Olivier Giroud provided the decisive touch as Milan claimed a potentially vital victory in the Serie A title race, beating fellow Scudetto hopefuls Napoli 1-0 at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
Milan’s record in Naples is dreadful, having gone into Sunday’s clash with one win in their most recent 14 visits, but the rare success here put them back to the top of the table.
Both teams had penalty shouts controversially turned down inside the opening 15 minutes, though otherwise there were few major flashpoints in an even first half.
Proceedings opened up following Giroud’s 49th-minute poacher’s effort, yet Milan held firm to leave with a valuable win that puts them three points clear of Napoli and two ahead of Inter.
A ferocious start saw Amir Rrahmani blaze over from inside the box for the hosts and Milan’s Ismael Bennacer have a penalty claim ignored after being nudged over by Kalidou Koulibaly inside the first five minutes.
Napoli then thought they were unfairly denied a spot-kick soon after, with Victor Osimhen seemingly tripped from behind by Fikayo Tomori in the box.
A closely contested first half finished goalless and the breakthrough arrived soon after the restart, Giroud instinctively turning in Davide Calabria’s wayward shot.
Napoli substitute Adam Ounas almost levelled with 15 minutes to go when his curling left-footed effort went agonisingly wide.
Osimhen tested Mike Maignan from a tight angle following a surging run, and that proved to be the final chance for the hosts, who were fortunate not to concede again in stoppage time when Alexis Saelemaekers wasted a glorious opportunity.
What does it mean? Advantage Milan but Inter can strike
Stefano Pioli’s men accomplished their mission here. Dropping points may not have spelled disaster for their title chances, but victory over a direct rival should do wonders for them psychologically, particularly given they have underwhelmed at times recently.
The title certainly is not theirs yet, though. While Inter may be two points behind, the defending champions have a game in hand.
Either way, the final weeks of the title race are sure to thrill.
Tireless Hernandez stars for Milan
Rossoneri left-back Hernandez was exceptional yet again. An important presence defensively, recording a joint-high eight recoveries, he was also a massive threat going forward.
Even in the latter stages, he embarked on two lung-busting runs up the left flank – one led to a shot that stung Ospina’s palms, the other saw him lay the ball on a plate for Saelemaekers at the end. That was one of three key passes, more than anyone else managed.
No impact from Politano
It was little surprise to see Matteo Politano withdrawn just past the hour when Luciano Spalletti turned to his bench. The winger’s only shot was blocked and he failed to create any chances for team-mates.
Napoli will hope to bounce back at Hellas Verona in a week’s time, while Milan host Empoli on Saturday.
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