AC Milan on the rise as ‘consummate professional’ Keisuke Honda nets double
Japan international Keisuke Honda struck a double in a 3-1 win at Verona to go joint top of the Serie A scoring charts on Sunday as AC Milan moved up to fourth.
Milan travelled to the Bentegodi Stadium looking for their second successive win having accounted for another Verona-based side, Chievo, two weeks ago.
The visitors were missing injured French forward Jeremy Menez, but Honda was in scintillating form, taking his league tally to six to sit level with Juventus striker Carlos Tevez and Napoli’s Jose Callejon.
“He’s the consummate professional and a great player, I already said that back in August,” Milan coach Filippo Inzaghi told Sky Sport Italia.
Inzaghi added: “We’re happy, these were three really important points, but we still have improvements to make especially in defence.”
Milan were given a helping hand in the 21st minute when Brazilian Rafael Marques, one half of a centre-back pairing which also included Mexican international Rafa Marquez, skewed a volley into his own net from Ignazio Abate’s cross from the right.
“It can happen to anyone,” said Verona coach Andrea Mandorlini.
Milan were 2-0 up six minutes later when Stephan El Shaarawy, given a rare start on the left of a three-man forward line spearheaded by Spaniard Fernando Torres, found Honda in space on the right with a long ball from midfield.
Honda had time to run unmarked towards goal before curling a first-time shot past Verona keeper Rafael.
Verona striker Luca Toni and Bosko Jankovic saw efforts pushed to safety by Milan keeper Christian Abbiati.
If Verona’s defence had been conspicuously absent at Honda’s first goal, they were even more so 10 minutes after the restart when the Japan international was left in acres of space.
French defender Adil Rami fired a low pass from just over the halfway line and Honda ran in practically unhindered to dink another left-footed shot over Rafael.
Verona grabbed a late consolation when Nico Lopez powered past Sulley Muntari before cutting in to beat Abbiati.
Milan are now only five points behind leaders Juventus, held 1-1 at Sassuolo on Saturday, while Roma put three unanswered goals past Chievo to reinforce their grip on second spot and reduce their deficit to a point.
Sampdoria are three points behind Roma in third after they drew 2-2 at Cagliari despite Manolo Gabbiadini and Spanish midfielder Pedro Obiang giving them a 2-0 interval lead.
“We didn’t draw, we lost,” Samp coach Sinisa Mihajlovic told Sky. “We can’t afford to give away points like we did today.
“The only positive is that we’re still in third place and still unbeaten.”
Cagliari were given hope 13 minutes into the second half when Fabrizio Cacciatore saw red for a second bookable offence and defender Danilo Avelar stepped up to slam the resulting spot-kick into the top right-hand corner of Emiliano Viviano’s net.
The pressure on Cagliari coach Zdenek Zeman eased somewhat when Marco Sau fired a late leveller after superbly controlling Avelar’s quickfire pass into the area.
In Sunday’s late match Brazilian Hernanes eased the pressure on under-fire Inter coach Walter Mazzarri with an injury-time leveller in a 2-2 draw with Napoli.
Mazzari has been under huge pressure following two consecutive heavy defeats to Cagliari (4-1) and Fiorentina (3-0), prompting a stark warning from club president Erick Thohir prior to the game.
Thohir said he would consider the results from the “next two matches” before making any decision on Mazzarri’s future.
Inter looked to be heading for their third defeat on the trot when Callejon struck a double, including an apparent 90th minute winner, eight minutes after Fredy Guarin had come off the bench to level in the 82nd minute.
But cheers from the Napoli end of the sparsely-attended San Siro had barely died down when Hernanes rose above the Napoli defence to meet Dodo’s cross with a powerful header that left Rafael Cabral with no chance.
“I’m proud of the combative spirit shown by the players and the coach. We’re back,” Thohir told Inter’s website.
Napoli manager Rafa Benitez said: “I’m happy with how we came back into it in the second half. It’s just a pity we took the lead twice only to be pegged back.”
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Updated: October 20, 2014 04:00 AM