Leao back to devastating best as he helps Milan beat Verona
Rafael Leao shot AC Milan level with Serie A leaders Inter Milan with the only goal in Saturday's 1-0 win over Verona, ending a difficult week in a positive fashion.
Portugal winger Leao netted his third goal in as many league matches in the eighth minute at a sodden San Siro to move Milan up to second on 12 points.
The 24-year-old's winner was one of the few highlights of a largely uninspiring performance from a much-changed Milan side missing captain Davide Calabria and France pair Mike Maignan and Theo Hernandez.
But it was a welcome win after being destroyed by local rivals Inter last weekend and failing to capitalise on their dominance in Tuesday's Champions League stalemate with Newcastle United.
"It's been a difficult week for us mentally and physically," said coach Stefano Pioli to DAZN.
"We played as a team, we worked hard and this is a win which can only do us good... I'm very lucky to coach a tight-knit group of players."
Milan's star man Leao, wearing the skipper's armband in Calabria's absence, answered some of his critics following poor displays in both of those matches, even becoming a figure of fun for falling over his own feet while trying to backheel in a goal against Newcastle.
"Rafa did what he needed to do," added Pioli.
"He just needs to keep going and realise that when you become a great player you need to overcome or at least deal with a lot of pressure."
Kick-off was delayed by nearly half an hour due to a sudden hailstorm which battered Milan, and the away fans then ruined the pre-match minute's silence in honour of former Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, who died aged 98 on Friday.
Napolitano, who was head of state between 2006 and 2015, was a leading member of Italy's Communist Party from the 1970s until its dissolution in 1991, while Verona's hardcore support is among the most right-wing in a country where fascist fan groups are widespread.
Milan supporters drowned out the Verona supporters with an enthusiastic applause, started by both sets of players, as they were also remembering former Italy midfielder Giovanni Lodetti.
Lodetti, who also died on Friday aged 81, won two Serie A titles and two European Cups in the 1960s in a Milan side led by icon Gianni Rivera, and was also part of the Azzurri team which claimed the 1968 European Championship on home soil.
Once the match was underway Leao took little time to put Milan ahead, rolling past the onrushing Lorenzo Montipo after being poked through by Olivier Giroud.
Marco Sportiello started in place of Maignan and he had to be it his best in the 21st minute to keep out Michael Folorunsho's header from Filippo Terracciano's cross.
And Sportiello was lucky that Federico Bonazzoli directed his 57th minute shot straight at him after being set up by Cyril Ngonge's neat dummy.
Fifteen minutes later Christian Pulisic came close to adding to his two Serie A goals after a mazy dribble from the right led to his left-footed strike being plucked out from under the bar by Montipo.
That was the first real attacking move from Milan in nearly an hour, and four minutes from the end Montipo pulled off another superb save to keep out Pulisic's fellow American Yunus Musah.
But Leao's strike was enough to send the Milan fans home happy just as the rain clouds made way for glorious sunshine in northern Italy.