Theo Hernandez struck twice in AC Milan’s 3-0 Sunday stroll at Venezia to help push his team top of Serie A and put pressure on champions Inter Milan.
France full-back Hernandez rammed home Milan’s second shortly after the break when slid through by the impressive Rafael Leao before making absolutely sure of the points from the penalty spot just before the hour mark.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had opened the scoring in the third minute with a simple tap-in from a low cross from Leao, who had been sent bursting past the Venezia backline by Hernandez.
“Theo needs to have a very clear objective in his head: he has the talent, the quality and the strength to become one of the best left-backs in the world,” said Milan coach Pioli to DAZN.
“When you have that ability you can’t just settle for what you have.”
Stefano Pioli’s Milan are two points ahead of local rivals Inter, who host Lazio at the San Siro in one of two late matches hoping to avenge their only league defeat so far this season, in Rome back in mid-October.
Inter have played two games fewer than Milan after their match at Bologna on Thursday was not played due to Covid-19 infections among the opposition squad.
Venezia, who finished with 10 men after Michael Svoboda handled to concede the decisive spot-kick, sit four points above the relegation zone following their 11th defeat since being promoted last season.
It was a third win in a row for Milan, who have a host of players either at the Africa Cup of Nations or out with Covid infections and were again without three of their starting back four.
Milan have started 2022 on fire after scoring three times in each of their two matches after the winter break and would have had more on Sunday had Sergio Romero not pulled out finger-tip saves to deny powerful first-half efforts from Hernandez and Alessandro Florenzi.
“I expect this kind of performance from my team. I know how much quality and character we have,” added Pioli after his 400th match as a Serie A coach.
“They showed great maturity to win a match which only became easy because of how we played.”
Also on Sunday, Roma host Juventus in a match featuring two teams who have struggled to get going under new coaches Jose Mourinho and Massimiliano Allegri and sit outside the Champions league places.
This round of matches, which finishes with Bologna’s visit to struggling Cagliari on Tuesday night, will be the league’s last before stadium capacities are cut to 5,000 until after the next international break as Covid-19 infections surge in Italy.
Five games were not played over the last two rounds of fixtures after dozens of players contracted the virus, for which more than 1.8 million Italians are currently positive and which has killed over 138,000 in the country since early 2020.