Monza 0-1 AC Milan: Messias guides Rossoneri to victory
AC Milan climbed into Serie A's top four as Junior Messias secured a 1-0 win at Monza, whose owner Silvio Berlusconi failed to get one over on his old club.
Messias fired home on the turn just after the half-hour mark after Monza – who entered the game as Serie A's only unbeaten team in 2023 – twice went close in a fast start to Saturday's match.
Monza played their part in a lively affair but were unable to give Berlusconi – who bankrolled Milan to five European crowns – a result to cherish against his beloved Rossoneri.
Milan were able to claim victory without calling on Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the first time this season, with the striker again an unused substitute as they moved above Atalanta and Roma into third place.
Ciprian Tatarusanu was forced into action twice in the first two minutes, turning Patrick Ciurria's attempt away at the near post before denying Andrea Petagna from the resulting corner.
Rafael Leao saw a dipping 25-yard strike brush the post as Milan played their way into the game, while Michele Di Gregorio made two sharp saves to keep out Brahim Diaz and Fikayo Tomori.
Di Gregorio was finally beaten 31 minutes in, however, getting a hand to Messias' powerful left-footed volley but failing to stop the ball from finding the bottom-right corner.
Ciurria drilled a 20-yard effort against the foot of the post with 17 minutes remaining, but Milan stood firm and almost added a second through Charles De Ketelaere late on.
What does it mean? Milan upturn continues
Pioli was facing serious questions for the first time in his Milan tenure when they went seven games without a victory across all competitions recently, leaving their Scudetto defence in tatters and their hopes of a top-four finish in doubt.
Milan still have plenty of work to do in a competitive race for Champions League qualification, but a three-match winning run has breathed new life into a campaign which was threatening to peter out.
Flying wing-backs key
Pioli's decision to switch to a three-man backline was strongly criticised by Milan legend Arrigo Sacchi recently, but wing-backs Theo Hernandez and Messias were decisive as the visitors tamed a dangerous Monza team.
Messias grabbed the headlines with his third league goal of the season and won a joint-high eight duels alongside Pierre Kalulu, but Hernandez also made a valuable contribution as he created a game-high three chances.
Tatarusanu steps up
The absence of injured shot-stopper Mike Maignan has certainly hampered Milan for much of the season, but stand-in goalkeeper Tatarusanu impressed here as he made five saves, keeping Monza at bay.
The Romanian also commanded his box well throughout as Milan avoided losing three consecutive away league games for the first time since October 2017.
Milan face fellow top-four contenders Atalanta in a huge fixture at San Siro next Sunday, while Monza visit Salernitana on the same day.