After being nullified and kept in the pockets of the PSG players in their previous match a few weeks prior, Rafael Leão burst into life in this return fixture with a superb display, including an acrobatic overhead kick. The stellar performance came in stark contrast to recent underwhelming displays from Rafael Leão, as he has failed to register an assist or goal for club and country in his last eight games. While his dreadful form was not all the reason for Milan’s slumping in their previous matches (1 point in their last four matches), he is a massive factor in how the team operates, as he showed today with his terrorising runs in carving open opposition defences.
Rafael Leao Player Of The Match pic.twitter.com/Io9ezxx30W
— Milan Posts (@MilanPosts) November 7, 2023
Supercharged Rafael Leão Keeps Milan’s Champions League Hope Alive
As mentioned above, Milan has severely struggled lately in their own league and Champions League, as they are currently six points behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan and started the day bottom of the group with zero goals scored in the competition they were semi-finalists in last season. And things did not look well for them at the start of the match.
For instance, the day started ominously for the Rossoneri as they suffered an early setback due to horrible defending when dealing with the first corner of the match. What makes it worse is that they conceded the goal to former Inter Milan captain Milan Škriniar, who has yet to score for his new club since joining the PSG revolution this year. However, things turned an upbeat tone for the host as Rafael Leão scored just minutes later with an improvised overhead kick after Gianluigi Donnarumma, the former AC Milan captain parried Olivier Giroud’s shot.
The inconsistent Portuguese had been a menace since the start of the game and got his just rewards with his first goal in 8 games for the club. Perhaps buoyed by his first and Milan’s first goal in the Champions League this season, Rafael Leão continued to carve open the PSG defence like butter as he created chance after chance for the Rossoneri.
Eventually, it was his forward partner in crime, Olivier Giroud, who scored the decisive winning goal as he towered over Škriniar and thumped his header into the right-hand corner past the Italian wall. The win means Milan is back in contention for the last 16 as they trail second-placed PSG by a single point and table-toppers Dortmund by just two.
AC Milan fans throw fake money at Gianluigi Donnarumma in protest at him moving for the money 💰💸
‘Dolla-rumma’ 🤑 pic.twitter.com/SPwN4EDqVb
— LiveScore (@livescore) November 7, 2023
Rafael Leão Hits Back at Former Milan Legend Arrigo Sacchi’s Criticism
High-profile players are subject to criticism daily, but when criticism comes from a former club legend like Arrigo Sacchi, it is a much harder pill to swallow. Before the match, the now-retired coach criticised Rafael Leão and stated in an interview with Corriere della Sera: “I cannot stand those who do not make the most of their talent. That lad has evident quality, but he is not doing as well as he should. In football, you need to use your head for more than just striking the ball.”
In response, after scoring, Rafael Leão placed his finger to his lips as a gesture of defiance against criticism of his efforts. While it is unsure if Rafael Leão directed the gesture to Sacchi, it is still the best way for footballers to silence doubters by performing on the pitch. The Portuguese star definitely showed it today as he ran himself into the ground and left the pitch with less than 10 minutes remaining amidst massive applause from the fans.
When the final whistle went, Rafael Leão ran on the pitch smiling to hug his teammates and expressed his delight as he told SportMediaset: “We showed everyone what Milan is in our house. I am speechless. So proud of my team. We worked incredibly hard, and I am really happy.”
As for manager Stefano Pioli, he praised Rafael Leão and challenged him to do it more consistently. “Rafa needs to have another look at his display tonight because how he performs is only down to him. A lot of what he has was given to him by his parents with the talent he has, and he showed tonight that he has a massive amount of quality.”
Rafael Leão’s moments of joy after the final whistlepic.twitter.com/5O5ydo7FDA
— FootColic ⚽️ (@FootColic) November 7, 2023
The Group of Death Continues to Keep Us on the Edge of Our Seats
With Dortmund and AC Milan winning today, the group of death continues to give us more questions than answers. Who will advance to the knockout stage? Who is the best team in the group? Up until now, we presume it was PSG and Newcastle, but it has shifted once again, with Dortmund bouncing back from their Der Klassiker loss and Milan finding momentum once again.
With just two rounds of matches remaining, it is tough to decide who will prevail. Maybe it is just down to performance on the day and which team prepared better. All in all, it is a wonderful spectacle to partake in, as we can only hope for twists and turns in this season’s Champions League.
To catch all the latest highlights and news of your favourite teams in action, head to AsiaSport for daily updates of clips from the matches you missed. If you have missed the overhead kick from Rafael Leão, we have the perfect treat for you, courtesy of AsiaSport.