AC Milan’s regression back to poor form in 2023 continued as they were beaten 3-1 by Udinese on Saturday night.
The Serie A clash featured plenty of drama and Roberto Pereyra was the man who opened the scoring. Zlatan Ibrahimovic drew Milan level with a retaken penalty but then goals from Beto and Kingsley Ehizibue meant the Friulians took all three points.
The game saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic make his return from injury following the knee surgery he underwent in the summer of 2022. Stefano Pioli decided that the Swede should not only lead the line against Udinese, but he also made him the captain.
The availability of Ibrahimovic is very valuable when it comes to allowing Olivier Giroud to have a rest. It has been clear that the Frenchman’s levels drop when he is asked to play too many games, given he is 36 years old.
Milan made an extremely scruffy start to the game in Udine and it was the home team that had the first-half chance when Lazar Samardzic almost got a shot on goal in the box before a challenge came in.
That good start for Udinese led to the first goal of the game in the 10th minute. Some poor defending from Fikayo Tomori and others eventually led to Roberto Pereyra hitting a low and weak shot which wrong-footed Mike Maignan and agonisingly trickled into the bottom corner.
Milan began to grow into the game a bit more and were able to create a couple of promising openings, particularly for Rafael Leao who hit a shot straight at Marco Silvestri.
Brahim Diaz then had a superb chance when he shot from close range but Silvestri produced a superb save to keep the score at 1-0.
Leao created another angle to shoot shortly before half time and this shot had much more whip on it and produced another good save from Silvestri.
Milan were given a route back into the game just before the break when they were awarded a penalty for a very soft-looking handball. Ibrahimovic stepped and actually saw his low strike saved by Silvestri.
Play resumed, but then the penalty was ordered to be retaken due to encroachment. Ibrahimovic stepped up again and this time he fired it powerfully into the top corner. Udinese coach Andrea Sottil was also given a red card for his protests towards the referee.
Before Milan had even gotten back into their shape, though, they were behind again. A low ball into a crowded penalty area saw Beto get there first and poke the ball past Maignan. Udinese had a 2-1 lead at the break.
After such a dramatic and action-packed end to the first half, the second was played in the manner that many perhaps expected for this game. Milan were struggling to create any real openings whilst Udinese looked content with protecting what they had.
Despite that, they suddenly widened their advantage and Milan looked lost. A goal from close range by Kingsley Ehizibue with 20 minutes to play meant Milan had a huge task ahead of themselves.
Pioli attempted to get his team back into the swing of things by making some changes for the final 15 minutes. He threw on Charles De Ketelaere, Divock Origi and Davide Calabria for Diaz, Ibrahimovic and Tomori. Shortly before Udinese’s third goal, he had introduced Rade Krunic and Ante Rebic for Ismael Bennacer and Alexis Saelemaekers.
Milan never really looked like they were going to mount a comeback and they could be out of the top four if Roma beat Lazio on Sunday.