Rafael Leao set a new Serie A record for the fastest goal ever seen in the competition, giving leaders Milan a flying start at Sassuolo.
Milan head coach Stefano Pioli said on Saturday that Leao’s recent performances had been “not up to standard”, but there was no faulting his sharp finish after six seconds at the Citta del Tricolore stadium.
The 21-year-old former Lille forward took a pass from Hakan Calhanoglu in his stride and, with his third touch, smashed the ball past home goalkeeper Andrea Consigli.
Alexis Saelemaekers added a second in the 26th minute and Milan’s lead rarely came under threat from sixth-placed Sassuolo until Domenico Berardi netted an 89th-minute free-kick that made for a briefly tense finish.
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Pioli fielded a team with an average age of just 22 years and 313 days, Milan’s second youngest line-up since the 2004-05 season, when Opta began collecting such data.
There was no Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the team’s 39-year-old leading scorer absent after suffering a calf strain in training as he prepared for a first-team return.
Leao put an emphatic finishing touch to Milan’s immediate charge through the Sassuolo ranks, with Brahim Diaz playing the kick-off short to Calhanoglu, who raced straight towards the penalty area in what looked a well-rehearsed ploy. Calhanoglu’s pass through to Leao was smashed in, leaving the home side shell-shocked and still yet to touch the ball.
Milan thought they had a second goal in the ninth minute when Calhanoglu drove home low into the left corner from the edge of the penalty area, but a marginal offside in the build-up saw the goal disallowed after a VAR check.
They were nevertheless in control and full value for their second goal when it arrived in the 26th minute. Theo Hernandez ran from deep inside his half down the left flank before darting infield and clipping a short pass that gave Saelemaekers a tap-in.
Gianluigi Donnarumma made a fine diving stop to keep out a fizzing 25-yard shot from Mehdi Bourabia in the second half, before Milan threatened a third when Jens Petter Hauge’s curling shot from similar range was pushed away by Consigli.
Sassuolo had the final say as Berardi got his shot beyond the Milan wall, but the visitors survived.