half lead that lasted just four minutes, as Riccardo Saponara slotted home and equaliser that was no less than the lively visitors deserved at San Siro.
Milan desperately needed a win to placate their supporters after a 2-0 opening day defeat to Fiorentina, but they looked vulnerable in defence throughout an encounter that gave Empoli more than enough chances to claim all three points.
The attacking combination of Saponara, Manuel Pucciarelli and veteran striker Massimo Maccarone caused Milan no end of problems, as Empoli sought to banish the memory of their own opening day setback, when they were beaten 3-1 at home by Chievo.
But Luiz Adriano connected with Giacomo Bonaventura’s 69th-minute corner to crash home a winner, much to the relief of the home fans to give Mihajlovic his first league win in charge.
Mihajlovic named new signing Mario Balotelli amongst his substitutes following his return on a season-long loan from Liverpool, while Cristian Zapata was drafted into the hosts’ defence in place of Rodrigo Ely, who was suspended following his red card last weekend.
Empoli started confidently, with Maccarone frequently dropping deep in the early stages to form a link between midfield and attack.
The first serious attempt on goal came from Milan striker Suso, who cracked a powerful shot from 25 yards, but he fell as he struck it and the ball was always rising over the crossbar.
Empoli continued to show real intent to attack, and only a timely block from Mattia De Sciglio stopped Maccarone from getting his shot away after the former Middlesbrough striker carved out a good early chance with a mazy dribble into the box.
But moments later, the home side took the lead when Bacca was sent clean through by Suso’s perfectly weighted pass. And the Colombian striker fought off two chasing defenders and rounded goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski, before finishing a brilliant solo goal with a tidy finish from an acute angle, opening his Milan account following his big-money move from Sevilla.
The scores were level within two minutes, when an instinctive back-heeled pass from Maccarone slottedSaponara into the box and he made no mistake, slamming the ball hard and low into the corner of the net to restore parity.
Empoli might have taken the lead when a well-struck, 30-yard shot from Pucciarelli screamed just over the crossbar, and the game was wide open, swinging from end to end throughout the first half.
Maccarone looked certain to make it 2-1 when he found himself one-on-one with Milan goalkeeper Diego Lopez on the half-hour mark, but his shot was saved and the offside flag was raised.
Pucciarelli went within a whisker of giving Empoli the lead on the stroke of half-time, shooting just wide of from the edge of the box with Milan’s defence at sixes and sevens.
Mihajlovic sent on Juraj Kucka for Antonio Nocerino after the interval, as he sought to add creative flair to his stuttering side, but Empoli continued where they left off in the first half, launching incisive attacks and forcing Lopez into a good reaction save from Daniele Croce’s stinging 25-yard shot.
Further golden chances fell to Pucciarelli and Maccarone as the visitors pressed for a winner, and as the home crowd grew increasingly impatient, Mihajlovic sent on Bonaventura for Suso as he tried to turn the tide in favour of his side.
The switch proved decisive, as it was Bonaventura’s sweetly hit corner that provided Luiz Adriano with the opportunity to seal a morale-boosting win for Milan.