While attentions were turned towards a massive game Stamford Bridge, down south in Italy, a certain Chelsea loanee got a surprise start in another massive game, and this one with potential title repercussions.
After losing back-to-back matches to relinquish their hold on the top spot to their biggest rivals, (Antonio Conte’s!) Internazionale, AC Milan got back on track with a 2-1 win over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico yesterday. One of the biggest reasons for the win was the play of Fikayo Tomori, who got the surprise start alongside Simon Kjær, with club captain Alessio Romagnoli dropping to the bench. To put that decision into perspective, it’s the first time in over three years (years!) that (a non-injured) Romagnoli has been dropped for a Serie A match.
Head coach Stefano Pioli wanted to send a message, and it seems to have worked just as intended, with Milan getting the win and Tomori impressing once again. This was now his seventh appearance in all competitions since joining in January — they have yet to lose any of his starts in the Serie A (three wins from three) or the Europa League (two draws from two, with Milan advancing to the next round on away goals).
Tomori has been immense for Milan, justifying Pioli’s decision to bench Romagnoli.— Sacha Pisani (@Sachk0) February 28, 2021
Lightning speed on display vs Roma - positioning & strength in full view for this goal-bound block.
So calm & comfortable. Also had a goal ruled out for offside.#RomaMilan #CFC @NizaarKinsella pic.twitter.com/FfZswhEKOq
Pioli was suitably impressed afterwards.
“Up against a very strong Roma side, so conceding a goal can happen, but the lads deserve praise.
“I expected this performance, because Tomori played a derby a couple of days after joining us, so he’s been at this level from the start. I still believe it’s the collective that allows the individual to perform and all together we won a very important match.”
-Stefano Piolo; source: Football Italia
Milan have been exceeding expectations all season, but if they are to close the now four-point gap to leaders Inter, they’re going to need more performances like that.
Even if they have to settle for just Champions League qualification, Tomori could very well be part of the long-term picture going forward. That financial windfall could be key in activating the €28m buy-out (or negotiating a different fee), as director Paolo Maldini once again alluded to before the match.
“Tomori is a good talent and we have a buy-option clause. The price is very high. AC Milan will decide at the end of this season and we will discuss it with Chelsea’s board.”
-Paolo Maldini; source: Sky
Our loss just might end up being their gain.