Milan, Jan 3 (AFP/APP): AC Milan stayed top in Serie A on Sunday with a 2-0 win over midtable Benevento despite playing an hour a man down and without injured star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
City rivals Inter had moved ahead earlier with Lautaro Martinez scoring a hat-trick in a dominant 6-2 victory over lowly Crotone. But Milan restored their one-point advantage thanks to a Franck Kessie penalty on 15 minutes after a foul on Ante Rebic with Rafael Leao grabbing an impressive second from a tight angle shortly after half-time.
Stefano Pioli’s side held off the promoted southerners despite Sandro Tonali’s sending off on 33 minutes after his yellow card was changed to red following a VAR review for a high tackle on Artur Ionita. Gianluca Caprari missed a penalty after an hour for Benevento with Gianluigi Donnarumma decisive in goal as Milan stretched their unbeaten run to 27 games in the league going back to March.
“We’re ambitious, we’re not hiding it and we aim to win the next match as well against Juventus (on Wednesday),” warned Pioli.
Nine-time reigning champions Juventus, who are now seventh, are in action later Sunday against Udinese. At the San Siro, Martinez and Romelu Lukaku combined to devastating effect for Inter who have now won eight league games in a row. The strike duo were involved in five goals although midfielder Arturo Vidal was hauled off at half-time after conceding a penalty in a woeful display.
Antonio Conte’s side had been pegged back 2-2 at the break with Niccolo Zanellato scoring first with a 12th-minute header for the rock bottom Calabrians with the worst attack in the league. But Martinez picked up a Lukaku cross to pull the hosts level eight minutes later. Martinez had a role in Inter’s second just after half an hour when Crotone defender Luca Marrone turned the ball into his own net under pressure from the Argentina forward.
Vladimir Golemic put the sides level six minutes later after Vidal fouled Arkadiusz Reca, with a furious Conte replacing the Chilean with Stefano Sensi at the break.
“Arturo certainly needs to work and keep his head down, and pedal because he has room for significant improvement,” said Conte of the former Juventus and Barcelona midfielder. “Here, nobody has a guaranteed place, and he needs to prove that he deserves to play. The up-and-down nature of his performances is something we can’t afford to continue.” Martinez restored the lead for Inter before the hour connecting with a Marcelo Brozovic through ball following a Lukaku back-heel, and headed in his third with 12 minutes to go off a rebound.
Lukaku injury worry
Lukaku blasted in his 50th goal for Inter after 64 minutes but limped off after taking a knock to his right thigh 10 minutes later, before Achraf Hakimi sealed the win with three minutes to go.
“Lukaku told me he had a little fatigue, we’ll see tomorrow if he is at risk for Sampdoria or not,” said Conte. “There is great desire and it shows,” said Conte as Inter target their first Serie A title since 2010 with their European campaign over this season.
Behind the Milan teams, Roma held third place with captain Edin Dzeko scoring with a quarter of an hour to go in a 1-0 win over former Roma coach Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria. The capital side are ahead of Napoli who swept past Cagliari 4-1 with Piotr Zielinski scoring twice and Hirving Lozano and Lorenzo Insigne also on target late, the latter from the penalty spot. In a clash of European rivals, Atalanta whipped Sassuolo 5-1 with Colombian Duvan Zapata bagging a brace.
The Bergamo side were again playing without captain Papu Gomez who has fallen out with coach Gian Piero Gasperini. Zapata and Matteo Pessina scored in the first half with the Colombian adding a second just after the break with Robin Gosens and Luis Muriel compounding the rout before Vlad Chiriches pulled a goal back.
Sassuolo are fifth one point ahead of Atalanta who have played a game less. Ciro Immobile scored a 15th-minute penalty for Lazio who dropped to ninth after a 1-1 draw at 19th-placed Genoa. Torino moved off the bottom of the table with their first win in two months, 3-0 at struggling Parma.
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