A surprise was using Kessie in a nominal number 10 role behind the center forward. Diaz’s poor form and likely fatigue plus a lack of real options – neither of Messias nor Krunic truly suited for the role – made for a risky change at the mid point of the season. The early minutes had Kessie slightly more advanced as the lineup suggested.
Messias had the earliest Milan chance as his acrobatic turn was straight at Guglielmo Vicario in Empoli’s goal. The same Kessie opened the scoring, a patient build up play involving Theo and Saelemaekers found its way to Giroud who with his back to goal played the ball to Kessie who shot low and beat Vicario.
The equalizer arrived not long after. A narrow defensive shape and poor defending or clearing were the culprits. The ball found it way to Nedim Bajrami with space on Milan’s right, his low shot just beat Maignan on the far side, the keeper did get a hand on it but was unable to stop the goal.
Empoli were better on the ball as Milan fumbled a freekick just before half hour mark. Milan slowly climbed in the possession stat but it was Maignan who made a good save from a Pinamonti 37th minute chance. Further questions for the defense however.
Kessie scored again. An exchange with Saelemaekers was finished off when the Ivorian’s low shot nutmegged Vicario. Saelemaekers had a half chance late and the resulting corner should have been converted with first Giroud and then Romagnoli missing the chance closeup.
The second half started at a faster pace but Milan had a lucky escape when Pinamonti, while evading several defenders, hit the post. The pace didn’t stay up for long.
Another goal from perhaps an unexpected source. A freekick – Simone Romagnoli impeded Saelemaekers – was awarded to Milan and Florenzi shot in beating the poor Empoli wall. A fourth arrived as well when Theo shot in a high cross. If the Frenchman had not scored a penalty for hand ball would have been called on the Empoli player. Kalulu and Bakayoko had come on moments earlier for Florenzi and Tonali. Krunic and Diaz followed for Bennacer and Messias.
Empoli got one back when VAR and pitch side monitor were used to confirm the ball had hit Bakayoko’s arm from a corner. Pinamonti converted the penalty. The pace had slowed and even Empoli didn’t really seem up to upping the urgency.
Romagnoli came close just as the game was about to end. The Kessie as a nominal attacking weapon paid off for now and Milan end the calendar year with a win and second in the table at the midway point of the 2021-2022 Serie A season.