Empoli 1-3 AC Milan: Ballo-Toure and Leao strike late to get Rossoneri back on track
AC Milan claimed a dramatic 3-1 victory at Empoli as two injury-time goals from Fode Ballo-Toure and Rafael Leao downed the Serie A champions' stubborn opponents.
Nedim Bajrami's stoppage-time free-kick looked to have earned a point for Empoli after Ante Rebic had put Milan ahead in the 79th minute.
But Ballo-Toure finished in the 94th minute to puncture Empoli's resolve.
With Empoli's hopes dashed, Leao added a third to ensure Milan returned to winning ways following their defeat to Napoli last time out.
Leao could have opened the scoring in the early stages, but Guglielmo Vicario made a great save with his feet to turn away the Portugal international's low shot.
Alexis Saelemaekers dragged wide as Empoli's resistance held firm until half-time, and the hosts' goal continued to live a charmed life after the restart when Olivier Giroud's free-kick hit the crossbar.
Vicario denied Sandro Tonali with an acrobatic save but Milan finally made the breakthrough when substitute Rebic lashed home from Leao's cross.
Yet Rebic's goal far from settled the contest, with a wonderful free-kick from Bajrami giving Empoli hope they had snatched a point.
It was not to be as Milan rallied to win their fourth straight Serie A match against Empoli.
Just 105 seconds after conceding, Milan were ahead again when Ballo-Toure turned in Rade Krunic's flick-on, with victory assured when Leao dinked over Vicario in the dying embers of a thrilling clash.
What does it mean? Champions' resolve gets Milan through
Milan's players could easily have given up the ghost when Bajrami's free-kick nestled in, but they are reigning champions for a reason.
They found the cutting edge that had been missing for much of the match until Rebic's opener, and with 17 points from their eight games are just a win behind leaders Napoli.
Another big leap forward for Leao
Leao is reportedly of interest to some of Europe's elite sides, and on Saturday's evidence it is clear why.
He drove Milan forward all game and finished with a goal and an assist – one of five key passes, two more than any other player on the pitch.
Giroud struggles to hit the heights
Giroud was unlucky with the free-kick that hit the bar but was ultimately hooked with 17 minutes remaining and Milan needing a goal. His replacement was Rebic, who scored one and then set up another in a clinical cameo.
Giroud failed to hit the target with any of his three shots and was also caught offside a team-high three times in what was a frustrating match for the striker.
Key Opta Facts
- Empoli-Milan is only the fourth game in Serie A history with three goals scored since the 90th minute of play onwards/
- This is the first Milan win thanks to a goal scored in second-half injury time in Serie A since April 24, against Lazio.
- Leao is one of the only four players to have both scored at least four goals and delivered at least four assists in the big-5 European leagues this season, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Dango Ouattara.
- Bajrami is the first player to have scored a direct free-kick goal in Serie A during the injury time since Nahuel Molina, with Udinese against Torino last 6 February.
- Rebic has scored five of his 15 away goals in Serie A coming off the bench, including the two most recent (prior today against Salernitana in February).
Milan are back in action on Wednesday, facing a tricky trip to Chelsea in the Champions League. Meanwhile, Empoli will travel to play Torino on October 9.