Hellas Verona 1-3 AC Milan: Birthday boy Tonali moves Rossoneri closer to Scudetto
Sandro Tonali marked his 22nd birthday by scoring twice as AC Milan moved a step closer to the Serie A title with a 3-1 triumph at Hellas Verona on Sunday.
Inter leapfrogged Stefano Pioli's side at the summit with victory over Empoli on Friday, and Milan's response at the Bentegodi started poorly when Marco Faraoni headed Verona in front.
However, Tonali struck either side of half-time – with the excellent Rafael Leao assisting both – to turn the game around.
Alessandro Florenzi's late third made sure as the Rossoneri remain on course for their first Scudetto since 2010-11, back two points ahead of Inter with two games to play.
Lorenzo Montipo had produced a fantastic save to deny a Rade Krunic header in the opening stages, before Tonali saw a low finish ruled out for offside following a VAR check.
David Calabria's volley was turned away by Montipo, while Gianluca Caprari and Giovanni Simeone each arrowed narrowly wide at the other end in a frantic first half.
Verona broke the deadlock when Darko Lazovic chipped in for the unmarked Faraoni to nod home, but Tonali equalised 10 minutes later, prodding in after a mazy left-wing run by Leao.
Leao repeated the trick after the interval, driving forward on the counter-attack before drilling across the face of goal for the incoming Tonali to tap in and nudge Milan ahead.
Adrien Tameze fired a presentable opportunity wildly over as Verona searched for a response, but Milan instead sealed victory when substitute Florenzi – on the pitch just 119 seconds – powered into the bottom-left corner with four minutes to go.
What does it mean? Milan banish 'Fatal Verona' demons
The Bentegodi became synonymous with Milan's failed Scudetto bids, with home wins late in the season derailing the Rossoneri in both 1972-73 and 1989-90.
But Pioli's side battled back to banish those demons on Sunday with a third straight away win over Verona for the first time in their history.
That extended their unbeaten run to 14 games in Serie A – only Liverpool are on a longer undefeated streak in Europe's top five leagues – and Milan are almost there now.
Leao provides birthday gifts
Leao was at his creative best for birthday boy Tonali, who celebrated turning 22 by netting a brace against Verona, as the winger created a game-high four chances, two of those being assists.
Meanwhile, Tonali became the third Milan player to score in Serie A on their birthday this century after Jose Mari (December 10, 2000) and Stephan El Shaarawy (October 27, 2012).
Caprari kept quiet
Caprari is aiming to join Luca Toni as just the second Italian in the past 17 years to be involved in 20 goals in Serie A in a season for Verona, having scored 12 and assisted seven so far.
But the forward failed to deliver against Milan, missing the target from a presentable first-half chance and faltering when a great opportunity to counter arrived in the closing stages.
Key Opta facts
– Milan have earned 80 points in a single Serie A season for their first time since 2011-12 (also 80, but after 38 games).
– This was Milan's fourth Serie A win this season after trailing, including both games against Verona (also versus Lazio on April 24 and Inter on February 5).
– Tonali is the youngest midfielder to have scored five or more goals in Serie A this season (and the second-youngest among all players, older only than Aaron Hickey).
– Verona have lost the most points after being in leading situations in Serie A this season (25, one more than Sassuolo).
Milan will look to continue their title charge when they host Atalanta on Sunday, with Verona at home to Torino a day earlier.