Napoli climbed to the summit of Serie A after beating AC Milan 2-1, inflicting a first defeat of the season on the reigning champions.
Both sides arrived at San Siro unbeaten and level on 14 points, with Napoli one place ahead in third owing to their superior goal difference. While Atalanta temporarily went top of the table earlier in the day thanks to a tight 1-0 win against Roma, this felt like a clash between title favourites.
Milan shaded the first half, going in at the break with 11 shots to three for their opponents. They came within a whisker of opening the scoring with just over 10 minutes on the clock when Rade Krunic played a cultured reverse pass to Olivier Giroud on the edge of the box, with Giroud forcing Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret into a fingertip save which tipped the ball onto the crossbar.
Giroud wasted several presentable opportunities, not least when he attempted an improbable scorpion kick – spooning the ball harmlessly away – while Davide Calabria was in a perfect position to score behind him. Tonali and Krunic also went close, the latter forcing another excellent save from Meret with a header at a corner, while Theo Hernandez was dangerous as ever as he surged forwards from left-back.
Napoli had their moments, with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia causing problems for Milan’s defence. They started the second half well, Giacomo Raspadori almost bursting through one-on-one with a clever turn in the area.
Not long afterwards, Kvaratskhelia danced into the box and went down under pressure from half-time substitute Sergino Dest. After a VAR check which confirmed that Dest had made contact with Kvaratskhelia’s foot before ball, referee Maurizio Mariani pointed to the spot. Matteo Politano lashed past Mike Maignan from 12 yards to give Napoli the lead.
Milan looked to be in the ascendancy when, with a little over 20 minutes to play, Hernandez got away down the left and cut the ball back for Giroud to score from close range. Napoli hit back almost immediately, however, with Mario Rui floating an inviting cross in for Giovanni Simeone, who thumped a header past Maignan and into the far corner.
The Rossoneri had chances to equalise late on, not least when Pierre Kalulu roared forwards and smashed a shot onto the underside of the crossbar only to watch helplessly as it ricocheted away.
But Napoli held on, fighting at the back until the final whistle heralded wild celebrations among the away fans.
TALKING POINT – NIGHTMARE START FOR DEST
Having signed for Milan on loan from Barcelona at the start of the month, this was Dest’s first league appearance in Italy. Given that he gave away a penalty seven minutes after coming off the bench, it’s fair to say it did not go as planned.
While it initially seemed like Dest had nicked the ball off Kvaratskhelia’s toe, replays clearly showed that he had actually jarred the Georgian winger’s foot. The US international never really recovered after that, looking unsure of himself for the rest of the match.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – KHVICHA KVARATSKHELIA
As well as winning the penalty, Kvaratskhelia provided Napoli with their main attacking outlet.
Even as Milan pinned them back in the first half, the way that he forced bookings for Simon Kjaer and Davide Calabria – the latter of which led to Dest’s introduction – was a measure of how difficult he was to play against.
AC Milan: Maignan 6, Hernandez 8, Tomori 7, Kjaer 6, Calabria 7, Tonali 7, Bennacer 7, Krunic 7, De Ketelaere 6, Saelemaekers 4, Giroud 6. Subs: Dest 4, Kalulu 5, Messias 6, Diaz 5, Adli 5
Napoli: Meret 8, Di Lorenzo 7, Kim 8, Rui 8, Anguissa 7, Lobotka 8, Zielinski 7, Politano 7, Raspadori 6, Kvaratskhelia 8. Subs: Zerbin 6, Simeone 8, Elmas N/A, Ndombele N/A, Olivera N/A
12’ GIROUD HITS THE WOODWORK! Krunic plays a lovely reverse pass to Giroud, who thunders a shot at goal from just inside the area. Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret pushes the ball onto the crossbar with his fingertips.
24’ WASTEFUL FROM GIROUD. Krunic scoops a lovely ball over the top for De Ketelaere, who crosses from the byline. Giroud attempts an improbable scorpion kick despite the fact that Calabria is in a better position to score.
26’ MILAN CRANK UP THE PRESSURE. The hosts win a free kick and Tonali whips it in with pace, but Napoli clear at the cost of a corner. The ball falls for Krunic at the far post and he blasts a header at goal, but Meret makes another fantastic save to tip it up and over.
50’ VAR CHECK. Kvaratskhelia skips into the area and Dest nicks the ball off his toe, but also catches him on the foot. Napoli want a penalty. Referee Maurizio Mariani goes to the monitor.
52’ PENALTY! Replays show that Dest connected with Kvaratskhelia’s foot before he got the ball. Mariani points to the spot.
55’ GOAL! Politano lashes past Maignan from 12 yards. Napoli lead.
69’ GOAL! After a largely infuriating performance, it’s classic Giroud. Hernandez tears down the left and cuts back for the Frenchman, who smashes in from close range.
78’ GOAL! What a header. Rui floats a pinpoint cross into the box and Simeone plants the ball past Maignan.