Portugal forward Leao struck with eight minutes remaining of a tense affair to inch Milan closer to a first Scudetto since 2011 and unleash a wave of relief at a packed San Siro.
Fans pogoed in the stands on a beautiful spring day in Milan, the sun shining on the ‘Rossonero’ side of the Italian city ahead of Inter’s tricky trip to Udinese later on Sunday.
Stefano Pioli’s team are further boosted by their superior Milan derby record which would ensure the seven-time European champions stay ahead of Inter should they end up locked on the same points.
Until Leao scored it looked to be a frustrating day for the hosts, Olivier Giroud missing the first of a series of good chances with 15 minutes on the clock when he somehow fluffed his dinked finish wide after being slipped perfectly through by Franck Kessie.
Nerves started to get to the home fans after a series of misplaced passes in good positions curtailed promising attacks, and the huge home crowd had their heads in their hands two minutes after the break when Rafael Leao smashed over form close range after being fed by Giroud.
Kessie then had an angled shot well saved before Teo Hernandez, a constant menace on the left, poked over Sandro Tonali’s neat through ball.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was introduced in the 65th minute in an attempt to force the winner, but it was Fiorentina who nearly snatched the lead when Arthur Cabral’s 76th-minute header was header was well saved by Mike Maignan.
However Leao made it party time when he collected Viola goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano’s awful kick, charge towards goal and slotted home a finish which could be crucial to an enthralling title race.
– Bonucci saves Juve’s blushes –
Leonardo Bonucci put Juve on the brink of Champions League football with a double in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Venezia which also dealt a huge blow to the survival hopes of Serie A’s bottom team.
Italy defender Bonucci struck in each half at the Allianz Stadium to put Juve 10 points clear of fifth-placed Lazio, who occupy the Europa League spot, while Roma are a further point back in sixth ahead of their home match with Bologna later on Sunday.
Anything but a win for Jose Mourinho’s Roma will confirm Juve’s place in Europe’s top club competition with three matches of the season remaining.
Spirited Venezia deservedly levelled in the 71st minute through a superb Mattia Aramu strike.
However, Bonucci bundled in the winner five minutes later to consign Andrea Soncin’s team to their ninth straight defeat.
“We needed the win to make sure that the last three games aren’t too difficult, but Venezia deserve credit for coming here and playing open football,” said Bonucci to Sky Sport Italia.
The away side, who sacked coach Paolo Zanetti on Wednesday, are six points behind Cagliari who sit just outside the relegation zone following their home loss to Verona on Saturday.
They have a game in hand but that comes on Thursday at in-form Salernitana, who are making a bold bid to retain their place in Serie A off the back of three straight wins and are at Atalanta on Monday night.