MILAN, April 7 (Reuters) – AC Milan were well below par on Friday as they were held to a goalless stalemate by Empoli in Serie A, leaving manager Stefano Pioli with plenty of work to do ahead of Wednesday’s opening leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Napoli.
Milan are now third in Serie A with 52 points, 22 points behind runaway leaders Napoli. They trail second-placed Lazio, who face Juventus on Saturday, by three points.
Milan looked a shadow of the team that had thrashed Napoli 4-0 just five days ago as they kept being thwarted by Empoli’s dogged defence.
“This is a pity, but the team is in good shape. The result is negative, but not the performance,” Pioli said to Sky Sport Italia, downplaying the team’s shortcomings.
“It is certainly not the result we wanted and our regrets are more about the first half, where we could’ve pushed harder. We played with intensity, allowing Empoli nothing at all, and did everything we needed to in the second half to win the game, but the ball didn’t want to go in.”
An early chance for Milan’s Ante Rebic was foiled by Empoli goalkeeper Samuele Perisan, who also saved the rebound attempt from Theo Hernandez.
Milan were dominant in the first half but Empoli defended well to keep the score goalless at the break.
Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao were sent on 20 minutes before the end of the second half to try to break the deadlock for Milan without success.
Giroud thought he had headed Milan to victory just before the final whistle but a VAR check showed that the ball had touched his hand on the way in, resulting in loud boos from the home crowd.
Empoli, who are 14th with 32 points, are 13 points above the relegation zone.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.