Olivier Giroud scored the decisive goal as AC Milan emerged victorious in a crunch clash over fellow title challenges Napoli, a result that sent the Rossoneri back to the top of the Serie A.
The 35-year-old’s instinctive finish four minutes after the restart proved the difference and capped an eventful evening for the Frenchman.
Chances were at a premium in a tense and fiery first half that ended goalless but with more control and possession, Milan’s Stefano Pioli would have been the happier of the two managers at the break.
The biggest talking point of the opening 45 minutes was the nasty wound suffered by Giroud after he was caught by Kalidou Koulibaly.
It was unclear if the Frenchman would be able to play through the pain barrier, but he emerged for the second half and made his presence felt just four minutes after the interval, sticking out a foot to divert Davide Calabria’s shot into the net to give Milan a deserved lead.
Giroud eventually had to be forced off after going over on his ankle, but his withdrawal failed to deter the visitors who were excellent in defending their narrow lead.
The result means Milan climb back above Inter at the summit with just two points separating the great rivals. Napoli remain third, three points adrift of the leaders.
TALKING POINT – BRAVE MILAN INFLICT DEVASTATING BLOW ON LONG-SUFFERING NAPOLI
Milan’s results of late have been poor and their form has raised questions about their mentality. However, the Rossoneri deserve huge credit for such a professional performance. They settled quicker into the tie, frustrated the home crowd and stopped Napoli from getting into any kind of rhythm. Chances may have been few and far between, but Milan always looked the more likely to score. And once they got their noses in front, Pioli’s men never looked like conceding in what was arguably the biggest match of the season in Serie A so far.
This defeat is a massive blow for Napoli who are searching for their first Scudetto since 1990. With just one win in five games, hopes of ending their long wait for Italy’s biggest prize are beginning to fade. The picture is forever changing in this exciting and unpredictable Serie A campaign, but if Luciano Spalletti’s side miss out on the title, they may well look back on tonight.
MAN OF THE MATCH – THEO HERNANDEZ (AC MILAN)
Milan’s energy was encapsulated by the tireless running of Theo Hernandez, who was up and down the flank all night, contributing not only defensively but providing a threat on the attack – exactly what he does best.
Napoli: Ospina 6, Di Lorenzo 6, Rrahmani 6, Koulibaly 6, Mario Rui 5, Fabian Ruiz 5, Lobotka 6, Politano 5, Zielinski 5, Insigne 5, Osimhen 7.. subs: Elmas 5, Ounas 5, Mertens N/A, Anguissa N/A
Milan: Maignan 7, Calabria 7, Tomori 8, Kalulu 7, Theo Hernandez 8*, Tonali 7, Bennacer 7, Messias 6, Kessie 6, Leao 7, Giroud 8.. subs: Krunic 5, Ibrahimovic N/A, Rebic 5.
49′ – GOAL! NAPOLI 0-1 AC MILAN (OLIVIER GIROUD): Oh my, Giroud has given Milan the lead! A free-kick bobbles about Napoli’s penalty area. It sits up nicely for Calabria whose strike is turned home instinctively by the Frenchman!
55′ – CLOSE! Bennacer curls a dangerous shot that looks destined for the bottom corner but Ospina gets down smartly to push it wide. Milan are knocking the ball around with confidence and if anyone is going to grab a second goal, it’s likely going to be the visitors.
90’+4 – HOW DOES HE NOT SCORE?! Milan break and open up a 2vs1 situation as Theo Hernandez races down the flank. He rolls it across to Saelemaekers who simply has to score but somehow Ospina makes the save!