AC Milan stroll past Lecce to close in on Champions League

football06 April 2024 14:11| © AFP
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Christian Pulisic © Getty Images

AC Milan strolled past 10-man Lecce 3-0 on Saturday to consolidate second place in Serie A and take another step towards Champions League qualification.

Early goals from Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud, and Rafael Leao's neat finish shortly before the hour mark were enough for Milan to move 11 points behind runaway leaders Inter Milan, who are at struggling Udinese on Monday.

But with the title all but decided Stefano Pioli's in-form side are close to securing Champions League football as they lead third-placed Juventus by nine points after a seventh straight win in all competitions.

Juve host Fiorentina on Sunday with just seven points from their last nine league fixtures and the Turin giants could find themselves fourth before kick-off should Bologna win at Frosinone.

A straightforward win at the San Siro was also perfect preparation for Milan's Italian derby in the Europa League quarterfinals with Roma.

"We feel good, we played the game as we'd planned it in training... now we need to think about the Europa League quarterfinal which is a completely different type of match and a big objective for both teams," said Pioli to DAZN.

"The team is a in a good place physically and technically, we need to be motivated for each match as that will make the difference to the rest of our season."

Daniele De Rossi's Roma host Lazio later on Saturday aiming to win their first local derby in over two years and maintain fifth spot in Italy's top flight.

Serie A is leading the race for an extra spot in next year's Champions League meaning a top-five finish would be enough for Roma to qualify for Europe's top club competition for the first time since 2018.

Lecce stay 13th, four points above the relegation zone, but were livid about two decisions which contributed to their heavy defeat.

Nikola Krstovic was stunned at being shown a straight red card on the stroke of halftime for accidentally studding Samuel Chukwueze.

The away side were already heading to a loss by that point as Pulisic's deflected strike sent Milan on the way to three points after five minutes before Giroud glanced home Yacine Adli's corner 14 minutes later.

Leao then added Milan's third in the 57th minute while Lecce winger Pontus Almqvist was prone on the ground after first being shoulder barged over by Theo Hernandez and then accidentally kneed in the head by the France left-back.

Lecce owner Saverio Sticchi Damiani was shown ironically applauding from the stands as home fans celebrated Leao's sixth league goal of the season, which came on the break after Hernandez won back possession from Almqvist.

Just inside the drop zone are Empoli, who host Europe-chasing Torino in the day's late fixture.