Milan goes five points clear in Italy with 2-1 win against Sampdoria

MILAN (AP) – League leader AC Milan maintained its impressive start to the season with a 2-1 win at Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday.

Substitute Samuel Castillejo doubled Milan’s lead late on, with his first touch, after Franck Kessié’s first-half penalty. Albin Ekdal pulled one back for Sampdoria but Milan held on to consolidate its advantage at the top of the table.

The Rossoneri are five points above Inter Milan and six above Napoli, which won at 10-man Crotone 4-0 to move into third, and Juventus.

“We are on an exceptional run but Inter, Juve and Napoli are the teams that are the best equipped and so they should be considered the favorites,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said.

Sassuolo dropped to fifth after being held 0-0 at 10-man Roma.

Milan was without Zlatan Ibrahimović but welcomed back Pioli for his first league match on the sidelines since recovering from the coronavirus.

AC Milan’s Spanish forward Samuel Castillejo (L) fights for the ball with Sampdoria’s Swedish midfielder Albin Ekdal at the Luigi Ferrari stadium in Genoa. PHOTO: AFP

Without Ibrahimović and other injured players, the average age of the Milan starting 11 was under 23 years.

“We all know how much Zlatan has made us grow, we hope to have him back on the field as soon as possible,” Pioli said.

“It was the first time we’ve played without Ibra, (Simon) Kjær and (Ismaël) Bennacer, three very important players. I congratulated the lads, we want to win all the matches, we know it won’t be possible, but we have to have enthusiasm.”

It took until the stroke of halftime to open the scoring. Kessié sent the spot-kick straight down the middle after Sampdoria midfielder Jakub Jankto was penalised for handball.

Sandro Tonali hit the post early in the second half for Milan but the Rossoneri were pinned back in their own half through a period of sustained pressure from Sampdoria.

However, Milan doubled its lead in the 77th when Jens Petter Hauge found Ante Rebić, who pulled it back from the byline for Castillejo to slot it in from the center of the area.

Ekdal gave Samp hope when he managed to tap home a corner at the near post.

Sassuolo had never finished higher than sixth in Serie A but had got off to a great start this campaign and was looking to bounce back after its first defeat of the season last week at Inter.

Its chances of doing so looked good when Roma forward Pedro was sent off four minutes before halftime following a second yellow card.

Roma thought it had taken the lead shortly after, but Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s goal was ruled out for a foul by teammate Edin Džeko on Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli. Džeko almost redeemed himself after the break but his effort was deflected onto the right post.

Sassuolo substitute Lukáš Haraslín came close to breaking the deadlock moments after coming onto the field but he was marginally offside. Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne scored one and set up another for Hirving Lozano.

Insigne broke the deadlock in the 31st, cutting inside and putting a trademark curler into the top right corner.

Crotone was bottom of the table and its hopes of getting precious points from the match diminished five minutes after the break when midfielder Jacopo Petriccione was issued a straight red card for a poor challenge on Diego Demme.

Napoli doubled its lead just eight minutes later when Lozano was left unmarked in the area and had plenty of time to chest down Insigne’s pass and fire it past Alex Cordaz.

Diego Demme and Andrea Petagna also scored.