Three matchdays remain in Serie A, and yet there is plenty still to be decided at both ends of the table – not least which side will be crowned champions.

Milan occupy top spot in their quest for a first Scudetto since 2011, but fierce rivals Inter are just two points behind and arguably have an easier set of fixtures to conclude the campaign.

Napoli and Juventus are not officially out of the title race just yet, though they are seven and eight points off first place respectively, therefore requiring a remarkable set of results.

Both Napoli and Juventus are already assured of a top-four finish, but there are several other teams still battling it out for the three remaining European spots.

Venezia appear doomed at the opposite end of the table after losing to fellow strugglers Salernitana on Thursday, with the latter's victory lifting them out of the bottom three – in all, six teams remain in trouble.

But just how will the remaining two and a half weeks of the season unfold? Using the Stats Perform League Prediction Model, we can try to forecast the final standings.

Created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, the model has analysed the division to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results.

Weighting is based on recency and the quality of opposition, with the rest of the matches then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Let's take a look...

 

MILAN TO SEE THE JOB THROUGH

Milan still have Hellas Verona (ninth), Atalanta (eighth) and Sassuolo (11th) to face, whereas Inter's final fixtures are against Empoli (14th), Cagliari (18th) and Sampdoria (15th).

However, it is worth noting that if they finish level on points, Milan would be crowned champions by virtue of a superior head-to-read record against their rivals this term.

With that in mind, while Inter are only two points behind, they essentially need to take three more points than Milan over the final three matchdays.

And our model suggests the Rossoneri have a 62 per cent chance of retaining top spot, compared to a 37.7 per cent chance of defending champions Inter overtaking them.

Just to highlight how unlikely it is either Napoli or Juventus will pip the current top two to the summit, they have a 0.2 and 0.1 per cent chance of winning the title respectively.

A ROME ONE-TWO FOR EUROPA LEAGUE?

The Champions League places may now officially be wrapped up, but five teams are still battling it out for the three remaining European berths.

The sides that finish in fifth and sixth, currently occupied by Roma and Lazio, will qualify for the Europa League group stage.

Roma, according to the model, have a 59.1 per cent chance of nailing down fifth place – though if they were to drop to seventh, the Europa Conference League finalists could get into the Europa League by winning UEFA's third-tier competition.

Lazio would take great enjoyment from finishing above their neighbours and have a 36.9 per cent chance of doing so.

The first priority for Maurizio Sarri will be locking down sixth, though, and there is a 46.7 per cent likelihood of achieving that with Fiorentina three points further back.

ATALANTA TO PIP FIORENTINA

While the top six are forecast to remain where they are, our model predicts seventh-placed Fiorentina will miss out to Atalanta in the Europa Conference League play-off position.

After losing three games in a row, La Viola now have a 31.2 per cent chance of staying seventh, compared to 47.6 for Atalanta, whom they are currently level with on 56 points.

Verona are four points further back and that appears to be too big a gap to bridge, with the Gialloblu seemingly certain to remain in eighth.

Indeed, the 80.8 per cent likelihood of Verona finishing in that position is bettered only by the chances of Empoli staying 14th (90.2 per cent) and Venezia remaining bottom (87.4 per cent) given the points margin either side.

VENEZIA AND TWO OTHERS TO DESCEND

Thursday's 2-1 defeat away to Salernitana looks to have spelled the end for Venezia's brief stint back in the top flight as it leaves them seven points from safety. Their chances of escaping the drop sit at 0.1 per cent.

Salernitana still have a 36.2 per cent chance of dropping into the bottom three, but given they face the team directly below them – Cagliari – and Empoli in their next two games, they will surely like those odds.

Another win for Salernitana on Sunday would be massive at the bottom, as such a result will relegate Venezia and potentially Genoa, whom the model gives only a 1.2 per cent likelihood of climbing up to 17th.

Spezia and Sampdoria aren't quite out of the woods yet, but their five-point cushions should be enough to keep them in Serie A. Everything points to Sunday's contest being almost a straight relegation play-off between Salernitana and Cagliari.

The model suggests with a 63.3 per cent probability that Cagliari will go down, but their fate is in their own hands.

Jose Mourinho has been accused of lacking respect by Roma's rivals Lazio after he claimed their winning goal against Spezia should not have stood.

Roma and Lazio are locked in a battle to secure a top-six finish in Serie A, and Maurizio Sarri's team sit level on points with the Giallorossi after earning a last-gasp 4-3 win over Spezia on Saturday, while Mourinho's men dropped points in a goalless draw with Bologna a day later.

Having spent much of their match trailing, Lazio snatched a thrilling win when Francesco Acerbi flicked home in the final minute.

After Ciro Immobile became just the 10th player to reach 150 Serie A goals for one club earlier in the match, Acerbi's winner was controversial as it appeared he turned home from an offside position, leading Mourinho to take aim at the decision to let the goal stand.

Subsequently, Lazio have hit back.

"The fact that in 2022 a coach of another team repeatedly refers to presumed referee favours to competing teams demonstrates some things," the statement began.

"That Lazio is obsessively in their thoughts more than other coveted professional goals; that, as often happens, one looks into other people's homes to divert attention from missed results and sensational episodes that have occurred in one's own home, in one's favour, under the eyes of all.

"Despite the need to evolve the image of football in Italy, some players are stuck with the constant repetition of accusations against the referees and the VAR, [and] these offensive attitudes towards referees are too often overlooked.

"The Lazio Sports Society rejects the criticisms and insinuations. It continues to believe that values are demonstrated on the pitch and not in the television salons. Lazio will never lend itself to being anyone's alibi or scapegoat and will assert its reasons in the appropriate forums." 

In accusing Mourinho of lacking respect for referees and other clubs, Lazio also claimed not to have commented on several refereeing decisions which they perceived to have gone against them in recent weeks.

These incidents included a potential foul on Acerbi in the build-up to Sandro Tonali's late winner for Milan at the Stadio Olimpico, and an alleged elbow by Roger Ibanez when Lazio met Roma in March.

"The company's line continues to be that of not discussing the decisions taken on the pitch, even when it comes to obvious episodes that occurred to the detriment of the Biancoceleste team, such as [Sandro] Tonali's foul on Acerbi in Lazio-Milan on the occasion of the goal, or the elbow from [Roger] Ibanez on [Sergej] Milinkovic-Savic in the [Rome] derby," the statement continued.

"[These are] decisive episodes on which we have chosen silence, out of respect for the referees on the field and the VAR, respect that others have not shown and continue not to demonstrate."

The capital clubs are separated by virtue of their head-to-head record with three games left, with Roma boasting the advantage after winning 3-0 in March.

Lautaro Martinez admits he feels irritated by constant speculation over his Inter future, after the forward helped seal a 3-1 win over Spezia on Good Friday.

The Argentine struck in the second half to help confirm a crucial three points for the Serie A champions, moving them back to the summit – temporarily at least – ahead of rivals Milan.

Yet with his contract due to expire next year, talk over an impending exit has dogged Martinez for much of the season, with the striker starting on the bench at Stadio Alberto Picco.

Speaking afterwards, Martinez acknowledged that discussion over his next move is something that bugs him, alongside accusations that he has not put the effort in during the 2021-22 season.

"People talk a lot and I don’t like it," he said. "I’ve always given my best for Inter and I don’t like certain voices.

"I try to give my all, obviously I don’t like being on the bench, but when I entered I gave my all for Inter which is what counts here.

"I have always been calm, I work for the team, to lend a hand to my teammates, I am focused on my work and I don’t listen to everything they talk about.

"I think about my family, those who love me and Inter, so I always have to give my best."

Victory for Inter – though relatively unconvincing, despite overwhelming possession, and then given a late scare by a response from the hosts – keeps them in the thick of the title race.

It will give an extra charge to an already hot derby encounter with Milan when the two sides meet in the Coppa Italia semi-finals on Tuesday.

Martinez believes Simone Inzaghi's side looked to have turned a corner after dropping crucial points earlier in the new year, and stressed that their destiny is now of their own making.

"[We're] feeling good," he added. "We are doing a great job, we have lost some important points.

"We have now recovered and have everything in our hands. The path is still long, we have to recover and think about Tuesday."

Inter moved back to the summit of Serie A in the latest turn of an enthralling title race after they claimed a 3-1 win over Spezia.

The Nerazzurri threw down a gauntlet to rivals Milan as they deposed them at the top of the table thanks to goals from Marcelo Brozovic, Lautaro Martinez and Alexis Sanchez.

Simone Inzaghi's defending champions could well end the weekend back in second place, with their San Siro neighbours set to face Genoa later on Good Friday.

But victory at Stadio Alberto Picco at least means the Nerazzurri remain neck-and-neck, with a game in hand on the Rossoneri beyond this latest round ensuring destiny stays in their own hands.

In a game where opportunities were initially at a premium, it took almost 15 minutes for either side to register an attempt, with Denzel Dumfries heading wide.

But when Danilo D'Ambrosio headed down a looping cross near the edge of the box in the 31st minute, there was little stopping Brozovic's rasping drive into the top-left corner.

The visitors were not as clinically composed as they would have liked, however.

Nicolo Barella slid reaching for the ball past the hour to fumble a great chance for a second, while Dumfries blazed a subsequent low cross way over the crossbar.

But when Martinez flicked Ivan Perisic's cross beyond Ivan Provedel with just over a quarter-hour to play, Inter looked to be home and dry.

Giulio Maggiore fired home a response late on to set up a nervy final act, but the visitors restored the two-goal cushion in stoppage time, with Sanchez drilling a squared Martinez pass home.

 

Weston McKennie will not return to action for Juventus until next season, head coach Massimiliano Allegri has confirmed.

The United States international fractured the second and third metatarsals in his left foot during last week's 1-1 draw with Villarreal in the Champions League.

Juve announced the following day that McKennie would likely sit out the next eight weeks, meaning he would be back in time for the closing stages of the campaign.

However, speaking after Juve's 1-0 win over Spezia on Sunday, Allegri said he does not expect the 23-year-old to return to action again this term.

"The season is over for Weston because of his injury. He'll be back next season," Allegri told DAZN.

McKennie has featured in 28 of the Bianconeri's 39 matches this season in all competitions, his 1,954 minutes on the field the eighth most of any Juve outfield player.

The 23-year-old, who has four goals to his name, will also miss the USA's upcoming triple-header of World Cup qualifying fixtures.

Juve won in McKennie's absence against Spezia on Sunday thanks to Alvaro Morata's 21st-minute strike at the Allianz Stadium.

 

Morata slotted home the only goal of the game after being played in by Manuel Locatelli – the Spain striker's first Serie A goal since netting against Bologna on December 18.

The victory extends Juve's unbeaten run to 14 Serie A matches – their best such streak since March 2019 when going 31 without defeat – and tightens their hold on fourth place.

"It's always important for the forwards. I'm happy with the goal and the performance," Allegri said at his post-match news conference when asked about Morata's goal. 

"Today, after so many matches with the same players, all you have to do is congratulate the boys. It wasn't easy to win. We dropped in the second half. 

"For the first time we are mathematically fourth in the rankings. In the first half we had to finish the game, in the second it was normal that we would suffer a little."

Juventus have now won four Serie A matches by a 1-0 scoreline this season, a tally only sixth-placed Roma can better with five.

And the manner of this latest slender victory was particularly pleasing for Allegri.

"If you want to reach your objectives, you have to play these games with suffering and it was important to bring home the three points," he said. 

"I have never seen a team win every game easily. You get to the Champions League and all your targets through performances like this, winning 1-0 with suffering.

"People forget quickly in football, but in my five years we had a lot of 1-0 results spent sitting in our own half for the final 20 minutes. 

"The important thing is not to let anything go in those moments."

Alvaro Morata scored the only goal of the game as in-form Juventus boosted their bid to qualify for the Champions League with a victory over Spezia.

Massimiliano Allegri's side headed into the clash at the Allianz Stadium on a 13-game unbeaten streak in the league and took the lead when Morata struck in the first half.

Spezia rarely troubled their hosts, barring an Emmanuel Gyasi second-half chance, as Juve moved six points clear of fifth-placed Atalanta, who fell to a 1-0 defeat at Roma on Saturday.

The Bianconeri are just five points adrift of leaders Inter, while they were four behind Napoli and Milan ahead of their clash later on Sunday.

 

A wayward Ivan Provedel pass after 21 minutes allowed Dusan Vlahovic and Manuel Locatelli to combine through the middle, with the latter finding Morata to coolly slot home.

Provedel somewhat atoned for his mistake with a smart stop to deny Juan Cuadrado, who was teed up by Arthur, as Juve dominated the first half.

An unmarked Gyasi should have restored parity after the interval, but he could only head into Wojciech Szczesny's hands from close range following Salvador Ferrer's delivery.

Spezia continued to grow into the encounter as they searched for a first league goal in three appearances in Piemonte, with Szczesny forced to keep out Kevin Agudelo's effort.

But Allegri's side defended resolutely to see out victory and make it 14 games unbeaten in Serie A - their longest such streak since December 2019 under Maurizio Sarri.

Paulo Dybala will miss Juventus' Serie A clash with Spezia through injury, coach Massimiliano Allegri confirmed, while Dusan Vlahovic looks set to be rested to the bench.

Bianconeri forward Dybala has been the club's top league performer throughout the campaign, though his thunder has been arguably stolen by the arrival of his new team-mate from Fiorentina.

The Argentinian's contract in Turin runs out at the end of June, and attempts to persuade him to sign an extension have so far proven unsuccessful at Allianz Stadium.

Speaking ahead of his side's vital clash with relegation contenders Spezia on Sunday, Allegri confirmed Dybala would miss the game, and refused to be drawn on the player's future.

"Dybala left training prematurely yesterday," Allegri stated. "He had a problem with his flexor and he did not feel his leg free, so he is still out. If you want I will call him, but he cannot play."

Asked about the forward's injury problems and contract decision, the head coach added: "If we had known, we would have solved it. We are evaluating everything that has been done to understand.

"Then there is the contractual aspect, but it does not depend on me. It will be a negotiation between the club and Paulo. He has been here for eight years and on a technical level, [his contribution] is indisputable."

Vlahovic's arrival in the January transfer window has proven to be one of the more inspired buys of the season across Europe.

But Allegri says the Serbian may take a back seat this weekend, adding: "For Vlahovic I am thinking of the possibility of him starting from the bench. I will see and decide tomorrow."

Elsewhere, the Juve coach weighed in on Paul Pogba, after the Bianconeri were linked with a move for their former player as he appears to wind the clock down on his Manchester United contract.

"Talking about this doesn't make sense," Allegri said. "Pogba is a Manchester United player, I don't know what he'll do next year.

"I had a great relationship with him, he got angry when he lost in basketball and football. Now talking about the transfer market doesn't make sense. Our goal is to reach fourth place."

Stefano Pioli has revealed the referee apologised after ruling out what should have been a valid Milan goal in Monday's defeat to Spezia.

The Rossoneri slumped to a shock 2-1 loss as Emmanuel Gyasi scored with almost the final kick of a thriller at San Siro.

Title rivals Inter drew 0-0 with Atalanta on Sunday, but Milan failed to claim a win that would have sent them to the Serie A summit.

The hosts dominated the first half and took a deserved lead through Rafael Leao, just after Theo Hernandez had missed a penalty.

Yet their profligacy cost them in the second half when Kevin Agudelo equalised.

 

Milan were then left furious as Junior Messias' fine late effort was struck off due to a premature whistle from referee Marco Serra, who had blown up for a foul on Ante Rebic.

Serra appeared to realise his mistake, though that did nothing to appease Milan, who subsequently hit the bar through Zlatan Ibrahimovic only for Gyasi to snatch a last-gasp winner on the counter.

While Pioli was keen to point out the official's error, he acknowledged Milan did not control the game well enough.

"I tried to calm my players down, but I didn't manage as Spezia's goal proves," he told DAZN.

"We knew it was an injustice, we have ourselves to blame, but we share responsibility with the referee.

"I am sorry to say that. He even apologised, maybe that wasn't even a fault. It's a shame.

"However, we should have scored more goals in the first half. It's a bad night and we must react now."

 

Milan had 25 attempts in total, with eight on target. It was the most shots they have managed in a Serie A defeat since December 2017 against Verona (31).

Leao was a standout performer with four shots and as many key passes, while Ibrahimovic, making his 150th league appearance for the club, had a team-leading eight efforts.

"We could have won the game, somehow we lost," said Pioli, whose side finished the match with an expected goals (xG) value of 2.5.

"We knew we had a good chance, Leao's goal should have given us self-confidence, we failed to seal a win that we strongly wanted, but the season is still long."

Milan remain second, two points behind Inter and one ahead of Napoli in third, with Juventus next up on Sunday.

Milan slumped to a shock 2-1 defeat to Spezia as Emmanuel Gyasi scored with almost the final kick of a thriller at San Siro.

Title rivals Inter drew 0-0 with Atalanta on Sunday, but Milan could not take advantage the following day as Spezia came from behind in incredible fashion.

Rafael Leao put Milan ahead after Theo Hernandez's penalty miss, but Kevin Agudelo levelled midway through the second half.

Milan were furious when Junior Messias' fine late effort was struck off due to a premature whistle from the referee, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic then hitting the crossbar.

And Gyasi had the final say, slotting home in the 96th minute to sensationally earn Spezia's first league win at San Siro.

Spezia recorded a Serie A first as they dealt a blow to Napoli's title challenge by securing a shock 1-0 victory at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Wednesday. 

Juan Jesus' own goal was the difference in Naples, with Spezia becoming the first side to win a Serie A match without registering a shot on target since Opta started collecting the data in the 2004-05 season. 

Napoli's third straight home league defeat saw them slip behind Milan – who Luciano Spalletti's side beat 1-0 at the weekend – and into third, with the gap to leaders Inter now standing at seven points. 

The hosts were unable to convert with any of their 26 efforts on goal, with Hirving Lozano seeing a goal chalked off for offside and Andrea Petagna adjudged to have committed a foul before heading the ball home. 

Napoli have now fired 66 shots in their past three Serie A games and only scored once – Eljif Elmas' goal in the victory over Milan. 

Paul Pogba's club future continues to be a major topic of speculation.

The 28-year-old is into the final year of his Manchester United contract.

Pogba has flirted with the idea of an extension but has been stalling on a decision.

 

TOP STORY – REAL AND PSG HOME IN ON POGBA

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are both ready to ramp up the race to sign Paul Pogba from Manchester United, claims Marca.

Pogba is running down his United contract, meaning he will be a free agent in mid-2022.

Real and PSG will rekindle their interest after new United interim manager Ralf Rangnick said Pogba should not need to be convinced to stay.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United forward Edinson Cavani has offered his services to Juventus, according to Calciomercato. The Uruguayan veteran has also been linked with Barcelona.

- Barcelona are plotting moves for Chelsea's trio Cesar Azpilicueta, Christian Pulisic and Antonio Rudiger, reports Mundo Deportivo.

- Milan are circling to sign Liverpool's super-sub Divock Origi as they seek a long-term replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, claims Tuttomercato. Atalanta are also interested.

- Calciomercato reports that Roma are considering a move for Spezia midfielder Jiulio Maggiore. The 23-year-old is out of contract in 2023 and valued at €8m (£6.8m).

- Roma are also interested in a move for Norwich City's Max Aarons, according to Corriere dello Sport. Tottenham and Everton are also in the race.

- Lyon are interested in a move for Villarreal's Arnaut Danjuma, claims Todofichajes. Manchester United and Barcelona are also tracking the ex-Bournemouth winger.

Inter saw off Spezia 2-0 at San Siro to make it three Serie A wins in a row under Simone Inzaghi for the first time.

The in-form hosts defeated leaders Napoli and lowly Venezia in their previous two league outings and were good value for their latest victory at home to Spezia.

Roberto Gagliardini rounded off a nice team move to give Inzaghi's men a half-time lead and Lautaro Martinez, who created the opener, doubled his side's tally from the penalty spot to seal the victory.

Inter climb two points above Milan in second and within a point of Napoli, but those two teams are in action later on Wednesday against Genoa and Sassuolo respectively.

Spezia had lost each of their last four away games, conceding 14 goals in the process, but they held firm until unlikely scorer Gagliardini made a breakthrough after 36 minutes.

Danilo D'Ambrosio played the ball inside to Martinez, who flicked it into the path of Gagliardini to sweep away from Ivan Provedel into the bottom-left corner.

Samir Handanovic was required to keep out a Kelvin Amian header before half-time, though Inter gave themselves some breathing space just short of the hour mark.

Having already rattled the crossbar with a powerful drive, Martinez's next shot hit Jakub Kiwior on the arm and the forward made no mistake in converting the resulting spot-kick.

That made it goals in each of his last three league games for Martinez and, while neither he nor his team-mates could add to the scoring, Inter saw out a routine victory.

 

Daniel Maldini struggled to describe the feeling of scoring his first goal for Milan as he revealed the "demanding" but positive relationship he has with his father Paolo.

The youngster started his first Serie A game on Saturday against Spezia, 12 years and 117 days after his father, a legendary figure at San Siro, last appeared in a league game for the Rossoneri, and opened the scoring with a second-half header.

Brahim Diaz's late goal cancelled out Daniele Verdi's deflected equaliser to move Milan to 16 points from their first six games, just the third time they have achieved the feat in the three points for a win era.

However, much of the post-match focus was on Maldini, who became the third generation of his family to score for the club, 13 years and 179 days after Paolo's last league goal and 60 years and 22 days since his grandfather Cesare's final strike.

Paolo, who is also a director at Milan, was shown celebrating in the crowd by television cameras after his son's opener and the 19-year-old assured the pair share a good relationship.

"Dad is very demanding, he gives me advice and helps me," Maldini said before discussing the emotions that followed his 48th-minute finish.

"Those were good times," he continued. "I was excited even though I was calm. The teammates help me a lot and the coach too. We took home the three points and this is important."

Milan temporarily top Serie A, thanks in part to Maldini's strike and the fact Napoli play on Sunday, as they prepare to visit Atalanta next weekend.

Maldini will be hoping to star once more if he gets the nod from Stefano Pioli as he admitted he never imagined his first goal arriving in the fashion it did.

"Well, I tried to imagine how it would arrive but not the actual play itself," he told Milan's official website when asked if he had dreamed about the moment.

"It's indescribable, I still have to let it sink in.

"Fortunately, it ended up this way. It's true it felt weird to score with a header but the outcome was great."

Stefano Pioli hailed Milan's improved mental strength as they edged past Spezia 2-1 on Saturday. 

Daniel Maldini opened the scoring on his first Serie A start, 12 years and 117 days after his father Paolo's last Rossoneri appearance, before Brahim Diaz's late winner came after Daniele Verde's deflected equaliser. 

The visitors lost the same fixture 2-0 last term and when Verde's left-footed strike made it beyond goalkeeper Mike Maignan, it looked like Milan would drop points in the early stages of the title race. 

However, Diaz proved the hero to propel Milan to 16 points in the competition after six games for just the third time in the three points for a win era, with Pioli delighted at his side's response in the face of adversity. 

"It’s a great victory, because we played well, but not very well, and getting the result anyway shows mental strength," Pioli told DAZN in his post-match interview. 

"This is a young squad, but they believe in themselves, in the team and in our approach to football. We must not lose our humility, but it’s only right they feel able to handle certain pressure and win any game. 

"The pressure and expectations have increased around us this season, but we are showing that we can handle that." 

Indeed, Maldini's winner made him the third generation of his family to score for the Rossoneri, 13 years and 179 days after Paolo's last league goal and 60 years and 22 days since his grandfather Cesare's final strike for the club.

And Pioli, who handed Maldini his first start as he was without a host of names, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tiemoue Bakayoko, was impressed with the youngster. 

"The important thing about Daniel [Maldini] is that he has talent," the Milan boss said. 

"He has technique, a good vision of the game, but needs to be quicker and more intensive in shaking off his marker. 

"[Mehdi] Bourabia was keeping tight to him and all he needed was another couple of metres to get away from his marker and open up those spaces." 

Daniel Maldini was on target in his first Serie A start as Milan relied on Brahim Diaz's late winner to edge past Spezia 2-1 on Saturday.

Maldini, son of Italy and Rossoneri legend Paolo, enjoyed a dream maiden top-flight start as he headed Stefano Pioli's side into the lead after the interval at the Alberto Picco Stadium.

However, Daniele Verde's deflected effort levelled things up with just over 10 minutes to go before Diaz restored the visitors' lead in the closing stages.

Milan banished their demons from the shock 2-0 defeat in this fixture last term to move a point clear at the summit, though the chasing pack do have a game in hand.

M'Bala Nzola tested Mike Maignan twice early on, first from range and then from distance, but the Milan goalkeeper parried both away before Theo Hernandez whipped a free-kick narrowly wide.

Ante Rebic should have opened the scoring from Sandro Tonali's corner but his free header was wayward as Milan failed to make their 62 per cent first-half possession pay.

However, Maldini – appearing 12 years and 117 days after his father Paolo's last league appearance – powered a header home three minutes after the break from Pierre Kalulu's delivery to open the scoring.

Rafael Leao – one of Piolo's two-half time changes – looked to have added a second but he was denied by the right-hand post before Giulio Maggiore turned over from point-blank range following Simone Bastoni's teasing cross.

Leao again went close moments later as he dragged an effort wide to the right and Milan's failure to kill the game off came back to haunt them.

Verde twisted and turned before firing a low left-footed strike, which hit Tonali and left Maignan powerless to stop Spezia from drawing level in the closing stages.

Diaz proved the late hero as he ghosted into the area to turn home Alexis Saelemaker's low delivery and secure the win for Milan.

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