Milan 2-0 Lazio: Rossoneri strike hot in top-four race but suffer Leao injury blow
Milan pushed on in the battle for a top-four Serie A finish as Ismael Bennacer and Theo Hernandez scored in a 2-0 win over Lazio at San Siro.
Stefano Pioli's side were in full control from the off, though Lazio were masters of their own downfall for the opening goal as Marcos Antonio's error allowed Bennacer to bundle home.
Hernandez doubled Milan's advantage before the break with a terrific solo effort, helping the Rossoneri to fourth in Serie A ahead of Inter's crucial clash with Roma later on Saturday.
However, Milan's victory was marred by the sight of star forward Rafael Leao limping from the field early on, with the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie against Inter just four days away.
Having rested several players for Wednesday's draw with Cremonese, Pioli may have regretted naming a more familiar lineup when Leao was withdrawn just 11 minutes in – the forward appearing to suffer a groin injury.
Yet Milan made light of his absence as Bennacer pounced on a Lazio mix-up, combining with Olivier Giroud before volleying into the ground and over Ivan Provedel.
Milan doubled their lead from a lightning break 12 minutes later. Hernandez received the ball from Mike Maignan near his own penalty area before driving forward and lashing home from 20 yards via a slight deflection.
Lazio failed to record a single shot on target before the break, and Milan continued to dominate after the interval as substitute Malick Thiaw powered a header over from Sandro Tonali's corner.
Milan were denied a late third when Ante Rebic slotted home from an offside position, but it was of little consequence as they warmed up for Wednesday's Champions League derby in style.
What does it mean? Top-four battle wide open
Milan may have evoked memories of past European glories with their run to the Champions League semi-finals, but a streak of just two wins from their last nine league games (D5 L2) had them outside the top four ahead of Saturday's match.
Second-placed Lazio had the chance to put nine points between themselves and the Rossoneri, but Maurizio Sarri's side simply failed to turn up – not even managing a shot on target – as Milan avenged January's 4-0 defeat to the Biancocelesti in Rome.
Bennacer ends long wait
Bennacer's goal represented his first home strike in Serie A since July 2020, when the Algeria international scored for the first time in the Italian top flight.
As well as forcing Antonio's error in the build-up to his opener, Bennacer completed 92.3 per cent of his passes during a cultured midfield display, while none of his team-mates bettered his tally of 13 passes in the final third.
Giroud produces in Leao's absence
The sight of Leao walking gingerly from the field will have concerned Pioli, particularly given the proximity of their seismic derby date with Inter.
However, Lazio failed to profit from Leao's absence on this occasion as Giroud stepped up. The France striker provided his fifth assist of the Serie A campaign for Bennacer's goal, creating a team-high two chances.
Key Opta Stats
Milan have kept four clean sheets in their last seven Serie A matches, as many as in their previous 18 games
Lazio failed to record a shot on target in a Serie A match for the first time since October 2020 (against Sampdoria)
Theo Hernandez has been involved in 39 goals in Serie A (22 goals, 17 assists) since the 2019-20 season, the joint-most by any defender during that time (Robin Gosens, also 39)
Mike Maignan is the only goalkeeper to have provided two assists in the last two Serie A seasons
Lazio have lost three of their last four Serie A matches (won one), having gone unbeaten in their previous eight games (won seven, drawn one)
Milan take on rivals Inter in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie on Wednesday, while Lazio are back in action when they host Lecce in Serie A on Friday.